Trauma, #Never Again, And “Getting Out”

Jordan Peele’s brilliantly conceived film, Get Out, does its job of shattering the myth that we are living in a post-racial America. My great uncle, Leo Hurwitz’s film, Strange Victory, tried to do the same in 1948 after we won the war against Hitler but came home to racism here. It’s now 70 years later and there’s still too much to be scared of. Peele says he made Get Out to face his fears. What’s he most afraid of? “Human beings. What people can do in conjunction with other people is exponentially worse than what they can do alone. Society is the scariest monster.”

The Armitage family in Get Out puts on full display our inhuman capacities for hatred, blindness, and envy, which incite control, murder, and desires to steal what others have. It is frightening. But, Peele has the courage to stand up to his fears. That isn’t easy. He knows the distrust and paranoia being mistreated for the color of your skin (or your gender) creates. It can make you angry; it can make you scared; it can make you hide; or it can make you do something about it (#Black Lives Matter; #Me Too; #Never Again.)

We see all these reactions in those under the Armitage’s spell. What is it, though, about Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya)? Peele says of his character: “In his racial paranoia, [he] is onto something that he wouldn’t be if he was a white guy and there was a similar thing going on.”

But, hold on. Not so quick. Why is it that Chris “gets out” when Georgina (Betty Gabriel), Walter (Marcus Henderson), and “Logan” (Lakeith Stanfield) could not?

Trauma & #Never Again

This might seem strange to say, but Chris’ childhood trauma actually helped him. I’ll explain. I’m not discounting that Georgina, Walter, and Logan had their share of trauma too. It’s just that we don’t hear about it in the film. We only see the effects in their strange behavior.

Chris’ trauma we are told about and it raises these questions: How did it help him get out? What was it about his history that gave him the will to see clearly and take action – especially when his fear, in the past, made him freeze?

The details of Chris’ trauma are revealed as his girlfriend Rose’s (Allison Williams) psychiatrist mom Missy (Catherine Keener) tries to hypnotize him into the spell she tricks all the Armitage’s Black “guests” into. Chris’ mom died in a hit and run accident and Chris has lived with the belief he could have saved her. But, he was a little boy; terrified when she didn’t come home; and he didn’t want to think about what scared him most.

Typical of trauma, Chris removed himself from his fears (we call it, dissociation). He stared at the TV, closed down his mind, and (I’m sure) kept waiting for her to walk in the door. She never did.

Later, Chris discovered his mom didn’t die right away and he’s lived with the belief that if he hadn’t been frozen in fear – he would have called the police or someone to help her. In his guilt, it’s his fault she’s dead.

This guilt is what sets the stage for Chris to never again let his fear take over. Yet, it’s not an easy road – and Chris struggles throughout most of the film with what he sees – but doesn’t want to.

Love & Loss & Fear

Chris’ fears begin to surface even before he arrives at the strange and dangerous Armitage home. He’s driving there with Rose to meet her parents. They “don’t know” he’s Black. He loves Rose, but love is complicated and hard to trust when you’ve lost your mom and numbed your feelings to go on.

That works if nothing stirs them up. It’s a good thing something did. He needs his wits about him. Rose and her family are not people to trust.

So, when Rose hits a deer on the way to her parent’s house, the wheels of Chris’ early trauma start to spin. He won’t leave the deer. He follows it, as it moans in pain in the woods beside the road. He stares into its eyes. That deer is his trauma; his dying mother – the mom he was too frightened to help. He’s primed, now, to at least try – to keep his eyes open.

This is the trauma Missy preys on; the trauma she tries to use to weaken him; to sink him into the trap of his old fears and guilt; where he was paralyzed and silenced: “…That day you did nothing … sink, sink …”

The Sunken Place

That Sunken Place is the place where fears live deep inside. Missy knows that. And, as she twirls her spoon hypnotically around and around and around in her cup of tea … Chris falls, helplessly, through thin air, right into the memory of the room where he watched TV waiting for his mom.

He’s there. That’s how it is in traumatic flashbacks. He sinks into that old place of fear and loss. He feels it all. Tears stream down his face. He’s vulnerable, he’s sad, he’s alone; he’s terrified. It’s as real as the night it happened. He’s a little kid. Missy almost has him.

At first, he thinks his meeting with her that night was a nightmare, a very old one. But, there are certain clues it wasn’t. Chris remembers the spoon in Missy’s teacup. It never stopped. She was using her training as a psychiatrist to trick him; something no good therapist would do.

