This week I look at 2017’s GET OUT, Jordon Peele’s horror film that revolutionized what you can do in a horror film. It also won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and the film itself was nominated for Best Picture, a rare accolade for a horror film.
Here’s the links:
And here’s the script of the episode.
Hi, I’m Joe Dzikiewicz, and welcome to the Storylanes Podcast, the podcast where every episode we do a deep dive into a movie or TV show. And to go along with this analysis, I publish a chart of the story we’re covering on the storylanes.com website, a chart I produced while preparing the episode. You don’t need to look at that chart – the podcast is standalone. But if you’re interested in diving a little deeper, check it out at storylanes.com.
This week we’re doing GET OUT, the 2017 horror film written and directed by Jordon Peele and starring Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Bradley Whitford, Catherine Keener, and Lil Rel Howery.
As usual, this podcast assumes you’ve seen the movie. There will be spoilers. And there won’t be detailed explanations of plot points. So if you listen to this without knowing the movie, you’re out of luck: the movie will be spoiled for you, and you may not understand what I’m talking about. It’s basically the worst of all worlds. So go watch GET OUT if you want to listen to this podcast. It’s a terrific movie, with a couple of structural points that I find well worth discussing. And hey, it won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, so it’s just the kind of script we want to study here.
GET OUT is the story of Chris Washington, a young African-American who goes with his white girlfriend Rose to meet her parents. In the course of the weekend, he discovers that Rose’s parents are at the center of a terrible conspiracy that transplants the brains of old white people into the bodies of young African-Americans. Rose’s job is to seduce and hook young blacks so that their bodies can be stolen – her romance with Chris has always been a lie. Chris escapes, kills the family, and destroys their operation.
The film is an allegory of the ways in which whites take advantage of blacks, and of the genteel racism practiced by even good white liberals. Rose’s parents aren’t particularly racist – they’re good Obama-voting progressives. They’re what we’d usually think of as good people. People like, well, people like me. But that doesn’t stop the Armitages from ruthlessly exploiting African-Americans. The film makes a powerful statement about how racism continues in even the more liberal enclaves of white America.
And here we get to an early screenwriter’s lesson. One of the things that I love about horror is that it lends itself to powerful metaphor. The best horror movies aren’t just about the scares – they say something about our lives and the world. GET OUT is a terrific example of this, and it wouldn’t be anywhere near as powerful if it didn’t have such strong messages about race in Obama’s America. (Because although this movie came out in the first months of the Trump presidency, it was largely made during the Obama years. And really, the election of Trump itself was a pretty clear statement that even though we had a black president, America still has a serious problem with racism.)
So, let’s take a look at the characters.
Chris Washington makes a terrific protagonist. He’s resourceful, clever, and strong. But he still has flaws. He has a major crack at his core, his guilt over his inaction when his mother died. This affects him in various ways throughout the film. But ultimately it doesn’t hold him back from doing what he needs to do to survive and overcome a horrible evil.
And pay attention to his name. It’s a name that strongly resonates.
First, there’s Chris. Chris means “bearing Christ.” Chris isn’t particularly Christian in this film – the film doesn’t go there at all. But in one key way, Chris is Christ-like. Chris is intended by the Armitages as a sacrifice, just as Christ was a sacrifice. Dean, the Armitage father, clearly views the transplanting of brains as a ritual act. And in this ritual, Chris is the one who will be sacrificed so another may live.
This is more clear in the script than in the movie. The movie underplays Dean’s ritualized actions. But it’s still there, in a speech that Dean gives when the plot is revealed, and in the way that the operating room is lit by candles and set up as if for a ritual. An operation as a ritual: it’s a nice image. Both involve careful preparation, a formal cleansing, and fixed, even rigid, actions carefully carried out. And Chris is the sacrifice in this ritual, as hinted at by his name.
But that’s not the only way Chris’s name resonates. There’s also his last name: Washington. An icon of White America, but a reminder of slavery. I’m not sure exactly what Peele meant by this, but it’s notable enough that it clearly means something.
The next key character is Rose Armitage. Rose is Chris’s girlfriend. And at first, she seems nigh perfect. She beautiful, charming, and supportive. And she defends him against racist police, though she is a bit naïve about racism. But in the end, it turns out that she’s betraying Chris.
