Finally, during its third week in theaters, I saw Get Out (2017). Plenty of people have commented on the film; however, there are two aspects of the film that I have not found anyone discussing: the stuffed lion that sits on the nightstand next to Rose Armitage’s bed and the use of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone”playing over the audience’s first introduction to Chris Washington as he gets out of the shower. These two subtle items warrant some type of commentary considering the layered aspects of the film itself.
While watching the film, the stuffed lion continuously pops up in shots of Rose’s bed. At one point early in the film, Chris actually turns the lion around, making it face away from the bed. Immediately, my thoughts went to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952) and later to the Signifying Monkey toast. In each of these, the lion exists as the embodiment of the power and subjugation that keeps the eponymous Invisible Man (IM) in his place and who the monkey must outwit in the toast. I’ve written about each of these before in relation to Arna Bontemps’ “Mr. Kelso’s Lion,” and this same imagery needs to be looked at in relation to Get Out.
Opening Chapter 1, IM speaks about who grandparents, who 85 years earlier, entered this world as slaves, and even though they believed things had/would change after Emancipation, they did not change. This is where IM relates the advice his grandfather passed down on his deathbed. He told the narrator,
Son, after I’m gone, I want you to keep up the good fight. I never told you, but our life is a war and I have been a traitor all my born days, a spy in the enemy’s country ever since I give up my gun back in Reconstruction. Live with your head in the lion’s mouth. I want you to overcome ’em with yeses, undermine ’em with grins, agree ’em to death and destruction, let ’em swoller you till they vomit or bust wide open. (16)
Immediately after the grandfather utters these words, those gathered in the room labeled the old man as crazy and hurried the children from the scene as the man feebly pleaded, “Learn it to the younguns” (16). On the surface, the grandfather’s advice comes across as accommodationist by asking IM to maintain a position of submission to white society; however, there is another side to dying man’s instructions.
When he begins, the grandfather takes a militaristic angle through his asserstion that through his life he “[kept] up the good fight” in the “war” by acting as “a traitor” and “a spy in the enemy’s country.” This section could be taken in two ways. On one side, the grandfather could be a traitor to his community and also spy on them for the lion. Or, it could be inferred that he spies on the lion in order to learn its weaknesses and eventually defeat it. In order to accomplish this, he must place himself at the mercy of the lion, letting the lion eat him, until the opportune moment when he will strike causing the lion to “vomit or bust wide open.”
It is the latter reading that we will use when looking at the lion in relation to Get Out. In the film, Chris does not know anything is askew until he starts to observe people acting in a peculiar manner. He tries his best, upon meeting Rose’s parents, to be amiable towards his hosts. At first, he plays the game, living within the liberal lion’s mouth, but he does not realize, until later, that he must defeat the lion that acts so kindly towards him at first
Eventually, as Chris begins to realize the sinister happenings, he tries to find a way to leave, only to slide further down the lion’s gullet when awakens in the basement to find himself confined to a chair, learning why Rose brought him home to meet her parents in the first place. It is here where Chris causes the lion to “vomit” and “bust wide open” because instead of acquiescing and succumbing to his situation, he finds a way to fight back, ultimately defeating the lion that seeks to keep him subjugated.
During the final act, as Chris escapes the confines of the basement, there is a shot of Rose on her bed eating Fruit Loops, drinking milk, and searching for the lion’s next victim as she listens to the Dirty Dancing soundtrack. Over her left shoulder, the stuffed lion, poised on its haunches, faces forward. Obviously, someone has reoriented the lion’s position, and since Rose, already moving on to her next victim, perceives her victory, it appears that the lion ultimately wins.
The victory, though, is short lived as Chris flees, killing everyone, including Rose, and escapes with his friend Rod comes to take him home. Chris, essentially, causes the lion to purge itself from the inside. The house expunges its occupants, and they either lay dead inside its bowels on outside on the road. Ultimately, Chris defeats the lion.
I know that this is not everything, but I find it very interesting that the stuffed lion appears so prominently in the film and Chris’ purposeful turning of the lion away from the bed. Now that I think about it, his turning the lion’s face away from the bed can be seen as a comment on interracial relationships and the condemnation of such relationships that some whites still feel to this day. If this is the case, then the lion takes on added meaning with the contextualization of Rose and Chris’ faux relationship together.
At the beginning of this post, I said I will talk about Peele’s choice of Childish Gambino’s “Redbone” for the opening of the film. I will do this in the next post as well as examine the locale of the film in relation to preconceived representations of racism in popular media. Until then, what are your thoughts? As usual, let me know in the comments below, and make sure to follow me on Twitter at @silaslapham.
Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. New York: Vintage Books, 1995.