For a film that features kidnapping, impalement, and nonconsensual brain surgery, it’s striking that the most uncomfortable scene in Jordan Peele’s Get Out is that of a racially awkward garden party. As a special guest of the white host Dean Armitage (Bradley Whitford), black photographer Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya) is singled out and forced to tolerate Armitage’s peers while they openly fetishize his race. The one exception to this behavior is Jim Hudson (Stephen Root), a blind art dealer who ignores Washington’s ethnicity while praising the younger man’s pictures of urban life. Hudson’s compliments identify him as an ally who recognizes Washington for his creativity instead of his color, making it that much more surprising when Hudson pays Armitage to transplant his brain into Washington’s body and steal the artist’s “eye.” Instead of elevating him out of the second class, Washington’s gift only invites his victimization by a man who sees the black artist as a talent, but not as an equal.
Author: Benjamin Sunday
A corporate computer named Mother, operated from a control room that suggests a mechanical womb; an android from the same company named Ash, whose sweat resembles something between milk and semen; a wage slave astronaut named Gilbert Kane writhing in agony as a phallic head bursts from his chest, like a horrific pregnancy coming to term…throughout Alien (1979), Ridley Scott imposes human reproductive imagery upon the vessels of an amoral corporation as well as a series of space monsters, neither of which possess any humanity of their own. The result is a Freudian nightmare wherein a business’s greed is equated to an alien’s desire to procreate, culminating in either case with the consumption of human life. Whether it’s a company abusing its employees for profit or a cosmic beast using their bodies as a breeding ground, the inhumane imperative that drives both antagonists is one and the same.
Michael Haneke’s CACHÉ opens on a Parisian side street in daylight, captured in a prolonged wide shot that’s notable solely for its banality. It’s not until the voices of a man and woman emerge over the ambient noise that we realize what we’re seeing, surveillance of a family’s house recorded to video and then left at their door. As the couple fast-forwards through the remaining footage, lines of distortion fall across the hastening frames like the bars of a cage. Finally, the video pauses as the man is shown crossing the road, freezing him in place. Along with the serene setting, the camera has captured the man as well, locking him within a moment of time. In CACHÉ, video transcends mere reproduction to become a living image of the past, like memories that refuse to be forgotten, and for one man such memories soon become his prison.
Clad in a wool coat, dark glasses, and a mask of tattered bandages, a man trudges down a blizzard stricken road towards a rowdy country inn. The revelers inside fall silent as the man enters, and after he retires to a bedroom they can still speak only of him and the mystery of his hidden features. Soon enough, the man’s private and hateful demeanor compels the others to throw him out, and that is when he reveals his true self. “I’ll show you who I am and what I am,” he shouts, plucking off his glasses and prosthetic nose to reveal gaping holes in his head, like the cavities of a skull. With a mad cackle, he unravels his bandages to expose the frightened onlookers to his missing visage, to the invisible face of THE INVISIBLE MAN.
A lot can change in two years, something that Katharine Hepburn knew all too well.
In 1938, she starred in George Cukor’s HOLIDAY as a principled socialite rebelling against her wealthy family and their obnoxious credo, that “there’s no such thrill in the world as making money.” In fact, HOLIDAY capped off a string of financial disappointments for Hepburn that led the Independent Film Journal to call her “box office poison,” their term for a star whose rich studio contract was unjustified by her “negligible” public appeal. That same year, Hepburn would use those riches of hers to buy out her contract with RKO and leave Hollywood altogether. It wasn’t until 1940 that she returned, armed with the rights to THE PHILADELPHIA STORY and the conviction that nobody should star in it but herself. THE PHILADELPHIA STORY went on to become the one of the most popular films of 1940, reigniting Hepburn’s career and also confirming a proverb from within the film itself: “With the rich and mighty, always a little patience.”
In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the relentless and arbitrary suffering of human life is summarized as “a tale…, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing,” and the almighty writer of that tale, God, is reconceived as “an idiot.” Centuries later, that notion of a chaotic universe governed by stupidity echoes throughout IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS, as director John Carpenter reveals his own version of the omnipotent idiot: God as “a hack horror writer.”