Excerpt from Get Out: The Complete Annotated Screenplay
Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)
Available this week, Get Out: The Complete Annotated Screenplay presents Jordan Peele’s Academy Award–winning script with extensive annotations by the filmmaker, as well as an introductory essay by Tananarive Due and a selection of deleted scenes. Reprinted below with the kind permission of Inventory Press is an excerpt of Peele’s notes, which provide rich insights on the themes and the making of two crucial setpieces in the film: the Sunken Place sequence, in which Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) is hypnotized by Missy Armitage (Catherine Keener) in her office; and the lawn party sequence, which oscillates cleverly between racial satire and classic horror.
(Note: We’ve provided brief scene descriptions for each set of notes below to provide necessary context.)
[Chris steps out at night for a cigarette and has a frightening encounter with the Armitages’ help: Walter, the groundskeeper, comes sprinting towards Chris out of the dark; and when Chris turns around, he finds himself face-to-face with the housekeeper, Georgina, in the kitchen window.]
A thorny but important piece of the Get Out puzzle—one that stemmed from another one of my fears as a black man—is our perception of people who are in roles of servitude. So, for instance, when you meet a black person who works as the help for a white family, it instantly triggers something uncomfortable. And then this triggers some regret: Am I demeaning this person by feeling sorry for them or by merely thinking that they are in a world they shouldn’t have to be in? How can I not let the cultural implications of that relationship affect my view on this person’s humanity? Who am I to feel bad for anybody? This might be this person’s chosen life, and it might be great. But that thought process is very uncomfortable and is a big part of this story.
[Chris enters Missy Armitage’s office; the Sunken Place sequence begins.]
Here I am trying to satisfy the audience member who’s saying “What are you doing going in there? Why even sit down?” Part of the push and pull for Chris is that Georgina and Walter are so scary out there that inside is where we want to be, this feels safer. It’s important to me that Chris is not okay with being hypnotized, but it’s key that Missy is going to not only get ahead of him, but ahead of us. So by the time you realize this is not where to go, it’s too late.
Catherine Keener got hypnotized herself as part of her preparation for the part. So we talked about that experience a lot and what she could tap into during this scene. A lot of what she learned was about how much trust and openness is needed to establish this connection with a hypnotist in order to go on this journey together. It taught us a lot about what this scene needed to be and the degree of empathy she needed to show before turning on a dime and saying “sink,” which is my favorite part. Before that, though, she’s connecting his senses to this specific moment from his childhood. She knows she’s going to zone in on the trauma surrounding the death of his mom and use that to create his Sunken Place. I know historically there is mistrust of that world in the Black community, or an inability to access that type of help. I did a mischievous thing here, which is depicting something that can be very good for people and validating our fears about that.
The Sunken Place is not a magic spell. It’s a manipulation of someone’s own psyche. Chris’s portal is a square like a television for a reason. That was his moment of stasis; his moment of being trapped in the trauma of his childhood, that’s what we’re sinking into. You can’t actually see it in the movie, but when he’s watching TV as a kid, the image behind his head is this black-and-white underwater scene, so that’s why his Sunken Place has all this flowy water, slow-motion thing.
[Chris sits in his chair motionless. He can’t move. His eyes are wide open, staring straight at Missy (and into the camera).]
I have to admit it: This shot ended up being more iconic than I ever imagined. I knew Daniel needed to communicate stasis—that he couldn’t move—and eyes open and mouth open does that in a way that mouth shut doesn’t do. You can be just chillin’ with your mouth closed, and that won’t convey the fear that he’s experiencing. I thought of it as if he’s trapped in the representation of his own worst memory and the guilt that comes with it. He’s trapped in his worst moment. There’s something very soul piercing about somebody looking down the lens into your eyes almost like you were looking in the mirror all of a sudden. But part of the reason that I think this image became so iconic is because it’s not one we have seen a lot of in the past. Yes, we’ve seen a lot of Black pain and suffering in movies and certainly in slave narratives and stuff like that—but not as much on the fears of a modern Black man.
[The Sunken Place sequence ends and Chris wakes up suddenly in his girlfriend Rose’s bed.]