Honestly, her betrayal of Chris was a little too much of a switch for me. Even on second watching and on reading the script, I didn’t see any signs that it was coming. I did not care for this lack of foreshadowing. As it is, it only makes sense if you assume that all whites are bad, as they prove to be in this film.
Note that I don’t object that Rose was a villain. I just wanted it to be better set up.
Rose’s father comes off as goofy old dad, a guy who is awkward about race by overall full of good meaning. Until, of course, he isn’t. Rose’s mom seems more like the iron fist in the velvet glove, the real power behind this couple. And she actually projects a fair amount of menace early on when she hypnotizes Chris. I have no problem with these two turning bad – there are plenty of signs that it’s coming.
The last key character is Rod, Chris’s friend. Rod seems there mostly for comic relief. But for all his humor, he’s the one who first suspects that there is something serious wrong here. He gets the details wrong, but is right in the broad strokes. And, of course, he’s the one who rescues Chris in the end.
So those are the characters. What’s the story structure here?
GET OUT is a film that adheres fairly closely to three-act structure. Which means, as you know if you’ve been listening to this podcast, I think it’s broken into four major chunks that I will call acts. In previous episodes, I’ve explained my argument for why I call it four acts even though most of the gurus would call it three. If you want to hear it, and want to hear more about three-act structure and the other screenwriting models I’ll be discussing here, go and listen to episode 1 of this podcast.
There is a distinct teaser in this film. In the teaser, Andre, a black man, is attacked at night in a suburban street. For some reason, someone is kidnapping black men, but we don’t know why.
This is a divergence from three-act structure, which doesn’t make room for a separate teaser. But it’s not an uncommon divergence.
After that attack, we’re on to Act One. And Act One is all setup. We meet all the key characters, Chris, Rose, Rod, and the Armitages. And we see the setting – the Armitage home. A fairly standard setup act that goes until page 34 of the screenplay, so about a third of the way into this 98 page screenplay.
The one thing that is unconventional about this act is the inciting incident. An inciting incident is an event that happens that breaks the status quo, that starts the story going. But there really isn’t a traditional inciting incident in this film. At the start of the film, Chris and Rose are already planning on visiting Rose’s parents. The adventure is already scheduled when the film begins. And the Armitages have been planning on snatching up Chris well before the film began.
But there is an incident that sets the tone of the film, that changes the status quo from a pleasant movie about visiting your girlfriend’s parents into horror. This is the moment that turns this film from “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” into “Psycho.”
That’s when Rose’s car hits the deer. The deer comes out of nowhere, and its dying moans are straight from a horror film. And when the police show up and ask for Chris’s ID, we see the first signs of veiled racism. These scenes set the tone and introduce the theme – they are the true start of the movie.
On the one hand, these scenes have no influence on the plot. If you removed them, the story would proceed the same. But the scenes shift the tone in a necessary way.
In other words, they are inciting incidents in that they place us into the world of this movie, but they do so without being key to the plot. It’s a fascinating take on the inciting incident, and one worth considering.
So a screenwriting lesson here: an inciting incident can serve multiple purposes. And the plot purposes may be the least important, and may not even be present at all.
Act Two starts when Chris wakes in the middle of the night and goes out for cigarettes. Things start getting weird, with strange behavior from Walter and Georgina, the two black servants of the house. And they get really strange when Missy hypnotizes Chris, supposedly to cure his smoking but really for more nefarious purposes.
Then comes the party, and the party guests all behave awfully strangely. The conversation threads are a little too prying, a little too interested in Chris as a physical specimen. And Chris has a strange encounter with Logan, one of the guests, a young black man who behaves, dresses, and speaks like an old white man.
Now unbeknownst to Chris, but known to us if we’re paying attention, is the fact that Logan is Andre, the guy we saw ambushed in the teaser. But Logan seems like an entirely different person, and it’s understandable if the audience doesn’t recognize him. He is dressed and acts different, and we only saw him briefly on a dark night. But if you do notice Logan is Andre, it’s a major sign that something weird is happening.
