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Unpacking Spectacles in Jordan Peele’s ‘Nope’

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

It’s been around nine months since the release of Jordan Peele’s latest film Nope, and the film is still on my mind. The film inevitably and frustratingly got completely ignored by the Academy Awards, which is a shame because it was one of the most inventive, nuanced, and beautifully made films of the last year. I know the film got a lot of flack for being confusing, but Peele gives his audiences all the pieces to the puzzle and it’s up to them to put those pieces together to form a picture. In case you were unsuccessful in solving that puzzle, no worries, as I will be explaining the meaning behind the plot, ending, and the characters of Nope. Suspenseful, scary, and thought-provoking; Peele manages to subvert our expectations of the traditional alien invasion horror movie to create a film that feels fresh yet nostalgic.

“I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle. — Nahum 3:6”

The opening Bible verse tells the audience what the story is centered around: spectacles. Peele plays around with interwoven storylines, one about the Haywood siblings trying to capture footage of the alien/UFO, and Jupe’s unhealthy response to the trauma of Gordy’s vicious attack on a TV set. These two plot lines might appear to feel disconnected, but they both comment on our tendency to capture and profit off of any type of spectacle, and how this can be problematic.

When Jupe is explaining to Emerald and OJ what happened during the attack, he doesn’t give his own account of it, but rather a Saturday Night Live interpretation of it. Here, Jupe is processing his own trauma through the lens of someone else’s comedy sketch. His office is lined with memorabilia from the attack and the stage show that he was on, commodifying his trauma. Jupe has turned his trauma into a spectacle that he sells, also trying to do the same with the UFO. When Jupe tries to feed the UFO a horse as part of a show, the UFO decides to eat Jupe, his family, and all the audience members, leaving the horse alone. This was obviously not part of the plan, and Jupe learns a bit too late that you can’t control spectacles or animals for entertainment. In the end, Jupe is physically consumed by the spectacle that he was trying to make money off of. The relationship between trauma and spectacles teeters between therapeutic and dangerous.

OJ and Emerald want to capture and profit off of the alien/UFO that killed their father. Gaining fame, money, and recognition from getting a shot of the UFO would theoretically allow the siblings to take back some of the power that their family had in Hollywood, which since has vanished. Angel also seeks materialistic gain, but outwardly says that their capturing the UFO, or “Jean Jacket,” could save lives or even the world at large. No matter how the characters try to rationalize their efforts, they all still view Jean Jacket as a creature and animal to exploit.

When watching horror movies, we as audience members have two options: to look or not look. Horror movies bring out our worst fears but can be escapist in nature. Horror movies often serve as a voice for the marginalized, speaking on social issues. If we look at these horrifying and traumatic images found in social commentary horror, we are forced to come to terms with the many grievances that plague our world. However, there is a privilege in being able to heal through viewing these images, because audience members don’t have to bear the burden of capturing images of trauma. There’s also a privilege in choosing to ignore important themes in these types of films because said themes might not impact audiences. OJ quickly figures out that as long as they don’t look at Jean Jacket, it won’t swallow them up. However, in the end, OJ is forced to look at Jean Jacket for a period of time in order for him and Emerald to escape. Although the obsession with spectacles is something that the film clearly criticizes, Nope also tells the audience it’s important to remember that not everyone has the luxury to ignore the intersection between spectacles and trauma.

she/her Freshman journalism major at the University of Texas at Austin! An Aquarius who has a passion for film, creative writing, pop culture, and figure skating/dance! IG: @sophiasandovall Twitter: @sophiasandovall Letterboxd: @sophisandovall