Having him wake up and make it seem like a dream felt almost like a cheat. But on the other hand, it was an amazing ticket out of the Sunken Place sequence. Because if he were to wake up and remember everything, there’s no way he would have had a response besides: “Leave now!” Ultimately, it didn’t feel like I was selling some rotten goods. He has this moment where he’s like, “What the fuck happened?” but he does come to terms with the fact that he faced his trauma last night, regardless of whether it was a dream or reality. He has a renewed sense of creativity and peace.
[Chris walks through the Armitages’ yard and takes pictures.]
Chris being a photographer first occurred to me as a tribute to the Katharine Ross character (Joanna) in Stepford Wives, but as I continued to develop it, it became this perfect defense mechanism for Chris, specifically in the party scene. He gets uncomfortable and says, “I’m just going to go over here.” His trauma ties into his profession. For somebody who had been through the worst day of his life when his mom died and was in this stasis while watching television, it would make sense that he chose photography—he’s freezing moments and collecting them. I felt like that became this special power for him at this key moment—this ability to step back and investigate through a telescopic lens. That even goes all the way to him using the flash to break Andre and Walter out of the Sunken Place, which wasn’t my intention initially. But as we were making the movie, I realized the implications of camera phones and how they’ve become such an important tool in the fight against racism. It was another thing that just sort of worked and came together, but it’s connected to this idea of his eyes and point of view as a Black man being his special power. He’s equipped to know something fucked up is going on because he’s perceptive. He catches on to all of these things. He has the ability to put together all of these pieces. His eyes, his art, his point of view—it’s his weapon.
[Chris has a strange, elusive conversation with Walter (a.k.a. Grandpa). Walter describes Rose as a “real doggone keeper.”]
The Armitages know that Grandma and Grandpa act weird. This whole subservient thing is just a guise to keep them doing what they enjoy. Grandma loves her house; Grandpa is a gardener and loves working out in the fields. What else are they doing there if they’re not the help? It also keeps “guests” like Chris away from them and from chatting them up. At some point, I pictured Grandpa saying to Dean, “Nonsense, let me be, I invented this thing, I know what I’m doing.” When Chris comes to him, it presents an opportunity.
Chris is looking to commiserate. He wants this dude to say, “OK, you’re right. Shit is kind of weird here.” The fact that he doesn’t hear anything like that makes this such a socially isolating moment. With the exception of a few people, you could walk up to a Black person anywhere and be like, “Do you feel the way that I feel right now?” And that person will be like, “yup.” Weirdly, it works on another level, too, because Walter’s hostility is interpreted as competitive—a romantic competitiveness. On face value, it positions Rose as a trophy that Chris feels he has to defend.
[Chris tells Rose that he thinks Walter likes her and is jealous of him. Rose says she’ll talk to her father about it, but Chris says no.]
Chris is the one that stops Rose from talking to her Dad. Even though our audience brain might say, “Yeah let’s tell the Dad, let’s get everybody together.” Chris’s cultural sensibilities tell him that snitching on Walter is an act of betrayal. You never know what could come from it, you can’t just take that back after and act like everything is normal. An interesting element of this movie is the continuous dissection of which actions sacrifice one’s soul. Obviously, snitch is a bad word in the Black community for many reasons: It can get people killed, it can get people put in jail, which harms the Black community. It’s also just another fascinating point in this movie where I was trying to draw this distinction between horror-movie common sense and morality, and how it differs from the Black common sense.
[The Armitages’ party begins. Chris and Rose walk through, mingling with various guests who interact with Chris in a slightly predatory manner and ask inappropriate questions.]
This party scene was our first montage, and when I got to this scene in the writing of the screenplay, this was the moment I realized I also had to direct this movie. I realized this definitely has to have a Black director to understand why these interactions are uncomfortable. In some ways, you can say anyone who has ever been an outsider can put this through a filter and relate to it in a certain way. But it’s a very, very Black experience and one that Daniel himself related to. I think people of color felt seen and heard while watching this scene. I also think white people felt seen and heard just not necessarily in the best way. The response I often get from white people was of personal horror, something like “Oh my God, I feel like I have done this? Do I do this?” And there was something liberating about that for people. It was a positive realization instead of a crushing blow, or all of it at the same time maybe. This scene is the thesis of this movie in the way it connects the dots between the subtlest forms of microaggression to the most violent, unimaginable racial violence.
