Get Out made history at the box office and at the Academy Awards, where its provocative script earned writer/director Jordan Peele the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and made him the category’s first African-American awardee. In addition to being the most thrilling theatrical experience anyone had in 2017, Peele’s directorial debut also made major contributions to the horror genre and to popular culture by giving us a powerful new metaphor for black suffering: the Sunken Place. The famous close-up from that moment in the film is now used as the cover image of a new book about the film from Inventory Press.
Get Out: The Annotated Screenplay opens with an essay from author Tananarive Due, who memorably orchestrated a surprise visit from Peele for a UCLA class she teaches called “Sunken Place: Racism, Survival, and Black Horror Aesthetic.” Due’s essay serves as a guide to the film and to the legacy and language of black horror. The rest of the book is a compendium of information about Get Out that includes the official screenplay, 150 stills from the film embedded within the screenplay and elsewhere that demonstrate the magic of the script-to-screen transition, a collection of deleted scenes, and 89 notes that Peele himself made on his movie.
The book is a real treat for film nerds overall, but what is arguably its best offering is Peele’s notes on all four acts of his film including his deconstruction of the characters and some of the movie’s most iconic shots, and his explanation of the film references from other horror classics that influenced how he wrote, shot, and directed Get Out. Reading the notes, which are extracted from a thoughtful but very conversational interview Peele did for the book at Monkeypaw Productions in 2019, makes you feel like you’re watching the movie with Peele himself. I’ve handpicked a selection of the 89 notes he shares below, each of which will change how you experience the movie during your next watch.
Here’s Peele explaining how the credit sequence is also a visual metaphor:
“This perspective during the credit sequence was a specific choice. If you’re driving, you’re not seeing this view, you’re looking at the road. If you’re a passenger, this is what you’re seeing. As a city boy out in the country, this plays on the fear of not knowing where you are going. A lot of the movie works off this natural feeling a city person gets when he leaves his environment. Isolation is a key element to horror and so being outside in nature and far away from anything I know, is my kind of isolation. You aren’t confined, you can run─but to where?”
Peele on how the abduction scene could’ve been very different:
“In the original version, the abduction was done by a gun with a silencer — like a dart gun. There was something I liked about that imagery. It felt animalistic, like it was a low-key safari and these Black men were being hunted. Ultimately, it felt like the tone of that was just off for my brand of horror. In tying the Jeremy character to this scene and making him the abductor, it felt more grounded for the abduction to be done with his jujitsu ability, which is discussed later at the Armitages. I know this is not really true, but this choice plays off the stereotype of mixed martial arts as a reflection of pent up white anger. I don’t know if this is a common fear or just one for me as a dude that doesn’t know shit, but if somebody comes up to me on the streets and starts flashing jujitsu, I know I’m dead.”
After a day full of racial microaggressions including an awkward family dinner where Jeremy tries to fight Chris, Chris and Rose retire to her bedroom and she begins to tear into her family for their behavior. Peele explains how he switched Chris and Rose’s dialogue in this scene to trick the audience into liking Rose:
“This is probably the most important scene for me with regards to the Chris-Rose relationship. In the original script, these roles were flipped. I was doing what I thought was right. Chris is the one who is saying ‘No, this is not good, I don’t feel comfortable. This is weird.’ And Rose is the one going ‘So what? You are overreacting.’ But I soon realized that by flipping the stances I get a great many things. First and foremost, the audience gets to identify with her — she’s onto something even though she’s seemingly discovering racism for the first time. This allows Chris to explain to us why he’s not scared in a way that feels very grounded. He’s saying, ‘This is regular life. This is what Black people go through every day.’ There’s no way she would be trying to rile him up if she was trying to keep him there, so that enables the audience to trust her even more. If there are any feelings that she has brought him here for bad reasons, why on earth would she try to take her boyfriend, who’s kind of at peace with it in a weird way, and push him in the direction the audience wants to be pushed? That’s how you see four chess moves ahead because this movie could not be as simple as her fooling him. She has to fool the audience too, and we’re already ahead of him because we know we came to see a horror movie…We walk away from this scene liking both of them, and we feel like Chris has a good ally in Rose.”
Here’s Peele on how Halloween influenced the scenes set in the suburbs:
“There’s good precedent for the suburbs being scary in a horror movie. I was definitely influenced by how the original Halloween did it. But the trope has always been that the outsider in these neighborhoods is usually viewed as the villain. So presenting the outsider as the good guy or the victim here flips the trope on its head.”
Peele on how he weaponized the anxiety we feel when we are seen for the pivotal backyard party scene:
“I wanted to show Chris hit with the fear of unwanted attention walking into that space where everyone is already looking in your direction. That idea of being ambushed with attention. That moment in Silence of the Lambs when Clarice first visit’s Hannibal Lecter’s cell and he’s standing there waiting for her, or Danny turning the corner on his Big Wheel in The Shining to find the twins waiting for him.”
Here’s Peele on the significance of making Chris a photographer:
“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.”
You’ll have to check out the book to read the other 80+ notes Peele shares but I promise they’re worth it!
Get Out: The Annotated Screenplay is available on November 26th.