Wednesday, March 22, 2017

get out -- the mexican version

I miss Richard Lander.

He was the author of the late lamented Gangs of San Miguel de Allende -- a blog that sardonically skewed the social foibles of gringos (and primarily gringas) in one of Mexico's more popular cultural ghettos. Richard's wit was perfectly honed to cut through cant with a surgeon'e grace.

The last entry is now over two years old. Like the best of art, its limited scope inevitably led to its demise. You can only poke fun at the clothing choices of northern women so many times before it becomes cliché. And for someone like Richard, having his work reduced to cliché is simply to be old hat.

I thought of Richard while reading a review of what may be one of 2017's best films -- Get Out, Jordan Peele's directorial debut. The movie is one of the best horror suspense films I have seen.

The genre is my dirty little vice. I love horror films.

But I also know how predictable they have become. A good horror film is always based around a secret. The good ones reveal it layer by layer until, when it jumps off the screen, you are surprised -- even when you recognize that it was inevitable. Inevitable, but not predictable, is the formula for great horror.

This movie is entirely Peele's. Not only did he direct it, he also wrote and produced it. And he got all of the elements correct.

The story line is very simple. It opens with a young black man walking through a seemingly-peaceful white suburb. But he is nervous. For good cause. Within minutes, he is violently abducted.

The story then shifts to the relationship between Chris, a young talented photographer, and Rose, his girlfriend. She is taking him on the dreaded trip home to introduce him to her parents.

He is black. She is white. But, she informs him, her parents will have no problem with his race.

As it turns out, the rest of the film is all about race -- the tensions that exist when a black man is afloat in a sea of white liberalism. The weekend they arrive is the same weekend a group of the family's friends get together for a party.

As Chris is introduced, the tension level rises. Everyone is extremely polite, but polite in a way that seems overly unctuous. "If I could have, I would have voted for Obama a third time." "How long has this thang been going on?"

Chris dismisses it as people attempting to be polite, but, in the process, they all reduce him to being black. But there is something far more sinister than social awkwardness in the works.

Because the movie deals so openly with racial relations and is so tautly-written, it seems original. Of course, we have seen this setup before in Rosemary's Baby, The Stepford Wives, Scream, and countless other films. But the plot twists that Peele weaves are so imaginative, it feels that he has completely reinvented the conventions.

While watching the film, I thought of Richard Lander. A reviewer crafted a sentence that was veritably Landeresque: "As white partygoers comment on Chris's genetically-blessed gifts, the mind is racing as to exactly the greater purpose of this visit is for this young man, a minority in a sea of white people who seem to want to own him, which is itself a razor-sharp commentary on the way we often seek to possess cultural aspects other than our own."

"The way we often seek to possess cultural aspects other than our own." Anyone who has lived very long in Mexico has witnessed that behavior in northern visitors and expatriates. It takes many forms.

The women who don rebozos or the men who adopt a foppish wearing of a straw hat in the belief, similar to G-Man, they will be magically transformed into someone they are not. Or the lonely northerners who feel compelled to dance in religious processions when they do not share a gram of the religious sentiments on parade. (Of course, they may be far preferable to the people who insist on flying their own national flag in Mexico as if their Mexican homes are now part of their own national soil -- like an embassy. But that is for another essay.)

In Get Out, the partygoers are all Eastern wealthy, white liberals whose life focus at the party is to make Chris feel comfortable by patronizing him and using what they believe is black jargon to put him at ease. It does the opposite -- for Chris, and for the audience. And it makes the audience think: "How often have I done something similar?"

Get Out is one of those movies you need to see with a group of friends and acquaintances with mixed political views. And then spend some time talking about the real issues facing all people when race becomes a focus of life.

If the movie does nothing else, maybe it will get us talking to one another, rather than using a passel of code words to placate ourselves and others.

I bet Richard Lander would love it.

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