This startling awareness is a warning. Not to be vulnerable or susceptible to wishing things were the way he wants them to be. In a strange way, inducing Chris into a flashback/remembering of his trauma, Missy actually does him an unintended favor. She “helps” him break out of the paralysis of fear he was in as a young boy who lost his mom.

And, so: Chris begins to watch – Georgina and Walter, and then, Logan. Although it’s not a smooth path to get there – #Never Again starts to take over.

No … No … No … No … No

What Chris sees, and what we see through his eyes, are frightening signs of trauma (and mind control). Georgina is in the trance Missy Armitage keeps her in. She’s pretty much a robot. In her stilted, fake, state her too broad, bright and put-on smiles, her speech; her pleasantries are wooden.

The only time we see anything real is when Chris, trying to befriend her, says: “If there are too many white people, I feel nervous.” Georgina starts to tremble. Shaking visibly, she begins to come out of her trance. But, either her terror is too much (or Missy has her too well programmed):

No, no, no, no, no, no …” she tells herself; and back into the trance she goes: “The Armitage’s are good to us. They treat us like family.”

Something similar happens with Logan. In his old real self, he was an artist who has gone missing. Now, he’s married to an older wealthy white woman, friend of the Armitage’s, clearly possessive of him (“a sex slave” as Chris’ friend Rod (LilRel Howry) has warned him the Armitage’s are trying to create?) When Chris tries to befriend a “brother,” Logan tells him “the African American experience has been good to me …”

At this, Chris shoots a photo of Logan on his iPhone, and Logan’s trance is shattered for the moment. Logan lunges at Chris: “Get out. Get out. Get out.”

Rose’s Hitler-esque neurosurgeon dad, Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), says it’s a seizure. It’s not. Chris knows what a seizure looks like. Plus, this isn’t the attack on Chris it seems to be. It’s actually a warning. Chris is in danger.

Abandonment & Fear Of It …

The problem is – Chris doesn’t want to fully believe the obvious clues that Rose’s family – and Rose herself, the woman he loves – are up to no good. He needs love; he wants Rose’s love; he’s been left too alone by his mom’s death – and this need almost blinds him.

But, wait a minute – Rose has lied. He’s not the first Black man she’s ever dated. He’s found photos in a box – of Rose with Black man after Black man – including Walter and Logan. Georgina is there in the box too.

Chris is scared, very scared – and he tries to leave, but he can’t. Rose “doesn’t want him to go.” In Chris’ mind, Rose isn’t the Rose who is clearly a part of her family’s “Order” and their plot. Rose, who begs him not to leave (tricking him into thinking she can’t find her keys) is his abandoned little boy/self, frightened of being left; and he vows not to abandon her.

Chris’ fear of abandonment makes him hesitate; the truth is clouded over. He’s pulled into the Sunken Place, the basement of the Armitage house – and, momentarily, into the terrors that threaten to freeze and silence him again.

It’s too late. Or, is it?

Reality (& Rod) To The Rescue

The voice of reality is still speaking to him in his own mind as he sits, arms strapped to a chair, fighting to keep his eyes open and remember the truth. He’s put earplugs in – and he’s using “No, no, no, no, no” to his benefit – to keep his wits about him and stay awake, not succumbing to hypnosis or control.

It’s him or them – reality or the fantasy of love and acceptance that doesn’t exist in Rose or in this house. His only choice is to defeat the ones that want to rob him of his strength and identity. These are the Armitages – and this, also, is a part of his mind that wants not to know and not to feel. What almost does him in is the traumatic loss of his mom. But, it’s also what saves him.

Not to mention, his good friend Rod, TSA agent and voice of reality in his ear the whole time – on the other end of his cell phone, warning him of the oddities and the dangers. Rod might sound paranoid, but he’s not. And, when he can’t reach Chris anymore, he goes on a mission to find him.

Saved, they drive off together, leaving Rose on the road dying, still trying to seduce Chris into staying. Maybe we can suffice it to say that the “right woman” dies on the road in the end. That is – if Rose is the part of Chris that has seduced him into silence and blindness and made him live in his own Sunken Place of fear.

But … no more and #never again. Chris fought his fear. He stayed, 2, 3, and 4 steps ahead as Jiu Jitsu taught him to do. He kept his eyes open. And, in standing up to his fears, Chris “got out.”




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