This article contains spoilers for Jordan Peele’s Nope.
Nope, written, directed, and produced by Jordan Peele, sees Daniel Kaluuya team up with the filmmaker once again, this time, playing Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr., the son of a ranch owner and Hollywood horse trainer, played by Keith David. KeKe Palmer plays OJ’s sister Emerald Haywood, Steven Yeun plays former child star/current amusement park owner Ricky “Jupe” Park, and rounding out the cast is Brandon Perea as a Fry’s Electronic employee and Michael Wincott as cinematographer Antlers Holst. Together, save for Jupe, they quickly find out how little control they have over whatever is going on around them.
When it was revealed that the “big bad” in Nope would be aliens, I was excited. We all know how much I love an alien sci-fi film. I was even more excited to see that the alien was not humanoid in any way. Because who’s to say that a creature from another planet or galaxy would look anything like us. Awfully conceited, don’t you think? Having the creature in Nope appear to be more like a sea animal helps to set it apart in the cinematic world of alien sci-fi.
Quite frankly, though, the story left much to be desired. Peele seems to have a problem with “stakes” in his films. In Us, the mother at the end was the same mother the boy had always had. He just now knew her deep dark secret. It’s still his mom. In Nope, it never really felt like our main characters were in real danger. Mostly because they’re main goal was to capture the creature on film. Don’t get me wrong. I like that they’re main goal was not to kill the creature so much as it was to get clear and concise evidence of an alien life form.
The most present theme in the film, however, was spectacle and the false sense of control humanity thinks it has
over its environment. Let’s start with Gordy’s Home, the fictional television show that Jupe (Yeun) was in. The titular Gordy refers to a chimpanzee that lived with a typical sitcom family. During a taping of the show, the chimpanzee freaks out and proceeds to go on a rampage, killing, injuring, and traumatizing everybody in the studio. And, just before the chimpanzee’s life comes to an end, he tries to reach out to little Ricky “Jupe” Park, who has hidden himself under a table and had watched the horrifying events that unfolded. Later on in Jupe’s life, he profits from this horrible incident. He exploits it by charging people to see his room of Gordy’s Home memorabilia. Jupe didn’t seem to learn any kind of lesson from the event, anyway, as he seems to think he has some kind of control over this alien creature that has found itself in Agua Dulce, California. This is painfully clear when Jupe remarks to his audience that the creature is early. And, if you’ve seen the film, you know what happens to Jupe and the others.
That false sense of control is there from the beginning moments of the film when the horse sees his reflection on set, even after OJ warned those around them. The horse proceeds to buck and thrash about, emphasizing that, no matter how much training, animals are just that: animals. OJ is able to use that same logic on the alien they dub Jean Jacket (named after a particularly hard to control horse they once had), and is able to figure out how to tell the creature in not so many words that they aren’t a threat. And Jean Jacket simply leaves them alone. And it was at that realization, my friends, that I felt that any “stakes” the film did have, went out the window. Moving on.
Spectacle, more specifically addiction to spectacle, was the other major theme in Nope. The way humans are ready to risk everything for spectacle (hence Holst’s Siegfried and Roy comment). First and foremost, movie making is a spectacle. The main characters are in the industry as horse trainers. They’re no stranger to spectacle. The chimpanzee incident on Gordy’s Home became a publicized spectacle that Jupe further accentuates with his theme park and memorabilia. Right before Jupe and all his theme park visitors and employees are killed, he tells them:
What if I told you that today you’ll leave here different. I’m talking to you. Right here, you are going to witness an absolute spectacle. So what happens next? You ready? ARE YOU READY?
(They were not ready)
Spectacle was present in every aspect of this film, even down to the electronics store that OJ and Emerald go to to get home surveillance equipment. For those that don’t know, look up pictures of Fry’s Electronics. Each store was a spectacle itself.
Performances were good, as always with a Jordan Peele film. Daniel Kaluuya was more stoic in this film, but the amount of acting he does with his eyes is impressive. In particular, the scene where he’s in his truck, and Jean Jacket is right above him. The fear he shows in his eyes is palpable.
Steven Yeun, Brandon Perea, and Michael Wincott all did great with the material that they had. But, the shining star in this film, hands down, is Keke Palmer. Even when the pacing felt off in the beginning of the film, I did not care because Palmer’s performance was so captivating. I wanted a whole film just following around Emerald Haywood. I would have sat there for hours.
It’s always exciting to watch a filmmaker try to perfect their craft and find their visual style. Peele experiments in Nope with some nonlinear storytelling, while also relying on flashbacks a little more. A little more practice with the visual clarity of these aspects will go a long way for the junior director. A little more time spent on the script would also be beneficial. There’s a lot of aspects of this film I wish they would have focused on more, like Jupe and that shoe, or giving veteran actor Keith David more than two scenes. Nope feels like it’s right on the edge of being up there with Get Out but it falls so short.
At the very least, Nope is a massive love letter to Steven Spielberg and blockbuster movies. Although, the amount of easter eggs throughout the film were a bit excessive. Peele’s goal was to make a film that was so big that it had to be seen in a theater. And, if the box office numbers tell us anything, he did exactly that.