Jordan Peele’s latest outing Nope critiques social media, Hollywood, and the need to frame the impossible on immortal celluloid. Nope is a science fiction story of descendants of the first Black wrangler captured on film attempting to be the first Black family to capture indisputable evidence of aliens on film. Filled with images that bring to mind UFOs, Rorschach, money and lens, one viewing is not enough to capture all that resides in Nope. Peele is a master at crafting appealing characters, nuance, and multiple meanings in an entertaining package. Nope is no exception.
A Distinct Story
The film opens with a spectacle. A blood-soaked monkey on a sitcom set went on a rampage. Then we get to know our protagonists. The Haywood family patriarch, Otis Haywood (Keith David), is a Black horse wrangler. As he and his son OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) are outside with their horses, a strange sound emits from the sky then items fall, sounding like gunfire. Otis collapses, and OJ rushes him to the hospital, but Otis passes away. Now, it is up to OJ and sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) to keep the flourishing business alive. The siblings have affection but clash over the family business, which is part of OJ’s life but takes a backseat to Emerald’s other creative pursuits.
Because the business of horse-wrangling for Hollywood is struggling, OJ sells some of the horses to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), who runs a western-style park. Though the park is popular, Jupe is also known for his child-acting days in two shows. One show, in particular, had a monkey named Gordy. This attracts many visitors to his park because of what happened on set. Again, there’s the spectacle quality, the idea of performing for a lens, and the inevitable carnage that ensued when someone did not sign up for it. With Nope, the trailer does not give an accurate clue to what the movie is, so some may feel tricked.
Love These Characters
The siblings decide to get video evidence of what is in the sky. They get the assistance of a curious, funny, ride-or-die addition, Angel (Brandon Perea), a tech-savvy sales clerk who helps them purchase and set up equipment. Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), a director, also arrives to help them get their evidence. The acting between Keke, Daniel, and Brandon is terrific. Brandon stands out because of his humor and need to overshare about his failed relationship. He needed a project, and whether the Haywood siblings were ready, he chose them. Hilarious, adorable scenes ensue thanks to this trio’s interactions.
Peele’s direction is magnetic; scenes stand out with discomfort. The jump scares were unnecessary and did not add to the Nope. But Jordan Peele films with intent; even if you do not fully understand, you know something is beneath the surface. What is in the sky may be hard to describe but is reminiscent of a Rorschach because it is up to the viewer what they see in a physical and metaphorical sense.
What is in the sky could be a symbol for capitalism, but also something that defies capitalism—defies a system that oppresses many for the privileges of a few. The focus on capturing evidence on video, combined with the need to be first, is what society has become. Our eyes themselves are a lens, gawking at the strange.
Nope critiques the audience and Hollywood’s fixation on being first. We are all voyeurs to varying degrees. That mania often comes at the expense of what matters, like human life or quality of life. People nowadays face dangerous situations, and their first thought is to pull their phone out to video rather than get help. It also goes along racial lines since white people try to take over what Black people achieve to get credit for being the first; creators; discoverers.
Though unexpected, Nope is Jordan Peele’s most ambitious and daring film yet. All the risks may not pan out, but Nope entertains and alarms with its awareness of where society stands. You can get more from it with each viewing, which is knockout cinema.