With the release of NOPE, Jordan Peele continues to impress and display the range of his creative insanity while fully cementing his position as one of the next greats of cinema. Taking clear inspiration from numerous Spielberg films such as Jaws, Jurassic Park, and particularly Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Peele manages to build upon them as a means to make his most ambitious film to date. Indeed, NOPE is an original alien/UFO story that delivers a wholly unique and impeccably layered perspective on numerous societal and niche issues as well as on the complexity of human behavior in today’s world.
As many have pointed out, NOPE is essentially about spectacle and the way humans consume it. Though, with respect to the film’s magnitude, it’s also about a plethora of other things. As opposed to Get Out and Us, the idea of race is much less important to this film, which instead focuses on universal human psychology. Our exploitation of spectacle as a means to earn something in return, whether it’s recognition or money, is a central aspect of the film. The idea of spectacle is represented by two distinct living beings, both of which are similarly exploited by humans and ultimately encounter terrible fates.
One of the first scenes of the film depicts the aftermath of a primate attack during the making of a TV show, which essentially used Gordy–the chimp–for entertainment. This eerie moment foreshadows the eventual exploitation of the UFO–also a shapeshifting alien–during the main plot. Moreover, the tragedy’s connection to Steven Yeun’s character Ricky Park further supports the idea. After having witnessed and survived the rampage in 1998 as one of the show’s cast members, he now owns an amusement park, and hidden away in his office is a room filled with various mementos connected to the show. When showing this room to our leads, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), he mentions how he usually charges people for a look inside, an initial sign that the cycle of exploitation is ongoing. It’s later revealed that for the last six months, he has been feeding horses to a new finding of his, which we learn is the UFO, that he showcases in an event organized at the park every Friday. And so the cycle lives on, leading to one fateful scene where the UFO somewhat unsurprisingly kills the entire audience, including Ricky Park.
As chaos unfolds, two other characters are murdered by the UFO as a result of their exploitative desires. Both the skilled cinematographer obsessed with getting the impossible shot and the intrusive TMZ reporter are willing to put themselves in danger to capture this spectacle. These characters shed light on another issue– our obsession with things that we shouldn’t be watching, and, interestingly, our consumption of social media as well. The parallel between looking at a territorial creature’s gaze, which leads to it consuming us (literally doing so in the film), and the control social media has over our lives, is undeniable.
On a lighter note, one of the most beautiful aspects of NOPE is the specific and ironically metatextual reference to under-appreciated artists in the film industry. At the start of the film, OJ and Emerald participate in the making of a commercial as an attempt to uphold their father’s legacy in Hollywood, who was a legendary horse trainer. Unfortunately, it ends poorly for them as their horse misbehaves. In the final act, OJ is seen wearing an orange hoodie with the word ‘CREW’ printed on the back. At the end of the film, once the UFO has been defeated, and after OJ presumably sacrificed himself, he emerges from the dust, triumphant, still wearing the hoodie. Similarly, crew members frequently take on highly demanding tasks, and, regretfully, though their work, specifically certain roles, is widely unrecognized, it is indispensable to any film. As Chris Stuckman writes, “this is a love letter to crews.”
Although more known than other crew members, the assumption can be made that most audience members wouldn’t know the name Michael Abels (Get Out, Us), who, in this case, created a thrilling and occasionally adventurous score, at times reminiscent of John Williams’ work. Moreover, and most importantly, the name of legendary cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Her, Interstellar, Dunkirk, Tenet) must be mentioned as he uses the camera and framing in a uniquely captivating manner. The numerous UFO sightings are captured with such dynamic camera movement that one feels as if they're present in the scene and are actually looking up at the sky. Another distinct aspect of the cinematography is the beauty of the night scenes, which were innovatively shot during the day.
The darkness of the night scenes juxtaposed with the pure whiteness of Daniel Kaluuya’s eyes creates an eerie feeling that supports his subtle, yet stellar performance. On the other hand, the performances by both Keke Palmer as OJ’s sister and Brandon Perea as Angel, a hardware store employee and UFO enthusiast, offer natural comic relief and fortunately manage to not take the tension out of certain moments.
As the film comes to an end, though it may seem as if the UFO dies too easily, it effectively reflects the eventual demise of exploited creatures and the continuing cycle of exploitation, something that was foreshadowed earlier when we learned that Gordy was abruptly shot and killed. Despite the UFO’s death, Emerald managed to achieve her goal and take a photo of it. At this point, the film runs into an interesting philosophical dilemma. The photo will surely bring them recognition and save their father’s ranch, which was OJ’s main goal, but at what cost– the exploitation of a living creature and spectacle as well as the commercialization of a tragedy, which the film works hard to caution against, yet it also stresses the importance of being recognized for the work that one does.
On the surface, and similarly to Get Out and Us, NOPE isn’t a particularly scary film. Though it has its thrilling and disturbing moments, the real source of fear stems from the realism of its commentary about our society. It deserves to be seen, rewatched–preferably on the biggest screen possible–and, most importantly, talked about and praised for its depth and societal relevance.
NOPE - 9/10
Peele, Jordan. NOPE. Universal Pictures. 2022.
Stuckman, Chris. Nope - Movie Review. July 20th 2022. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWUXOUPeBFg&t=307s