And here comes the midpoint. After all this strangeness, Chris takes a flash photo of Logan. And Logan suddenly becomes someone else. He comes up to Chris and says, “Get out!” Chris is freaked, the other guests drag Logan off, and suddenly the movie has taken a turn into a darker place.
In traditional three-act structure, that’s the midpoint, the point that shifts us into a more serious space, where the fun and games stop and things get bad.
Or if you view things the way I do, it’s a shift into a new act.
But whether you view what comes next as the second half of act two, or as act three, there’s no denying that things get a whole lot more grim.
Now there is something interesting here. While this is definitely the midpoint – though it comes a little late, at page 61 of 98 pages – it doesn’t end the sequence. The party sequence continues. The party is one long sequence in the middle of the film. It has distinct moments and distinct scenes, but feels like a single entity, like a single sequence.
But if you take my view, that single sequence spans parts of two acts. That’s unusual – in the other cases we’ve looked at, no sequences spanned act boundaries. And midpoints often stood alone, part of their own separate sequence.
From here on, the tone of the film gets much darker. We no longer see hints of danger, we see giant glaring signs of it. Soon we see Dean hold an auction in which guests at the party bid on Chris. That’s a lot more obviously dangerous than the strange conversations we saw before. And after that, things only get worse.
But we’re still in the party, and it feels like part of the same sequence, even if it’s a darker part.
The party starts on page 47. The Get Out moment is on page 61, 14 pages in. And the party ends on page 69. The party has gone for 22 pages. A long sequence, to be sure. And one with many twists and turns. But still, one big sequence.
So a note for the screenwriter: don’t be too fussy about boundaries and borders of sequences, acts, and scenes. Do what the story requires and leave the analysis of the breaks between sequences and acts to geeks like me. If it works, it works, and that’s all that matters.
Anyway, we’re in my act three, or the second half of three-act stucture’s act two, and things are getting dark. Both figuratively and literally – as the sun goes down on the party, we never again see Chris in the daylight. From now on, he’s either in night scenes or inside in rooms where no daylight reaches.
Soon, Chris discovers evidence of Rose’s treachery. The trap snaps, and he is caught. He is driven into the sunken place by hypnosis and at the mercy of the Armitages.
And now the script does something interesting. It takes two sequences and intercuts scenes from them. This helps drag out each sequence, adding to the tension. And the switch between the two sequences helps with the pacing of the film.
But it does feel like two separate sequences, not just one sequence with two scenes. And it doesn’t feel like more than two sequences: the scenes within each sequence build on each other and are similar enough to feel whole. It’s nicely done – and another thing for screenwriters to note.
The first of these sequences take us to Rod. He gathers evidence of something strange going on. He even goes to the police, but they laugh him out of the room when he explains that he thinks there are white people stealing young black men to be sex slaves. That theory is a nice touch – it’s funny enough to provide some comic relief, but actually reasonably close to what is happening. Close enough to put us squarely on Rod’s side and to get him to do the things he should be doing.
Notice also that Rod does what we would do in his situation. He gathers evidence of what’s happening with his friend. He goes to the police. The police are useless, but his reaching out to them makes his behavior more credible.
This reminds me of DIE HARD, and the way that John McClane, once the terrorists arrive, first fights to get police attention. But like in DIE HARD, the attempt fails because the police are useless. It’s a nice trope – have a hero contact the police, because that’s the reasonable and believable thing to do, but have the police be useless, because we want the hero to be on his own.
Aside from that, this sequence provides something important for this film. During the rest of the movie aside from the teaser, we’re with Chris. But here we take a break from him, right at the moment where we’re ready to mix things up a little. It provides a break, gives a moment to have a few laughs while the main story is at a high point of tension, and helps with the pacing of the film. It’s certainly better this way than if we just stayed with Chris throughout.
The second of these intercut sequences shows Chris as he wakes up tied to a chair in front of an old tube-style TV. And things that play on the TV – first a video, then a video conversation – explain what is going on, that these white folks are taking over black people. And do note that the guy who is going to get Chris’s body, Jim Hudson, claims he’s not racist like the others. And based on what we’ve seen of him at the party, we can believe that. He was the only person at the party who spoke to Chris as if he were a human being.
