Sunday, October 8, 2017

Lowering my defenses

I have always believed, and recently reemphasized on this blog, that in order to be a good film critic, you need to divorce yourself from the specifics of your own perspective as a viewer. You can't just see a movie through your own eyes. You have to see it through the eyes of the person for whom it was intended. Or really, you should continually become that person. You should be Arya Stark on Game of Thrones, and have all the faces at your disposal. You should be No One.

I didn't do that when I watched Get Out the first time.

Fortunately, in this case, I was not reviewing it. Not officially for ReelGood. But I did "review it," in a manner of speaking, on this blog, in this post. And you can tell from the way I labored to say exactly what I meant that not only was I trying desperately not to offend anyone, but that I might not have actually known exactly what I meant. Or might have felt uncomfortable with what I meant on some level. SPOILERS TO FOLLOW

To summarize, so you don't have to link back to that post, I wished that the movie had dealt more realistically with the genuine problem of parents who can't accept that their daughter is dating someone from another race, complicated by the fact that they consider themselves open-minded liberals. I didn't like the fact that the movie took a more fantastical, science fiction approach to its contemplations on racism, thinking that it damaged our ability to draw real messages from it.

Then I saw Get Out again.

I always knew I would, before finalizing my year-end list. At the pace it was going, it looked likely to sink down as far as somewhere in the 50s, which would mean it wouldn't even make the top third of the movies I saw this year. That didn't seem right, something I knew even when I struggled to write that post.

I got my opportunity at the Hoyts kiosk last night, purportedly to rent the Will Ferrell-Amy Poehler comedy The House to watch with my wife that evening. She had accepted that choice with a bit of a shrug, and I thought maybe I could do better. So instead of just picking The House on the opening screen, I scrolled four screens in and was reminded that she had not yet seen Get Out, and had stated an express desire to see it. Thinking she still might have her mind set on something a little lighter that evening, whether she shrugged at The House or not, I texted to be sure, and got an enthusiastic response. A few minutes later, Get Out was spat out of the machine.

For some reason I was with Get Out every step of the way this time. Knowing where it was going to go was a big help in that regard. Instead of being blindsided by it, I was able to view earlier occurrences in the plot in light of what I knew was going to happen. I have also recently said on this blog that a film shouldn't take two viewings in order to figure out why it's great -- this was in reference to Dunkirk -- but I'd also be a fool if I suggested the implied opposite, which is that it's never worth watching a movie a second to see if you missed a brilliance that was always there.

But I think the big difference was how I lowered my defenses this time. And that gets back to my perspective as a viewer.

See, the first time I saw Get Out, I found it all too easy to put myself in the shoes of the Armitages, the supposedly liberal family living in the country who are proven be demented psychopaths. Of course, it wasn't the second part I related to. It was the part where they were asked to put their liberal views to the test and accept their daughter's black boyfriend.

I don't have a daughter, and if I did, she wouldn't be of dating age. But my sons will one day be of dating age, and if they date outside their race, I want to be their biggest champion.

But there's that nagging part of me, as I suspect there is of anyone who considers themselves post-racial, that wonders just how I would react. Would I be as supportive as I think I would be? If I weren't, I doubt it would be because my son's prospective partner were black, or Indian, or Japanese, or extra terrestrial. It would be because that person is in some way different than what I had envisioned. The same scenario would confront me if that person were male rather than female, and again I hope I would be cool with that -- but I can never really be sure until actually being in that situation.

The first time I saw Get Out, I got off on the wrong foot with Chris because I thought he wasn't giving his girlfriend's parents the chance to make good on their own ideals. He doubted them out of the gate, continued to doubt them the whole time, and was ultimately proven correct. It felt, on some level, unfair.

The second time I watched Get Out, I fully realized what others had told me the first time -- which is that the movie is not meant to be told from their, or in this case my, perspective. It's Chris' perspective, and his perspective has a lot of history informing it. Throughout history, dads of white girls have been a lot more likely to chase people like him off their lawn with a shotgun than welcome him into their homes. A little skepticism is only practical.

It's true that Chris warns his girlfriend and then says "I told you so." But he was justified in worrying about it, and justified in "telling her so." This time around, with my defenses lowered, I was not as sensitive to the evidence he was stockpiling to feel weirded out by them. He does give them a fair enough shake, it's just that things are so weird, so early, that his instinct to say "I told you so" is stimulated almost the moment he walks through their door.

And since this movie isn't doing what I thought it should be doing -- exploring the micro-aggressions of subtle racism -- I met the movie on the terms of what it was doing. Namely, existing as a paranoid fantasy that says real things about blacks and their fears of what white people might do to them. These fears are not always as straightforward as "white people hate me so they will try to lynch me." They are sometimes more nebulous, with less of an identifiable and explainable psychology behind them, like "white people might turn me into a sex slave."

What happens in this movie is so gonzo, scientifically, that it seems clear there is no other way to interpret it but metaphorically. That's what I called "confused messaging" the first time around, as it seemed arguable that what the Armitages do with blacks is as much out of a desire to be them as a hatred for them. But what's really happening in this movie is that Chris is imagining the worst possible thing that could happen when he's introduced to his white girlfriend's parents -- and that thing actually manifesting itself. Whether it "really" happens or whether the whole movie is meant to be taken as a metaphor is somewhat less important. The important part is that it is an expression of a fear that black people really carry around with them -- a paranoid fear, but just because they're paranoid doesn't mean that people aren't out to get them.

Because, as the world today continually tells us, they are. Maybe not in this exact way, but they are. And Get Out dramatizes this fear viscerally.

My reevaluation of Get Out is probably still not enough to make it a candidate for my top ten, as I still have nagging concerns about it. But it was great to watch it in a spirit of giving myself over to it, and not feeling defensive about it.

And thought it may not make my top ten, it no longer has to worry about being mired in the 50s.

No comments: