Rev., May 16, 2017.
Note: This is Part 1 of a 2 part treatment of ritual space in Get Out (2017).
In the quite good contemporary horror movie, Get Out (2017), issues of race have been interjected into some traditional tropes of the genre of horror in a way that sharply raises the fun quotient of the proceedings. While it has been said, in the mainstream, non-genre press, that this is the first horror movie to raise the issue of race, this could not be further from the truth, as there are numerous examples of direct address to the issue, and, then, even more so, too-numerous-to-count examples of indirect address in the form of eugenic horror movies about white Anglos, but I prefer to specify as English Americans, obsessed with genes and living forever. The fun part about the writing of Jordan Peele is that it seems that he actually understands the horror genre, and its tropes, and his purpose is to expose those tropes to the issue of race, to see what happens. What happens is sharply double-edged critiques of everyone involved, all of which make for sometimes laugh out loud moments, except that you are not laughing.
The first thing that Peele does (and, by Peele, I mean, of course, him and his staff, art director, producer, etc) is to acknowledge the race issue, and, for that reason, make the movie all about the genes. Thus, this is an example of a concentrated genetic horror movie, which zeros in on the issue immediately, and stays with it throughout. In this way, all of the more figurative and spelled out aspects of the trope as you might usually see it are sunk below the surface, so that you don’t see it, and might even think you are watching a regular family drama, but, no, it all goes according to trope.
For example, when Chris arrives for the first time at the house, he is like, as all persons in all horror movies about big houses, and even in mainstream romance fiction going back to Austen, surprised at how large it is. Moreover, it has a particular, reminiscient style. In the viewing time, May, 2017, it is noted that at the Venice Bienniale Mark Bradford thought the US Pavilion
looked a lot like Monticello
so had people come in by the side door, to get a bit of the African American perspective on such structures. Well, the house in Get Out also is modelled on Jefferson’s Monticello
and not only are the first hugs of the greeting sequence cast into a long shot, so that a standard trope is effaced, but then the camera pulls back to frame it in the back and eye of the African American gardener, to, as it were, frame the movie as the lattice-level nightmare of the average African American. This would seem, by itself, to place the gaze of the audience in, specifically, the African American mindset, but it is also true it could be a critique of the retrograde motion in race debate in this country in which an assimilative model of civil rights and progress appears to have been replaced by a rollback to a plantation view of the races, African Americans, according to this rhetoric, having made no progress since the end of the Civil War, and that’s what this is.
the trouble in the house begins almost as soon as Chris gets in the door, as, as it were, and this same visual effect was made use of in Frankenstein (1931) to characterize trouble resounding through the house, top to bottom, the greeting continues to be cast in the background, and effaced, as the camera now follows the greeters and greeted from the front hall
through the book case in the other room, meaning that the house reads too, and may harbor kooky theories
out to the living room, but not before showing us the backs of several family pictures mounted in frames on the piano, I suppose, all of which blacks out and effaces the actual family history, for a fake one
and then when they sit down, it is all but in the embrace of the patriarch, represented by a menacing old painting in oval form of the ancestor of the family
one would normally think of a picture like this as a flea market find put up for purely aesthetic-nostalgic reasons, but the fact that it embraces the two as they sit, means that it is an important prototype, and that the mother and father actually believe in him, and take marching orders from him
then not two minutes into it, the interrogation begins, and things get uncomfortable. The fact that Whitford is profiled by another picture, this time of a boy, which makes this, unofficially, a blue boy picture, adds to the drama the idea that he is interrogating Chris not out of concern for him, for as a young man in a house with a blue boy picture Chris is declared already to be in trouble, but for the sake of the family line, its blood and lineage. A blue boy picture is any antique picture of a young man or boy in a house, all of which, especially if placed in a spray of family pictures, in a parade of pictures, means that the boy of the house is in trouble, and, indeed, the whole family line is in trouble