But this lack of racism doesn’t keep Jim Hudson from being ready to take terrible advantage of Chris. From being willing to steal the thing he most admires about Chris, the power of his eyes. Deny racism all you want, Jim, but you still benefit from it. A fairly profound statement in the context of this movie.
At the end of these sequences, we move into the final act of the film. All plots are revealed, the lines are clearly drawn, and the action begins. Chris frees himself through trickery and proceeds to kill all of the Armitages. For one brief moment, he frees the guy who originally owned the body now inhabited by Walter, and that guy kills Rose and then himself. And note that this is a fair revenge by that guy: we know from previous evidence that he was one of the guys that Rose tricked, so it’s only appropriate that he be the one to kill Rose.
Finally the ending comes, the ending in the script and the one in the film. We’ll talk about those endings shortly.
So like I said, it’s a fairly clean structure. A teaser that gives a hint of what’s to come. A setup act that introduces the characters and the setting. An act in which things get gradually more ominous and the hints of trouble build. A midpoint that dramatically reveals just how messed up this situation is and provides one of the more memorable set pieces of the film. An act where the bad guys spring their trap and bad things are revealed. And a final act where the good guy breaks out in an explosion of violence.
And note the timing of the violence in this film. You can see this clearly by looking at the deaders lane in the Storylanes analysis. After Andre is taken down in the teaser and essentially killed, no one dies until the final act. Then in short order all of the Armitages, including Georgina and Water, who by now we know are the grandparents transplanted into black bodies, are killed, as is Jim Hudson, the guy who is going to get Chris’s body who presumably dies when the house catches fire. I mean, he’s unconscious, strapped to a table, with his skull cut open, with no one to rescue him. I think we can assume he’s a deader.
So that’s seven deaths in five pages, after 85 pages with no real violence at all.
This is a good model for a horror story, or even a certain kind of action film. Slow buildup of tension, then release in one big explosion of violence in which all of the villains die. It’s quite satisfying.
So overall, a fairly standard structure, with a few unusual touches. An inciting incident that sets the tone instead of starting the plot. A sequence that spans acts and in which the midpoint is one small part. And a pair of sequences that seem independent but that are intercut.
None of it quite conventional, but all of it works. A nice variation on the usual flow.
So, what’s the view through the Save the Cat lens?
Most of the Save the Cat beats are here. Though once again, the debate is at most pro forma. Chris tries to persuade Rose that maybe her bringing a black boyfriend home won’t be as uncomplicated as she thinks, but he never suggests that he won’t go.
And there’s no clear statement of theme. But then, the theme of this film is so obvious, we hardly need it to be stated.
And there is nothing special about the opening and closing images of this film that captures in two visuals the protagonist’s journey as Save the Cat prescribes.
But really, Chris doesn’t have much of a real character arc. We learn things about him. But other than the fact that he seems unlikely to ever have another white girlfriend, and that he’s given up smoking, I don’t think he’s really learned anything or grown throughout this film.
But that’s okay – he’s changed the world around him, and that’s probably enough.
Similarly, the Hero’s Journey is clearly present here, but with a couple of hitches. Chris takes an actual journey to another place, a place where different rules apply and where he must face a major challenge. And he returns having overcome monsters and won a prize, though in this case the prize is just his survival. He even has a mentor in Rod, whose suspicions of the whites Chris is visiting have been proven correct.
In Hero’s Journey terms, the Call to Adventure is definitely when Chris is asked to visit the parents, which comes before the movie starts. There’s no real room for a tonal catalyst in the Hero’s Journey, so the death of the Deer has no particular place from that perspective. But the rest of the beats proceed fairly closely.
For more details on both Hero’s Journey and Save the Cat in this film, see the Storylanes analysis of this film at storylanes.com. And for a description of them, listen to episode one of the podcast.
Now let’s look at subplots.
There aren’t a lot of traditional subplots in this film. Though I’m going to be generous and discuss as subplots a couple points that don’t quite rise to the level of subplot.
One of these subplots is Andre’s story. This is introduced in the teaser, Andre is ambushed and kidnapped. He next appears at the party as Logan, a black guy who talks, acts, and dresses like an old rich white guy. When Chris takes a flash photo of him, he reverts for a moment to Andre and tells Chris “Get Out.” Later he’s suppressed again, back to Logan, and he leaves. And for the last bits of this plot, Chris sends the photo of Logan to Rod, Rod recognizes him as Andre, and later Rod finds out that Andre went missing.
There’s movement there, a main character, and changes. But there’s no real resolution of the subplot. We never find out what happens to Logan/Andre. As best as we can tell, Logan just rides off into the sunset, living out his life in Andre’s body. But even that is not made clear – it’s like we get the first two thirds of the subplot without the ending.
One full subplot, at least in the film, is Rod’s journey through this story. Rod is the first to suspect major skullduggery. (Hmm… skullduggery – a strangely apt term for this film.) Most of his time in this film is spent on the phone with Chris. But there are two major exceptions to that.
The first is when Chris is captured by the Armitages. At this point, for pacing reasons, the movie needs somewhere to go that will take up time, be entertaining, but keep the direct focus off of Chris. Enter Rod. Here we see Rod investigate what’s happening to Chris. He finds out that Andre is missing. Then he goes to the police, who promptly laugh him out of the room. He doesn’t accomplish much in these scenes, but they are great for pacing the broader story and for making it clear how much time is passing.
And of course, Rod appears in the last scene to rescue Chris, the final climax of Rod’s character arc. But we’ll talk about that when we get to the ending, which merits its own discussion.
The next subplot is Chris’s mom. This isn’t a full subplot: it doesn’t lead to much action, and is only the revelation of events that happened long ago. But it’s a strong motivation for Chris and gives depth to his character.
The release of information about this plot is well handled. We hear the bare details when Chris is psychoanalyzed and hypnotized by Missy. But we hear the most damaging part of the story when Chris tells it to Rose, the fact that he believes he could have saved his mom if he had acted.
That revelation does a couple of things. First, it’s a way of letting us know the depth of Chris’s trauma. But also, it marks the moment when Chris fully trusts Rose. He reveals his worst secret to her, a clear sign of intimacy. Which makes her betrayal of him all the more sharp.
That’s a good technique for the screenwriter. Use the revelation of a dark secret as a sign of growing intimacy. And it doesn’t even have to lead to betrayal, though that works well here.
But aside from that, one of the biggest things Chris’s trauma does is that it motivates some of Chris’s actions, actions we might otherwise find hard to accept. We now see why he couldn’t just ignore the deer that was hit by the car way back in the first act. But more importantly, when he hits Georgina with a car as he is driving away, it absolutely motivates his choice to stop and pick her up. In most horror films, if a character interrupted his escape to help an obvious villain, I’d be screaming at the screen. It’s an idiotic thing to do. Why is he being so stupid?
But in GET OUT, I just said, “Ah, he couldn’t turn his back on a woman who is hit.” And that was aided by the fact that Chris obviously wrestles with the decision, saying, “No… no… don’t do it.” So the fact that he does stop doesn’t make him stupid: it makes him sympathetic.
And the effect on me as an audience is that I was not angry. Instead I felt clever for connecting the dots, and a little smug. It’s always good to make your audience feel smart – it adds to their enjoyment of the film. So well done, Jordon Peele.
But other than that motivation, the subplot doesn’t really have any resolution per se. Chris doesn’t come to terms with his trauma any more than he already had. It’s just there.
And that’s the subplots, such as they are. Only the Rod subplot really comes through as a full subplot. But the other elements certainly add to this film.
Now, one thing I want to discuss is code-switching. I added a row for it to the storylanes analysis. Because I think it’s an important element of this film.
Code-switching is the tendency to speak differently, using different dialect, word choices, tone, and possibly even language, when talking to different people. When talking to a child, one tends to speak differently than when talking to a judge. That’s code-switching.
One important type of code-switching applies to race. African Americans will often use different dialect and tone when talking with other African Americans, as opposed to the way they talk to whites who are not their close friends.
This movie makes good use of code-switching. We often see Chris code-switching when talking to other blacks. And often, when those other blacks are actually white people in black bodies, his attempts fail. It’s one of the things that lends a sense of unease to this situation – blacks talking and acting like whites when they probably shouldn’t. The code-switching lane in the analysis identifies these.
