Writing the Right Way: Get Out

I saw Get Out last week and, like the plethora of critics on Rotten Tomatoes, found the film quite enjoyable. While it wasn’t particularly scary (at least not to me), the film more than made up for this with a sharp script that serves as a perfect example of how to convey a message without being sidetracked into “preaching” territory.

Preaching in films: it doesn’t happen often but every time it does, it stops the movie cold. Personally, I’ve noticed this trend in films with Seth Rogen (Paul and, to a lesser extent, Sausage Party). It never feels natural. It is like the writer slammed the brakes on plot and retrieved a soap box from which to stand upon and shout at the audience.

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The best storytellers find ways to entertain as well as teach. Speech writing is an animal with a different goal.

Films don’t necessarily need messages, but I would argue that most of the greatest films of all time have at least one strong commentary that they are trying to convey to the audience. In certain films like Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator, the allegory is obvious. In Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, it can take some digging (but is there). Get Out is a film like the former.

What allows these films to succeed while others fail is that the script is smart enough to intertwine message and movie. It is impossible to remove Get Out‘s commentary without completely changing entire sequences within the movie.

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Spotting the allegory in The Great Dictator, like in Get Out, is not difficult.

Without getting too spoiler-y (but consider this a warning), Get Out follows the basic horrific premise formula: when a protagonist journeys to a location that is increasingly unsafe. Other examples of this would include virtually all haunted house films, The Visit, House of the Devil, and The Shining.

Just like in all those movies, Get Out contains a build-up. During this phase, the tension mounts and the audience becomes more alarmed/concerned for the protagonist’s peril. Get Out does this through various dialogue and encounters that Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) has with the Armitage family and their guests.

Writer/Director Jordan Peele saw this formula and decided to add something to it. He has openly stated that the film was made as a commentary on the idea of post-racism America (that racism in America ended with the election of President Barrack Obama). To challenge this notion, Get Out‘s script is full of passive-aggressive forms of racism.

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Even ideas like how dress code could inform cultural identity are touched upon.

Chris endures many comments on his “natural ability,” is told that he has the right “genetic makeup,” and is told repeatedly how “grand” it is that he is dating Rose (Allison Williams). The last especially underscores the subtleties of Get Out. To paraphrase Chris: “it’s not what he said, it’s how he said it.”

Choosing this set up adds realism and believability. Chris questions himself, afraid to call out what he sees as an increasingly race-charged and hostile environment. If the film’s genre wasn’t horror, you’d genuinely wonder if he was starting to overreact.

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Even the Armitage’s anti-racism defense line: “I totally would have voted for Obama for a third term” is telling to what issues the film is targeting. Nowhere is the 2016 election mentioned nor its results.

Chris never stops the film to deride racism, and the Armitage’s never openly declare that they hate black people. Instead, many ideas recall phrenology and physiognomy. Again, Peele never directly states anything. Get Out simply presents a situation and trusts the intelligence of the audience to fill in the gaps. It manages to be a story and skips the lecture.

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