I saw Jordan Peele’s magnificent Get Out this weekend and was blown away by it’s powerful racial commentary as well it’s unique probing of the human psyche. While the racial component definitely makes for some poignant discussion, for this brief analysis, I will try to focus more on what I believe “The Sunken Place” is as it has some interesting implications.
Consider this your spoiler warning.
The film has been receiving rave reviews for it’s fresh take on horror conventions and deep social commentary. While there are tons of articles praising those themes, i’m going to focus more on a fascinating, metaphysical addition to the film’s narrative, The Sunken Place. This “place” seems to be the bowels of the subconscious mind and it can be, in a way, likened to the earliest stages of life on any perceivable plane of existence in the known universe. It’s dark, lonely, and possesses space like qualities. Save for a small window into reality, it is pure nothingness.
We usually see loneliness manifested in film through the way characters deal with social interaction (or lack thereof). Towards the very end of Breaking Bad, there is a scene where Walter White offers someone a substantial amount of money to stay with him for just a bit longer after he makes the decision to excommunicate himself. While Walt’s hideaway could be seen as a kind of “Sunken Place”, it differs in that it is simply isolated. At any point, Walt can get up and leave (which he eventually does) and head back towards civilization.
The ending to the original Saw had something similar where a character was forced to lay in a darkened room, alone, with a corpse until they starved to death. The Thing also does an outstanding job of using it’s lonely, boreal climate as a way to showcase the cold and unforgiving nature of the narrative.
Throughout the entire film, our main protagonist Chris is isolated. He is in some rural plantation like setting, the only black person that is of sound mind for God knows how many miles, and is viewed and ogled as a novelty. He’s in way over his head and recognizes the dangers that are constantly being presented to him. He ignores many of the strange off-handed comments as simply insensitive, he consistently ignores his friend Rod (who is essentially a stand in for the audience or Chris’s consciousness) who warns him several times about the potential danger of placing himself in a situation like the one he is in, and ultimately, he ignores his own better judgement and doesn’t push harder to Get Out after the initial hypnosis.
Despite all of these isolated situations mentioned in the films above, they are all reachable. In the case of our main character Chris however, who can find him from the inside? If you’re trapped inside of yourself, who can save you from yourself? This for me echoes the film’s “we on our own” elements, but does it in a very, very powerful way. Once you’re totally “sunken” (the process is completed via surgery and psychological conditioning) there is no turning back. If Chris doesn’t save himself, no one will or worse...can. You're trapped inside of your own body. The vessel that you've used for you're entire life, has now become your prison and a boon for someone else.
The film never explicitly states that the process can’t be undone (at least to the best of my knowledge. Let me know if i’m wrong here) but I highly doubt that the procedure is reversible as it seems to be an operation exclusive to this cult. This type of transmigration of consciousness, is not only creepy, but has horrifying implications. The process must be COMPLETED using a type of complex neurosurgery, but the patient must first be primed using psychological conditioning. Are we being primed for this now through advertising and passive acceptance of current events? Are we being slowly hypnotized through the over consumption of intellectual junk food and our positions as the redheaded step-children of American (or Western) history?
If you don't Get Out of the desire to be validated by people who may not have your best interest at heart, or the bad habit of ignoring your intuition, you will end up in the Sunken Place. A place where us blacks are forever alone, drowning in our own blackness.
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