But first, we see code-switching in action when Chris talks with Rod. His wording, rhythms, and dialect are subtly different when he talks to Rod than when he talks to Rose or the other Armitages. There’s a level of comfort there that is missing when he interacts strictly with whites.
And later, when he encounters other African-Americans, he drops into that more casual mode. Only these aren’t truly African-Americans – they’re whites wearing black skin. Look at the scene where Chris approaches Walter. “A real doggone keeper.” Walter responds like an old white man – he doesn’t even sound like a contemporary white. It’s strange, and Chris is a little freaked out. It’s one of the clues of what’s going wrong here.
Similarly, when Chris approaches Logan at the party, his approach and Logan’s response are completely at contrast.
DIALOGUE FROM P50: “It’s good to see another brother…”
Again, a sign of strangeness, especially when added to the way Logan dresses. As Chris later describes him to Rod: “the one other guest is like the whitest-most dude at the party.”
This code-switching is brilliantly used here to set the tone.
Though I must confess, the words put in the mouths of these black-white dudes are a bit stereotyped. I don’t quite believe them – they’d sound hokey coming from a white actor. It’s probably necessary to exaggerate them a little, but this seems a bit too extreme.
Now, one last bit of plot to discuss, and that’s the ending of this film. Or perhaps I should say endings.
As written in the script, at the end, the police arrive just as Chris has finished killing the Armitages. The police promptly arrest him. He ends up in prison for multiple murders, and Rod visits him there. Chris has defeated the Armitage plot, but he will spend the rest of his life behind bars, another kind of sunken place.
By contrast, in the movie, as Chris crouches over Rose’s dying body, a police car appears. But it’s Rod, in a TSA car. They have one last humorous exchange, and they drive off. It’s a happy ending.
So why the changed ending?
Now note, they actually filmed the original ending. You can find it among various extras on various available versions of this film.
But at some point, they decided to change it.
Jordon Peele is on record as saying that after the election of Donald Trump, he felt that the world was dark enough that he couldn’t bring himself to make the ending of this movie as dark as the original. So he changed it to a happy ending.
I can respect that motivation. But I must admit, the first time I saw the film, I preferred the original ending. It seemed truer to the theme of the film.
But I’ve since had second thoughts. This ending doesn’t undercut the theme – the theme is still there, strong as ever. There’s just as much catharsis with the happy ending in place. And it does make one feel better than the original downbeat ending.
It also gives a better end for Rod’s arc. He gets to show up, say “I told you so,” make a funny quip, and be a hero. Instead, in the original ending, Rod’s there, but he hasn’t really accomplished anything in the film. A good resolution for a secondary character isn’t the most important thing in the world, but given what a great character Rod is, it’s nice to see him have his moment.
So I’m okay with this new happy ending. Chris went through enough hell to earn it. And it does justice to rod.
This is an important lesson to screenwriters. It’s all right to have a happy ending. Even the darkest stories don’t have to end in darkness – you can still get the point across even if the main characters end up with a happy life.
And, as it happens, it’s a lesson that I am currently taking to heart. I’m currently working on a screenplay that deals metaphorically with a pretty heavy subject. My current draft has a pitch-black ending. But now I’m seriously reconsidering it – perhaps it’s okay if I give my protagonist a happy ending.
Now let’s talk theme.
Because this is the most thematically rich film that we’ve discussed so far on this podcast. And the theme is, clearly, race in America. This is a movie about how blacks are treated in this country, even by good racially progressive whites. There are no sneering racists in this film. The whites actually prefer blacks – that’s why they’re trying to take their bodies. But what they are doing is still a deep and horrible evil – they are stealing the lives of blacks to extend the lives of whites. It doesn’t get much more grim than that. And it’s a powerful metaphor for a certain kind of racism that exists in America today.
This is actually something that I love about horror movies. Horror movies can be more deeply metaphorical than almost any other genre. And I do love metaphor.
Not all horror movies need such deep meaning. But how wonderful when there is a strong metaphor in place, as there is in this movie. It’s the thing that most tempts me to make a horror film. And in fact, that script I mentioned is a horror-comedy, and I’m in the early stages of writing another horror. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been doing so many horror films in this podcast, to see how great horror films handle metaphor.