He’s on the auction block. They’re all kicking the tires and have their own individual reasons why they’re interested in his body, as we find out later. But in the spirit of an Ira Levin story, we disguise the monster as something more common place, more relatable and almost comforting.
Black is in fashion. It all comes down to that—all of these reasons, all of these microaggressions—Black is in fashion. Obama is president. Because of things like affirmative action and cancel culture, some perceive it be “better” to be Black in America in 2017 than it is to be white which is the racism we’re talking about.
This moment where Dean’s talking to a bunch of people and points at Chris, it shows he’s been talking Chris up while feeling this uncomfortable pride that his daughter is dating a Black guy. It goes back to the fear of unsolicited attention. Being the other, being the outsider. Even if it’s the most well-intending people, it’s an uncomfortable experience.
[Chris meets Andre, the jogger who is abducted in the film’s opening scene. His eyes are glazed over, and he speaks slowly, in a different accent from before.]
By reintroducing Andre here, you sort of pique the audience’s and Chris’s paranoia and then you offer a little relief. Then you pique the paranoia some more, and then you offer relief. It’s this sort of gaslighting effect that’s always inching you closer to the inevitable, horrific conclusion. Chris is ultimately isolated, so seeing Andre would feel like a life preserver getting thrown to him. Black people all know if you see another token Black person at a party, it’s an unspoken rule that you can go up to them, make eye contact and empathize with each other. That’s that head nod and “Please tell me you see how weird this is.”
Andre is probably invited to this party as an advertisement. Because he already has a body, he’s invited so that prospective buyers can see how it works. There’s a moment here where Andre/Logan will do a little twirl showing off his outfit, but what he’s really doing is showing that the neural connections worked. On another level—the one Chris sees—it shows that this Black man is volunteering himself for approval. Chris is thinking, “This motherfucker did a twirl in front of some white people. Something is wrong.” Just being Black people in America gives us something in common.
Chris is going through exactly what the audience is going through. He’s not behind us, he’s not in front of us, he’s right there. This is what makes or breaks this movie. If we don’t feel aligned with him, then we really are alone. I thought the idea of a blind art dealer might be too over the top, but I think it’s just over the top enough. The idea with this character for me was to offer another possible ally. First, we present Andre, the only other Black guest at the party, as a potential safety net or someone who can maybe empathize with Chris’s situation—and then quickly yank that away when we see Andre as Logan. Then we meet this character … who doesn’t hold the same prejudices as the others. But we know that refusing to see race, aka “cultural colorblindness,” is an act of privilege and erasure that is still racist.
[Chris meets and chats with Jim Hudson, a blind art dealer.]
The two of them have sort of a soul connection in that they’re both artists. Also there is an ableist presumption that he is harmless because he is a blind guy (which is certainly not true). We play into that sense of jealousy with Jim’s inability to get on the map as a photographer—it gets the audience thinking about how he relates to Chris, but also how he might use Chris. He talks later about Chris’s eye and this weird spiritually bankrupt idea that by living behind his eyes he can appropriate his vision. But in my mind, there’s also an ambition: He wants to be a successful young Black artist.
[Chris walks through the kitchen and goes up to the second floor of the house. As soon as he is out of sight and earshot, the mingling guests stop in mid-conversation, making clear that their conversations are fake.]
Now we see who the enemy is. It’s not the father, it’s not the brother, it’s not the mom, it’s not Georgina, it’s everybody. Chris is more alone than we thought. Also, this breaks with how we’ve been progressing in terms of the audience’s relationship with Chris. All of a sudden, we’re allowed to get a couple steps ahead of Chris and see some things he’s not able to see. It can be a frustrating place for an audience when its main character is playing catch up, but because he’s such a good actor, the character still seems smart and still on the case. This is why we need Rod to prod Chris. He comes in and basically tells Chris point blank: Don’t trust white people, in general.
Read a review of Get Out: The Complete Annotated Screenplay by Ina Diane Archer in the November-December 2019 issue of Film Comment.