These things don’t mean anything? Well, they do, apparently, to Peele, because now he doubles up on the trope of the cringing welcome, to the much more famous, and satisfyingly deep, trope of the haunted portrait parade. In this case, this parade is slightly displaced, to efface connection with the ancestors, but it is still worked out nonetheless by way of family pictures being given way too much wall space in the home. We are going to see a lot of antifeminist imagery in the domestic imagery, and we get that first thing as we write off the women folk as the lions or tigers of the cage, with no real power other than as bouncers or killers
but then in the hallway, not ten minutes in the house, he gets right into it, we see the culprit, the problem, the reveal and source of the whole drama in the movie, the family picture of dad, and then the married couple when young, and the kids when young
and this picture is enshrined as it were the middle of a typical family picture shrine, which always signals that the family is paying way too much attention to its power
then, a really weird, and regressive thing, is that Rose hands him over to dad, and the men go through the history, like it is a guy thing, and, then, as they proceed, they already having been separated, she shows up on the tour, having unplugged, and being involved in other ways with other people, and with a globe behind her
of course, there is no chance that anyone is going to see this, on first viewing, but it is to be noted that we have just seen Rose as a little girl embosomed in the blue denim breast of her mother, a dutiful little good girl, and now we see her come alive in 3D in the middle of the family parade, with a globe behind her, same thing
then in the dining room, there is a weird landscape painting, that means trouble is coming, and it is identified with the dad
and then while the tour continues we see deer, bucks, evoking trophies, if not exactly taxidermy, then certainly still working the trope as indicative of a warning that the man of the house is an exploiter and abuser, beware
even weirder is that when we are introduced to the housekeeper she is standing in the kitchen as if a robot, part of the furniture, and the lattice shot here again picks up on the shot of the house from the gardener’s POV to act as a lattice to infer that inside his head everything about this is about race, and not only that but it almost sick and nemesis-oriented that it does seem as if everything is pointedly about race, to make him feel uncomfortable
and then we come to the primary artifact of the family portrait parade, and the actual haunted portrait of the movie, if in a modern photo form, a picture of the dad as an Olympic athlete that lost out in the trials in 1936 to Jesse Owens. Normally, that event in modern history is taken as a good sign of American inclusivity against the racism of the Nazi sort, and as a comparable, if not perfect, dismissal of race theory and rebuttal of Hitler’s rhetoric, by proving that Americans, and black Americans, are better athletes. The other side of it, except reports that Hitler was upset, is rarely told. But I suppose Owens did beat out some white runners, and, for that, took some racial flack. And one case would by Whitford’s dad, the patriarch, who might’ve been a eugenics believer at the time, and this for him turned out to be the turning point of his life, from which he curdled in bitterness to find a solution to white weakness so that this would never happen again, and so he developed his late-in-the-day demented eugenics cult in which by means of a surgical procedure of transplantation or organ harvesting from lesser people, the group is granted immortality, while the donors are reduced to zombies living in the sunken place. From this incident, the dad’s dad, who we saw in the picture, launched a career as a genetic cultist who preached a message of racial purity and living forever, but only for exclusive members of his club, and the family. This is funny, and strange, and very sharp. That this emblematic progressive incident is turned upside down to become the negative catalyst of a curling into virulent racism against others is quite good. And since Owens happened to be black, and the disappointment happened to dad, from him, the subsequent science focuses on black people forever after, and that is the message.
In the movie’s funniest line, Witford says, “he almost got over it”, meaning he did not, and he, of course, lives in the nightmare of his father having never got over it (though he is no Hamlet, in fact submits utterly to the father’s cult). So, this is an entirely hidden-in-norm and somewhat effaced, but also entirely traditional haunted portrait parade, in which we find out that the house is haunted by the dad’s dad’s disappointment and they are not really a family but a cult dedicated to life immortal, gained by harvesting body organs from forced and kidnapped donors. It’s quite good, and fun, though only afficianados of the drama will know they have just watched a highly ritualized activity (examples that occur to be are Woman Who Came Back (1946), The Phantom of Crestwood (1931), etc; Thirst (1985); Society (1989)).
Having developed that trope to its fullest, if in a normed way, to make viewers maybe think this is just a regular family drama movie, we move on to the other reinforcing trope, the family dinner table, one of the most evergreen of tropes, wherein the father of the house presides over the discomfort of his guests.
and though this display is entirely in convention, it is also true that Whitford defers to the son, to let him be the asshole, and ask all the tough questions, Alison plays at being upset
but, there is something very curious here, the picture behind the father
when I saw this, I, in conventional fashion, thought, a landscape painting, that means trouble, trouble is coming to the house. But, there is a problem. Not only is it profiled by a chandelier, it is lit up by a lamp stood in front of it, from below, so lit up large, but also, it is flanked by two figures below, and, besides, it looks familiar. It looks, somehow, like a landscape painting, but not a landscape painting, like a landscape painting that tried to be that, but wasn’t. And then it struck me, that is Giorgione’s Tempest!
But, and this is important, and weird that it would even be there, the figures have been taken out. It is like a modern machine painter took the Tempest and cut it down to size along the treeline, cutting out the mother and child, and then cutting across at her knee, left, to come in under the broken pillars, which appear to be there, and then back up
and here is the comparison
in my view, there is no question, it is the same painting, but, then, the question is, why? why place this landscape, firstly, in back of the man at the table, when that is not the norm, then, why a Giorgione, and why an altered Giorgione? A few answers. First answers have to derive from the fact that in the diegetic sense, inside the movie, dad knew exactly what he was looking at, and, finding it at a thrift shop, bought it as is because it reminded him of the original; or, maybe, dad is a connoisseur of Renaissance art and rich enough that when he discovered that Giorgione or his studio had made landscape studies, he was able to purchase one; or he just got some painting shop to paint one up, on the cheap, then cut out the figures, because he just liked the landscape part. On the nondiegetic stage, outside the movie, it may be that the art directors meant absolutely nothing by this, it was just a landscape; if they knew about the trope of landscape spelling trouble, then it did that; if they knew about the trope of landscapes split down the middle by winding roads or rivers, meaning the primrose path, and that deception is happening in the visual scene on camera at the moment, then it does that too. But they had to also know that someone like Robert Mahoney was going to pick up on the Giorgione vibe, and thus add that in. And then the questions are, why did the dad see that it was necessary to alter the painting in this way? Perhaps it is, back to the diegetic, intentionally symbolic for the dad. The picture is said to represent in a baroque way the flight into Egypt. The nude is the Virgin Mary, and then the guard is the Roman searching for her. The storm symbolizes the birth of Christianity, and the fallen or half pillar represents the knocking down of the pillars and all the pagan idols when Christ as baby entered the city of Hermopolis. Typologically, the storm could also represent the plagues of Egypt, which the second coming is going to free the Jews and all from all over again. It may be theorized that Whitford in his cult disowned Christianity by displacing from Christ the myth of resurrection to try to find the same in a science-based cult of immortality by way of harvesting body parts (midcentury eugenics cults disowned, like the Nazis, the weak scapegoat religion of the Judeao-christian tradition, in favor of a faith in a god of strength). It might also be that this effacement refers to the curse, in the context of a negative mythology, placed upon gypsies and other low lifes by Christ for not helping him out as a child in Egypt, cursing them, thus, he in his power as dad, is doomed to curse any minority that enters into his spiderweb. It is a very complicated picture, but at present I will say that it is a cult procedural picture to remind him on a daily basis of what he is up to and about, without bringing any attention to it, or likely having to explain to anyone, except maybe me, when I ask him, why did you cut the figures out of the Giorigone?
