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I finally saw Jordan Peele's Get Out this weekend. It was quite good, though I had a couple of reservations, which are maybe best discussed through another classic of justified paranoia, Rosemary's Baby.

Rosemary's Baby (1968) uses a conspiracy theory plot as a metaphor for a real conspiracy. Society really is out to control and destroy women; the  (literally) Satanic plot to rape Rosemary (Mia Farrow) and sell her to the devil while elaborately gaslighting her is terrifying because misogynist societies do plot to rape women, gaslight them, and destroy their souls.

The ending of Rosemary's Baby is bleak. Rosemary discovers the plot against her; her own despicable husband helped a coven of witches bring the devil out of hell to rape her. But she doesn't escape. Instead, she ends up agreeing to care for the antichrist she birthed, which she carried unwittingly to term, and which she loves. Rosemary is essentially part of the conspiracy herself; her own investment in her culture, and in her role of mother, dooms her. She can't get out of the trap, because the trap is herself.

Get Out works in a similar way; Chris  (Daniel Kaluuya) is being set up by white people who want to enslave him, steal his labor and his body, and torture him forever. The conspiracy is terrifyingly believable because black people in white supremacist societies are in fact enslaved and tortured; white supremacy is a vast, nightmarish, coordinated conspiracy aimed at destroying black people. 

As in Rosemary's Baby, Get Out suggests that black people are conscripted into this conspiracy against their will. The plot against Chris involves having a white person's brain put in his body. Black people are shadowed by their own internal white overlord, the cultural brainwashing and hypnosis that turn them against themselves.    

 Unlike in Rosemary's Baby, though, in Get Out,  Chris beats the conspiracy  through the usual Hollywood mechanism of violent if somewhat improbable revenge. He breaks the hypnotic spell and then murders his tormentors through skill and a previously untelegraphed aptitude for violence.

You could argue that Chris's final victory is ambivalent.  He staggers from the scene of carnage covered in blood, a kind of atavistic embodiment of the white people's fears. They wanted to steal his magnificent body because they imagined he was physically a "beast", and at the film's end he has become that beast. 

 It's not exactly clear whether the film fully recognizes the irony or not. Chris's final escape, facilitated by his comic-relief TSA agent buddy Rod Williams (Lil Rel Howery) is presented as a victory; Chris is understandably in shock, but Rod boasts cheerfully about swooping in to fix things at the curtain. There isn't much effort to undermine the Hollywood revenge tropes which leave you cheering each bloody, deserved death as Chris mows through the white people. Some very thoughtful critics have wondered why the film is so popular with white people...but revenge narratives are fairly popular with everyone, is the truth. Django Unchained is a much, much inferior film, but its cathartic denoument isn't that different emotionally from the closing act of Get Out.

The problem is that when you're talking about a real conspiracy , it's hard to devise a satisfying escape for your protagonist. If the Armitages stand in for white supremacy...well, defeating white supremacy, like defeating patriarchy, is no easy thing. The film presents the trap with such brilliance and conviction that it seems almost too easy when, in the usual revenge narrative way, Mike gets out.