Three days ago, I finally saw Get Out, and like everyone, I want to discuss the movie at length but am worried about spoiling it for those who haven’t seen it. So…this post contains spoilers, and if you haven’t yet seen the movie, you need to. Also, before reading my article, please read these other reviews/think-pieces about the film:
From Cosmopolitan: “Get Out Perfectly Captures the Terrifying Truth about White Women”
Get Out, like all thrillers, relies on its ability to shock the audience with plot twists. The audience goes through Acts I & II believing one thing, and in Act III, a new truth is revealed that takes the audience completely by surprise, just as it takes the protagonist by surprise.
It’s no surprise that the other black characters in the film turn out to have been brainwashed by the white characters. It’s no surprise that the family & friends of Chris’ white girlfriend, Rose, are in on the brainwashing. It’s no surprise that Rose’s mother has a hidden agenda when she hypnotizes him to “cure his smoking” or that her father has a hidden agenda when he brags about how “not racist” he is. The only real surprise is that Rose herself is in on the brainwashing, and although we believed her to be the only white person Chris could trust, she turns out to be the most loathsome character of the whole film.
So why do we, the audience, get so fooled by Allison Williams’ character? Is it simply because she plays a doe-eyed innocent white girl so well that, like Chris, we feel hypnotized? We don’t buy her innocent white girl act in the TV show Girls; we see right through the character Marnie and judge her for the narcissistic (albeit entertaining) brat that she is. We came into the movie Get Out with the bias of seeing Williams as Marnie, the only major role she’s ever played besides Peter Pan (*barf*), and yet, even with Williams as the messenger, we still believed Rose’s act right until she decided to drop it.
It’s not good acting that kept us from seeing through Rose; it’s good writing.
According to Blake Snyder, author of Save the Cat, good screenwriting has a formula to it, and the most important part of the formula is to have a defining moment in Act I that gets the audience on the protagonist’s side.
In Get Out, the “Save the Cat” moment isn’t committed by the true protagonist, Chris; it’s committed by the villainess, Rose. It happens in the first 15 minutes of the film, when Rose accidentally hits a deer with her car, and the police show up & ask Chris for his identification. Rose stands up to the white officer, saying that Chris should not have to share his information because he was not driving, and implying that the officer is harassing Chris because of his race.
The officer backs down, and Chris is not required to share his identification. Chris is grateful that his girlfriend was able to use her white privilege to protect him from the police. As a black man, he lives in constant fear of the police and has clearly been coached on exactly how to deal with them (something we see again at the end of the film when he immediately throws his arms up at the sight of a cop car). But when his white girlfriend stands up for his civil rights, the police listen and show Chris respect. In that moment, we see Rose as a heroine. We root for her, and we root for her relationship with Chris, even as we prepare for the worst.
And the worst does come: it’s later revealed that Rose’s protectiveness of Chris’ civil rights wasn’t just an act; it was a completely selfish act. Her intent in standing up to the officer was never to defend Chris; it was to ensure there was no public record of them ever being together. That way, when Chris’s disappearance was reported, she would be able to deny they were together at the time he went missing, and use the fact she was visiting family as an alibi rather than evidence of guilt.
But up until the moment we see Rose pull her keys out of her purse, we don’t accept this, because we watched her save the cat. We watched her stand up to the racist law enforcement that her black boyfriend has to deal with every day, and because of this, we believe everything else about her act. When she plays dumb as Chris shares his observations about the other black characters at the house, we believe this is just typical white-girl naïveté about racism. When we see Rose’s father hold a slave-style auction for Chris’s body while Rose & Chris are taking a walk at Rose’s suggestion, we assume Rose has no knowledge or involvement in the auction. Even when we see photos of Rose taking seductive selfies with multiple previous black boyfriends (and a black girlfriend who now lives and works as a servant in their house), our first instinct is to believe that her parents have hypnotized her, too, and that she is a victim of whatever’s happening, rather than an integral part of making it happen.
And just like Chris, we feel betrayed when Rose reveals to us who she really is. We hate her more than any of the other characters. Even the seemingly innocent things she does now seem evil. Toward the end of the film, we see Rose sitting at her laptop listening to music with a glass of milk and a glass of dry Fruit Loops. She picks the dry fruit loops out of the glass and munches them without dipping them in the milk. In the theatre, my girlfriend whispered to me, “What kind of sick sociopath eats cereal like that?” We now officially hate this character so much we judge the way she eats cereal.
This much is proven when Chris takes his revenge on the rest of the Armitage family, saving Rose for last. We loathe all of these characters at this point, and delight in seeing Chris serve them justice one-by-one. But for Chris, none of these killings are about revenge; they are about survival. All of these characters are obstacles preventing him from his objective to “get out,” and once they are out of his way, he leaves. He doesn’t want to face Rose, but she follows him, and we feel excited as she does, knowing that somehow it will backfire on her.
When Chris finally faces the real Rose, she is lying on the ground with a gunshot wound, and Chris has his arms around her neck, trying to finish her off with his bare hands. The audience cheers him on as he tries to choke her and curses Rose’s last-ditch effort to seduce him, but for Chris, there is nothing gratifying about this scene. When his friend Rod shows up to rescue him, he feels relieved not only that he is being rescued, but also that he can leave Rose alone to die from a gunshot wound, rather than having to kill her himself. When I saw the film, many in the theatre wanted Rod to run Rose over with his cop car, but we all understood why this didn’t work from a practical perspective. Every act of violence committed by Chris was genuine self-defense, and the film’s writer, Jordan Peele, decided to keep it that way, no matter how satisfying it would have felt to watch Rose die in the brutal & gory classic-horror-film fashion.
If we were to apply Blake Snyder’s cat analogy to Rose, she would be the character who saves a cat stuck in a tree, only to add it to her collection of cats which she ritually sacrifices to Satan.
Save-the-Cat-style screenwriting is a powerful mechanism in horror and thrillers, because even when you go in expecting twists, they show how the writers can still fool you, and although it enrages us, this is precisely what makes these films exciting.