So bravo again, Jordon Peele. You make extremely entertaining films that have a lot to say. I deeply admire that about you.
Before we move into the end game, I’d like to talk about how brain transplants are handled in this film. There’s probably about a thousand ways you could represent brain transplants, so it’s worth looking at the details here.
First, the transplant is done with a physical operation. The skulls are cut open, the brain exchanged. This has several beneficial aspects. First, it’s strangely believable – you could imagine a brain transplant working like this, as opposed to some weird mystical transfer.
But it also lends itself to some amazing visuals as the brain transplant is prepared. The scenes where Dean prepares Jim Hudson to transfer his brain, the clean operating room, the careful rituals of surgery, the saws and blades, the cutting open of the skull, the view of the brain. These are all wonderful visuals that set a great tone. And that contrast nicely with the less controlled violence as Chris kills the Armitages.
But beyond that, this film does something terrific when it posits a brain transfer that leaves the original inhabitant present in his newly occupied head. The victim isn’t dead – he’s exiled to the sunken place, forced to watch as someone else lives his life.
To me, this is far more horrifying than just being replaced. It’s a special kind of hell, especially as presented here. And especially as set up in the hypnotism scene, where Chris first experiences the horrors of the sunken place. Again, there are terrific visuals, along with a deep sense of dread.
One more thing that this does is that it makes it possible for the victim to regain control of his body in short bursts. Which makes the midpoint possible, where Andre is momentarily ascendant and warns Chris to get out. And which makes the final action climax, where Chris disables Walter by flashing him, letting the owner of Walter’s body take control and shoot Rose and then himself.
And, of course, there is thematic resonance here. The lives of African Americans are not just stolen here. They are forced to witness it, to watch how they are exploited. Which adds to the depth of meaning of this film.
When screenwriters design the details for some bit of magic – and even science fiction science acts like magic in movies like this – they can make it work however they want. Within some reasonable limits, it’s generally possible to justify any details. All it requires is a little techno-babble, as we see here when the educational video explains why a vestige of the victim’s brain must remain in place.
VOICE OVER HERE
So the key is to construct the details so that they add to the story. GET OUT, in all the superb details of the brain transplant, shows how this is done.
So, overall, how’s this movie?
Pretty terrific. But then, I doubt you needed to hear me say that.
But not quite perfect. Rose’s treachery comes from nowhere. And there aren’t any shades of gray in this film – for the most part, the blacks are all good, the whites all bad. And further, the whites are all a little goofy, using language that doesn’t quite fit. I don’t entirely buy the presentation of the whites, though I understand why they are presented as they are.
But the movie has some strong things to say, and it says them well. I like the film a lot.
So, what are three lessons for the screenwriter?
First, consider the use of a tonal inciting incident. It’s a powerful technique, to have some piece of foreshadowing that sets the tone for the film but isn’t necessary to start the plot. This works well.
A lot of screenwriting gurus will tell you that if a scene doesn’t advance the plot, it shouldn’t be in the film. The deer scene in this film is solid evidence that this isn’t true. A scene can provide a lot of other value to a movie. It can be entertaining. It can illuminate character. Or, as in the case of the deer scene, it can set a tone. So that’s worth noting.
Second lesson, you can make a strong statement about something bad and still have a happy ending. A film can be profound without being gloomy. This is a lesson that I’m going to take to heart in my very next rewrite – so get to work, Joe!
Third, this film provides a good model for how to build tension leading into a violence-filled action-packed final act. Without going into much more detail, I’ll just say that’s another lesson I’m going to take into my next rewrite.
So that’s GET OUT. A terrific horror film, one that expands what can be done with a horror film in today’s cinema. And while it has, overall, a fairly conventional structure, there are some interesting twists on the conventional format.
As always, I hope you enjoyed this episode, and I hope you learned from it. As you can tell by my comments, I certainly did. This analysis is going to have a direct impact on my current project.
If you want to see more detailed analysis of this film, or of any of the films we’ve covered, go to storylanes.com. The scripts of all episodes are there too.
Next time I’m going to analyze JO JO RABBIT, the 2019 film and winner of the Oscar for best adapted screenplay.
Until then, this is Joe Dzikiewicz and the Storylanes podcast. Talk at you later!