By Daniel Paiz
**MILD spoilers are sprinkled throughout this article; moments from the film are mentioned for reference and to make certain points throughout. The spoilers won’t ruin the film but might take a bit of the suspense out of your viewing experience. Proceed at your own risk**
Cypher Flicks returns with a review of the newly released Jordan Peele film, Nope. Peele has previously released Get Out and Us, but Nope is a whole new rodeo. Where there’s plenty of critiques on various topics in the US and society at large in the first two films, Nope does a lot and yet allows you to determine how to feel at the end.
Some people might not enjoy the Goosebumps-esque choose-your-adventure kind of path, and Nope avoids that in terms of the ending itself. The plotline is pretty straightforward, as it combines themes of a monster movie with themes of a horror/suspense film. Otis JR aka OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) are trying to capture proof that what torments the hills of their family’s ranch is in fact real. It helps that the death of their father, Otis Sr. (Keith David), is loosely related to what they’re hunting down. Things get more layered as the story unfolds.
The folly of man
Peele scatters all kinds of film references into this film, but the most important one is revisiting the first motion picture in history. Eadweard Muybridge is credited with being the first to create a motion picture, but the man on the horse captured in that picture is unnamed still. OJ recreates this image in Nope several times, as his family in the film has laid claim to being the heirs of the man on the horse. This training proves vital for events later in the film.
Another creature introduction is that of Gordy, the chimpanzee from Gordy’s Home. This fictional sitcom in Nope is where Ricky Jupe (Steven Yeun) comes from and happens to be OJ’s neighbor. That furry fellow might be tied with the thing behind the clouds in terms of how terrifying it is; Jupe is the only physically unscathed survivor of the Gordy incident. This relationship between Gordy and Jupe seems somewhat parallel to the one OJ and the sky thing have in terms of power.
OJ, a lifelong horse trainer, understands the importance of respecting an animal and knowing its boundaries. Make a horse feel unsafe, you will deal with the consequences. Ricky doesn’t seem to have that same understanding despite his time with Gordy. Gordy was more so made to be a prop, a punchline of sorts where boundaries with co-stars didn’t exist.
The bit of luck Ricky Jupe had earlier in life runs out when he fails to show respect and boundaries for the sky thing. His attempt to return to fame and make some money off of the sky thing mirrors the same failures realized with Gordy. This time, the missteps are all on Jupe.
All of the things
There are any number of directions you can go when it comes to what this film means as the credits roll. There’s the sensible route of another critique of today’s capitalistic society. The pursuit of money, fame, and attention unravels as these characters try to capture photographic proof on the Hayward ranch for a payday. Ricky does the same thing with his “Jupiter’s Claim” Western theme park, which he is using to try to get another shot at fame.
There’s the commentary on how Black cowboys and Black horse ranchers are largely minimized and removed from Hollywood, especially with the Muybridge reference. Emerald and OJ unsuccessfully run the ranch after Otis Sr’s death, which is also caused by the sky thing (literal erasure in this case). Hollywood is no stranger to minimizing the impact of Black creatives and continues to do so here.
I’d be remiss to not also mention the movie monster route. The sky thing, for lack of a better term, is assumed to be a UFO spacecraft. After several closeups of the billowy saucer, and a closeup of its insides, it appears to be an alien creature that has jellyfish or squid-like properties (with no real face or eyes).
Ironically, it clearly does NOT like to be looked at by humans or Earth creatures. Those who gaze upon it seem to get slurped up. This seems to tie into the seeking attention motif, in terms of it wants to watch and monitor all it encounters in those Hollywood hills; it DOES NOT want to be watched. Sky thing does have a weakness, however: those only into organic food should appreciate this weakness (this can be discussed in the late-stage capitalism takes popping up too).
This film has wondrous cinematography and recreates moments in film as a sort of ode to moviemaking. The ending and the constant shifts in different directions will anger some. Antler Holst’s (Michael Wincott) Moby Dick-like fixation of capturing the perfect shot endangers any real proof of the sky thing. Angel’s (Brandon Perea) character provides some comic relief, and another character that might reflect the audience’s reaction to the sky thing’s method of digestion. Emerald is a bit underutilized until the final act, where she realizes the Oprah shot.
Things are quite crisscrossed in this film when it comes to character arcs and plot development. It’s linearly wavy, in a sense. But, for this viewer, I appreciate the open-endedness from Peele. I know if I saw a cloud not moving above where I live, I’d likely saying the same thing too: Nope.