July 20th, 2022




Writer/Director Jordan Peele has become one of the great auteurs of the 21st Century. His Oscar-winning Get Out was one of the most deeply layered and entertaining films of the 2010s. His next project, Us, wasn’t quite as successful but still showed Peele’s skill at crafting a provocative and original narrative. Now comes Nope, where he pays homage to some of the great thriller and science fiction directors of the 20th Century while taking the genres to insightful new heights.

The film stars Oscar-winner Daniel Kuluuya who Peele used so effectively in Get Out. He plays a very different character here in OJ Haywood, the son of a motion picture industry horse wrangler. OJ is a bit sullen and disinterested in what Hollywood wants for his horses but he obligingly follows in his father’s footsteps after his mysterious death in the film’s opening scenes. In contrast to OJ is his sister Emerald, played in a forceful and comical performance by Keke Palmer. The two must work together as strange happenings begin to occur in the skies above their ranch. Since OJ is part of the film industry, Emerald sees this as a chance for them to make their “money shots” by capturing a hovering UFO on camera. What follows is a perilous trek towards reaching this goal with the help of a local electronics store sales clerk, Angel Torres.

Nope is, in part, a film about media and filmmaking. Early on it appears that Peele is infusing the energy of this film by paying homage to some of cinema’s great pioneers and auteurs. Emerald proclaims that one of the first films ever created in the late 1800s featured stills of a black man on a horse edited together in rapid succession. By also including movie posters of great actors such as Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte, Peele is raising our awareness that African Americans have made major contributions to the industry throughout its history. Peele then makes allusions to Steven Spielberg with the obvious Close Encounters of the Third Kind, which features an alien visit in a similar setting. He also mimics Spielberg’s slow reveal of the shark in Jaws with his own UFO appearing in brief moments behind clouds in this film.

The auteur allusions don’t stop there. There are some excellent shots that are a reminder of a famous blood soaked scene in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds and North by Northwest are also given some love. The former in particular can be found in the excellent sound design of Nope where characters can only hear what is outside their home as they remain terrified inside.

If all Peele did was honor film history and some its great masters, we’d have an entertaining but somewhat shallow film here. However, as was first clear in his script for Get Out, Peele is able to layer this narrative with some larger themes which make the film more than the spectacle it could be. So much of what he is exploring here relates to the media and our fascination with using bigger and better technology to capture and spy on the world as we know it. Throughout the film, Peele presents a variety of media forms from hand cranked cameras to digital monitors. He also shows us how we’ve moved our music from albums to cassettes to CDs. All of these devices and formats push themselves into our atmosphere disturbing nature and, yes, perhaps other worlds. As we make this media bigger and more accessible we lose the simplicity of those early man on a horse images and create one large spectacle after another without really thinking about the consequences.

Can our culture survive our peering eyes and sound waves that encircle us? Are we ever not watching or being watched? When Hitchcock made The Birds and was asked why those birds were attacking everyone, his response was that nature is unpredictable and that it “can be awfully rough on you.” What if physics, technology, and nature turn on us? Perhaps they already have.

That’s just some of the subtext within this film. There is so much more on the surface to like here too. In addition to Palmer’s excellent work as Emerald, Brandon Perea gives a standout performance as Angel that will no doubt rocket him into the stratosphere of young future big stars. He has so much charisma that he regularly steals scenes from Oscar winner Daniel Kaluuya. Watching his performance reminded me of first seeing Riz Ahmed in a related role and similarly themed film opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. I look forward to seeing what else he can do. The film also brilliantly uses Corey Hart’s 1980s hit “Sunglasses at Night” to great haunting effect here. I will never hear that song the same way again.

Most viewers though will probably be wowed by the special effects, and, well, the spectacle. Peele is cynically commenting on his own profession and this work. Directors make bigger and more dazzling films but to what end? What are we really putting out into the ether?

Nope will no doubt make a lot of money without people even delving into Peele’s multi-layered ideas. That’s okay though because there is something for everyone here. All great art is viewed differently by our prying eyes as it makes its way into the universe, for better or worse.



Written by: Dan Pal

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