If you’ve seen this movie already, you probably also had the experience of walking out of the movie theatre incredibly confused. At least, I know I was the first time I went and saw Jordan Peele’s Nope. But with a cast that good I couldn’t resist and had to go back and watch it again, and again, and maybe one more time just for good measure. For some reason, this movie has a chokehold on me, so I’d like to share some insight into the themes of this movie and the reasons you should give it another watch.
A Brief Summary
Nope is Jordan Peele’s third film and released on July 22. The story follows two siblings, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) Haywood, after they reunite back at their family’s farm following the unexpected and peculiar death of their father. Their father had been killed by a coin falling out of the sky while out training one of their film horses. See, the Haywood family had been raising and training horses for the film for a long time; the family even says that the first piece of film – a two-second clip of a black man riding a horse – was a member of their family. After the death of their father, the Haywood siblings are struggling to maintain the farm and make ends meet, so OJ sells some of their horses to an eccentric western-style theme park owner, Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun). Jupe buys these horses off OJ stating that he intends to use them for a new attraction at his theme park, yet, the siblings meet up with Jupe at his park to discuss the possibility of buying some of their horses back. In this interaction, it is revealed that Jupe used to be an actor in a 1998 family sitcom called Gordy’s Home. However, this sitcom didn’t end well as it is explained that one of chimps (Gordy) went crazy after balloons on set made contact with lights and exploded – the incident resulting in two cast members losing their lives, and one being permanently disfigured. Jupe was the only cast member who made it out unharmed. One night OJ and Emerald are out on their farm with their horse, Ghost, when it gets spooked by something in the distance and runs off. Soon after, OJ sees a floating object veering off into the clouds with the screams of Ghosts in the background. After this night, the siblings decide they will get what they call “the Oprah shot”- a piece of evidence so believable that it would have to pay them a large sum of money. Throughout the movie, they meet up with several individuals who they convince to help them in capturing this ‘impossible shot’. As the cast tries to capture this ship on camera, OJ learns two things: the ship isn’t a ship at all, it’s an alien entity in itself, and the alien won’t attack if you make direct eye contact with it. Shortly after this we finally see what Jupe has been doing with OJ’s horses; he has been creating a new show for his park of which he calls the ‘Star Lasso Experience’. With an audience in hand, he introduces the show bringing out one of OJ’s horses, Lucky, and tells that he has been an onlooker to an alien species for over six months that he has named ‘The Viewers’. When the show starts the alien ends up swallowing the audience, Jupe, and his family in just a few minutes. Soon we will see the end of this ordeal as the alien rains blood over the Haywood’s house as a warning. With a team in hand, the siblings devise a plan to catch a shot of the alien by using an electromagnetic field. The outcome of this is that they manage to not only catch a shot of the alien but also kill it in the process.
The Concept of a ‘Bad Miracle’
In almost all cases the word miracle has a positive connotation. It’s a blessing – something amazing and unexplainable. Nope turns this upside down by introducing the concept of a ‘bad miracle’. In this case, a ‘bad miracle’ is a negative event or an event happening at a negative time that is just so impossible it seems it’s a miracle taking place.
We are able to see this concept littered throughout the movie as one of the central themes, which OJ himself even gives a particular speech about. But I’d like to focus on one example that had me confused after re-watching this movie. In the scene at the beginning of the movie we see a chimpanzee, Gordy, brutally attacking a woman as Jupe watches from under the table. After panning to Jupe’s face the camera focuses on a shoe, the same shoe that belongs to the woman being attacked, as it stands perfectly straight up on its heel. Originally I believed that this had to be some form of supernatural force, however, there are no supernatural forces at play here.
In this scene as Jupe hides under the table, traumatized and afraid, the one thing he focuses on is this shoe. When the camera pans to the shoe it’s coming from the angle of Jupe. The fact that the shoe stands upright, almost defying gravity despite the brutality happening just feet away is almost like a miracle. But it’s not because miracles are good, and this is the farthest thing from that. Later on, we see that Jupe has created a personal museum dedicated to Gordy’s home; unsurprisingly, this museum holds his cast member’s shoe displayed in that same upright position. It’s as if he was so amazed by that moment that he thought he must preserve a spectacle, a bad miracle.
What it means to risk it all for Fame & Wealth
I’d argue that the most central theme in Nope is that people are willing to sacrifice a lot for the promise of fame and wealth. More specifically, this movie shows you what it means to risk it all in an ATTEMPT to receive wealth and fame. Nowadays, this is one of society’s biggest vices: we can see it represented everywhere as people sell themselves and others out to get what they think they deserve.
There are several main instances I’d like to mention in relation to this topic. The first time we are introduced to our main character, Emerald Haywood, – she is promoting herself and her many talents on a filming set where she’s supposed to be a horse wrangler. In this scene and many others, we are able to see a stark contrast between the two siblings. Emerald has some materialistic and opportunistic tendencies while OJ has other intentions. These intentions center around doing right by his deceased father rather than gaining wealth or fame. Although it is true that at the time the siblings discover the alien they were struggling with money, it is Emerald who stresses the importance of getting ‘The Oprah Shot’ because it will be good enough to make their money and publicity. Throughout the movie, Emerald makes it apparent how much she’s willing to sacrifice in hopes of getting this shot, including putting her family, friends, and herself in harm’s way to get a shot that may or may not have a positive outcome. Although she does show character development throughout the movie, her beginning arc allows great insights into the human desire for more.
Although this may seem an obvious example, Jupe exemplifies this theme the most. Despite Jupe clearly still having trauma from the “Gordy’s Home” incident, he profits off of it. He creates a personal museum of objects from the show and allows superfans to pay to view and sleep in the same room as his personal collection. In many ways, we’re able to see how willing he is to push aside his own trauma to make a quick buck. The biggest example, however, is “The Star-Lasso Experience” (Wow that was a mess). After discovering the presence of an alien species, he sacrifices OJ’s horses as an offering. He does this in hopes that he can create a show out of the aliens – believing he’s trained them/has a special relationship with them. This obviously backfires as his head got too big for his cowboy hat, and the alien ends up killing him, his family, and the audience. Jupe truly had no business interacting with an alien species no one knew about, but his hubris got the best of him. He began to believe that he was more than an ordinary man, and thought that he could make even more money off of the exploitation of an alien.
The Treatment of Animals
One of Jordan Peele’s themes that carry over from film to film revolves around the mistreatment of animals. In this film, there are two surface-level cases of animal treatment: the Haywood horses and Gordy. It’s hard to see a common thread through these two but follow me for a second.
In one of the earliest scenes, we see Lucky, one of the Haywood horses on set to film. Despite OJ telling the film crew that Lucky is overwhelmed, the crew tries to force the horse to do what they want, and it leads to one of the makeup artists nearly getting kicked. This highlights the way we tend to separate the importance of animal needs from the needs of humans. Animals can’t speak human languages or tell us what they want or need, and humanity tends to take this as a signal to treat animals as organisms created for their own personal gain.
We also have the chimpanzee, Gordy. Yes, Gordy did terrible things, I am not here to deny that. But in the movie, the people working on the set ignored that chimpanzees still have instincts and can become afraid. When the balloons hit the hot lights and popped, it triggered the chimpanzees’ fight or flight signal. The brutality that happened that day was a result of humans not understanding the needs of the chimpanzee. Humans believe animals are intelligent when it works for them, but when the animal acts on its instinct it’s no longer intelligent. I think this idea of animal mistreatment and misunderstanding is one that Jordan Peele highlights throughout his films.