The picturing of the cult issue raises its ugly head to the unobservant guest again when after taking a walk at night he comes upon insomniac mom, ready to hypnotize him. She takes up her place in her throne, backed up also by a family oval portrait, and three lamps, meaning Hecatean intimacy, assuming power over all, with smug certainty of the rightness of what she is doing. This shot tells me, she is a witch, or “the witch” of the coven, or the cult, doing her business. And her method is also quite well effaced, it is done by way of a tea cup, not so much to read the tea leaves, as to hypnotize her clients so that they black out into a state of mind which prepares them to receive the transfer operation.
in this state, picturing continues, and, when hypnotized, Chris is amazed to find that in his mind he floats down to a weird state, which we later find out is called the sunken place.
The fun thing about the sunken place is that at one point in my life I visited it without any drugs or hypnosis (the fact that this is a hypnosis movie is another indication of its retrograde trope formation, for that is primarily a modern horror trope; moreover, the fact that the tea leaves are transferred to a state of dreaming is also interesting, in suggesting a prophetic state). But, in my early 20s, I would be reading a book late at night, and suddenly, I would experience a kind of pleasant-unpleasant whoosh in which the book zoomed to tiny way down in the background of the space with my tiny, tiny hand holding it, but which I could still see and feel my mind turn the pages of, and I could read the entire page of the book in one second, and the entire page of the whole two page spread in two seconds, and the whole vision was of turning the pages. My recording of this phenomenon in a journal in 1973 was the start of my writing life, and perhaps the start of my mostly occult and unpublished other writing life, this life. The effect wore off in my twenties, but I do remember that in my rush to get my master’s at UW in 1975, having so much to read, I exploited the device to read great volumes of literature in cramming for the test. What was it? (the last time I talked of this is mentioned it in the context of the idea that ultimately one’s creativity derives from a cultivation of one’s idiosyncratic physical and mental capacities, even infirmities, at any given time). Today, as I have previously written about in response to Whistle and I’ll come to You, by MR James, I mapped out what I think are some of the phases of the light entoptic phase of sleeping, or dreaming. In addition to the drop in, and the strobe, and the land of nod, there are also several adjunct states directly related to and incited from eyerubbing causing the rising up of blue dots, and these include the Metamorphosis, the Sizzle, the Floating TV Set, and then the Newsreel. All of these consist of, when you have your eyes closed, floating in the entoptic field, you see floating in the distance a small sharp bright iris and in that iris, the core form of the movie device of the iris, you can either see a face that constantly in front of your eyes keeps turning into other faces (the Metamorphosis), a face that burns and keeps burning into other forms (same, but a bit more fiery, The Sizzle), a face that plays as if watching a TV show, and it plays out, and you are amazed, just watching it, and then the Newsreel is when that happens but the TV iris is somehow antiquated or more newsy in a way that makes you think it is real, and this can also evolve into what I call a Punk, which is just, this, but displaced to a self-created and entirely dream-created nonsense place, making you think, what am I doing here, why am I visualizing that, I never even saw that, or think of that, why, examples of this would be twenty minutes I once spent sitting in a small waiting room crowded with Chinese woman in china, and such things as that.
It is apparent from its use here that Keener sends the mind by hypnosis into the TV set, and the self is transposed to as if a falling man form (this actually a whoosh trope formation), looking up from below at the entoptic phase high overhead, and then in that TV space, in a relational entoptic space between having got into his head in the entoptic zone and become the voice and face on the TV Set, he can, with the string as it were of this queer visuality, control him like a puppet
The graph of this would be
that is, she tries to hypnotize him by way of the cup, the cup then translates, in his sleep state, to the TV Set formation in the entoptic field. Then, it serves as the vessel, a teacup transport, to bring her and her power into the TV Set visual iris, for her, from there, from inside his head in the entoptic state, speak to him, while he is thrown by the teacup and the TV Set trope down from the entoptic state to a deep whoosh state under it, and from that whoosh state, down the spiral of sleep, but not so, only tethered to the entoptic, and as it were bungee cording to the whoosh, but with rebound, he looks up, and, for that, or by that submission, is enthralled and enslaved by her voice, and her will, and his is therefore rendered willless (this does have some relation to the vertigo in Vertigo). So, she is also a dream figure, a consciousness figure visiting the TV Set turn of the entoptic field, then pulling strings to control his figure, which is an entoptic-to-whoosh figure, falling-to-entoptic-to-whoosh figure, and looking up from whoosh to entoptic, in the entoptic, to, by dipping the entoptic in the whoosh, make of it a prophetic powerful controlling voice. It is quite well done movie dreaming, and hypnosis theory, and it is an accurate depiction of things that actually go on in the entoptic mind. It is also an intriguing fusion of hypnosis theory (usually just pictured in the modern period by the spiral whoosh to sleep, but it is not sleep) with entoptic dream theory. In so far as the portraits of the house could be superimposed on these, it is also a dream-cult rendition of their placement, especially the effaced Giorgione, because the mother and soldier are removed because they are absented to work in dream space, not home space, and, as a result, do not fully exist as people in conscious life, but only serve the cult. Indeed, back at the table, he is silent, but in control, and son and mother are all but absent, they don’t exist as people, but just serve the cult.
From this point on, Chris is entirely enmeshed in the activities of the cult, even though he and us will tend to just think of it all as more family gathering and a weekend of fun things. The cult always gathers on May 26, which I guess is the dad’s dad’s birthday, and the fact that everyone shows up Godfather-funeral style in black limousines clues us in immediately to the cult nature of the gathering. They are not coming to celebrate the grandfather, they are all coming to check out and bid on the new product, the latest find, the latest unwilling donor of the cult, Chris.
this is made apparent when he tries to break away, but walks right back into the picture row of the family cult
and then all the guests give away that they are all there for him, to bid on him, and are only there to watch and appraise him, and his worth as a donor
it is at this point that another landscape comes into the picture, entirely blacked out, on the stairs, indicating the black out out of his control phase
when Rose wonders where he is and is sent to wrangle him back into the mood because the produce must be displayed, in order to bid on it, she too is effaced in front of it, also showing some skin, but at this point most viewers still think she is the sympathetic girlfriend in a replay of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner
this shot, staring right at the clients, and the camera, and at us, would seem to give away her guilt, for it profiles her with a dark landscape evoking fear and deception and her dark heart
this is the first scene where her patience as the understanding girlfriend seems to shift to the other side, in defense of her family, she is upset, and in her room, still more of the strange obsessive cult of the family, pictures all over her dresser (I have decided that the picture on the right side is a meaningless punk image)
then in standard mirror play going way back, he looks one way, in one reality, she now walks in another, in reflection, walking away, a split has occurred
but then her job is to take him down to the river, through the landscape painting on the landing, to calm him down, and preoccupy him
while his image shows up in another place in the movie, and that is at the gazebo where the main event of the cult day takes place, the auction for his body parts.
the movie has made much of the fact, in the parade of haunted portraits, that dad is stuck in the past, as is mom, and they all carry on rituals created in the modern era, by the grandparents. It was no doubt in that era that dad devised an auction making use of bingo as the way to go, giving the proceedings a sort of Ouija board quality, but fun too, in a retrograde way.
I originally interpreted his hand signals as a kind of picture voodoo, casting a spell on Chris by way of a picture, and while it does not seem that it turns out that way, it is also kind of true that that is what he is doing, because basically the joke is that where he and Chris discussed race, and he professed his liberality, he is in his cult space, one of the cult space of his sacred cult property, conducting a slave auction, for white people who want to harvest body parts of the pictured party to live forever
as they continue to try to leave, and she continues to try to devise ways to make him not leave, perhaps by bringing things to a crisis level where he will make a wrong move, he discovers, behind a door too conveniently left open, her box of old pictures of old romances, and is shocked to discover that not only did this whore sleep with like a gazillion guys but all of them were black, and none of the relationships lasted that long, and what the hell is going on here (his friend thinking it is a sex slave thing, and he is not far off)? This too is picture voodoo, both in the sense that she collected trophy pictures of her kills, and kept them, then that they are made available to him to see to spook him out and unnerve him into making a mistake.
the last picture with a red bandana and a real gang banger of not too attractive looks brings her to the most low down place (and people are so weird in real life that Williams had to say in public that, no, she doesn’t identify with her character!) Now, Alison Williams is notorious for, in Girls, which made her famous, not appearing nude (though inferring it in several scenes), when everyone else was running around nude all the time. Why? It is because she is not a fightback girl, but a girl who has lived on a pedestal her whole life and whose physical being comes so close to racial perfection in terms of the classic Anglo Upper class girl of Princess Culture adulation, that to see her body requires a ticket, and pay off, she is not just going to drop her top for anyone. And certainly it is a disapointment to those who wished this movie to be a bit more of an actual horror movie, rather than a horror movie for nonhorror people, that there was no shower scene, but, then, she was in trouble, so for that to have happened the genders would have had to be switched, for the take home donor to be female, as it more common, and, in my view, makes better horror, so all we get of her physically is her tights and the fact that Williams has increddible what is known as thigh gap, that is, the open space between the legs. What this means to men is that just as a landing strip is slang for some hair that helps land the penis in intercourse, a thigh gap also promises easy access. But, at the same time, it is quite possible that too much thigh gap causes the legs to revert to being perceived as pincers, or blades, emitting a tweak of vagina dentata meaning. And it is certainly certain to me that not one second after Chris has seen his girl ex-ing with a bandana with a gangbanger, and all her boyfriends black, like she is some damn Kardashian, and then we see her in a what are you doing? posture of challenge, and the space between her legs is spread very, very wide, she is set in place, and this shot says, sorry, this is what it says, shit, she is a c–t, she is a real hard-core c–t
then back inside his backed up wtf head his inner screamer saying, she is REAL c–t, is figured out visually by the vagina dentata snatch form of the old fashioned Georgian bureau (lots of this in the hosue, evoking prisonhood)
and again mirrors, again, dissembling, she is faking
and as she sashays out of the room, her generally ersatz punk pictures, one screams about fashionista pigs
as he descends the stair, we get a better look at the black picture, it is a cliff, like at an Italian lake. I suppose it is too much to expect that it is visually related to the hilltop houses in the Giorgione picture in the dining room, but it does have visual similarity, and usually these pictures refer to Lake Nemi and places like that, so there is, at least for me, a vibe of the Golden Bough, and a rite of fight for human sacrifice
this John Robert Cozzens is the type of thing I am thinking about, this is a house on a cliff where sacrifical things happen, transposed to the suburbs
In this confrontation he is entirely encircled by the closing circle of the cult, the patriarch
the current cult leader presiding preacherly over the mantel, under another painting of a scene
the blue boy, but reversed
and, then, from this spin, the movie’s worst twist, and betrayal, hers, she has delivered him, like the little girl in The Wicker Man(1973), to his sacrifice, and now he is trapped, same plot, same situation, same result
Thus, pictures have signalled the entire way, like breadcrumbs set out before the viewer, that this is a cult, it was created by the grandfather in the modern era, a bitter Olympian loser who found solace in eugenics theory and a rationale to attack the race of the man who beat him, Jesse Owens, to then prey, in their established modus operandi, on black people, to harvest body parts, in a ritual meeting of human sacrifice held each May 26, just like The Wicker Man, to meet and greet, then auction off the chosen donor subject, and then abduct and hypnotize, bind and commit transfer surgery on him, in an operation that will help the highest bidder at the slave auction recoup losses due to falling body parts to hopefully become eternal. In Part 2 of this note, I will detail the pictorial devices made use of to depict the actual ritual event in the medical underworld of this classic plantation home.
Part 2: Entering and exiting the ritual ‘sunken place’ in Get Out (2017). To follow.