Review: Does “Nope” make a spectacle? [MUSE]

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Chenyao Liu

“Nope” is Jordan Peele’s latest movie, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorites. The film is clear and meaningful, with enough symbolism to keep the audience thinking. Like his first two, “Nope” doesn’t really fit into the genre of horror. While suspenseful and terrifying at times, “Nope” is more of a mash-up between science fiction and classic western. Warning, spoilers ahead.

“Nope” follows two siblings, OJ Haywood played by Daniel Kaluuya and Emerald Haywood played by Keke Palmer, as they try to capture proof of an alien entity in the sky. The film opens with Nahum 3:6, a Bible verse stating: “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile and make you a spectacle.” 

The movie dives into the idea of a spectacle. A common theme Peele touches upon is how photography is used as a tool for exploitation. An obvious example is how “Nope” addresses animal abuse. In the opening scene, OJ begs the cast and crew filming a commercial to be respectful of his horse, Lucky, only for a crew member to freak Lucky out. When we explore Gordy’s chapter, we learn about how chimpanzees were used to film a ‘90s sitcom, which eventually led one chimp to go berserk and attack everyone. Ricky “Jupe” Park, who starred in the sitcom as a child, becomes the very animal abuser he was around in the film industry. He knowingly feeds the Haywoods’ horses to Jean Jacket, the alien entity in the sky. He also attempts to control Jean Jacket to market his Star Lasso experience, which ends in his demise. This is the reason why the OJ and Emerald were able to deal with the predator. They followed the boundaries that Jean Jacket established, just like OJ respected his horses’ boundaries. 

“Nope” also focuses on the creative exploitation of minorities. The first example lies with the unnamed Black jockey riding the horse in the first motion picture film. Emerald Haywood introduces this to show how marginalized Black creators are, and the story isn’t just for the movie. The set of motion pictures that Peele shows in “Nope” is from an actual set of images in the 1887 book “Animal Locomotion.” The horse is identified as Annie G., but the Black rider’s name is lost to time. Jupe is also exploited, though he reflects the entertainment industry’s predatory behavior. His childhood trauma around the “Gordy’s Home” incident is turned into a mockery on SNL, with his character being portrayed by a white actor. Even before that, Emerald’s casual address of his role in “Kid Sheriff” shows how actors of color are tokenized. She calls him the “Asian kid” from the show, also inquiring about the “Black kid” who acted alongside him. This echoes real-life stories of Ke Huy Quan, who was known as the Asian kid in “Indiana Jones” or “The Goonies.” Quan found it almost impossible to find serious roles for an Asian actor in Hollywood, an experience Jupe likely went through as well. 

Personally, a fun blink-and-you-miss-it moment was when Angel referenced the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens” show. “Ancient Aliens” is a pseudoscience show that tries to attribute the achievements of ancient civilizations, most of which are non-Western, to aliens. The show inherently degrades the idea that ancient civilizations like the Incas were scientifically capable, implying that they couldn’t have created such advancements without the help of aliens. Angel’s throwaway line continues to highlight how pop culture creates spectacles through undermining the achievements of people of color. 

The last act of the film continues the theme of exploitative photography while bringing in the “obsessed artist” trope. The obsessed artist is a character that desperately strives for perfection in their craft, which usually leads to their self-destruction. Antlers Holst, the jaded cinematographer, and the unnamed TMZ reporter represent this perfectly. TMZ guy, who is apparently named Ryder Muybridge, barrels into danger, meeting his end through Jean Jacket. Even in his last moments, Muybridge begs OJ to grab his camera and take a picture. Holst meets his end in a similar way. Jaded by the film industry and obsessed with the idea of the “impossible shot,” Holst decides to sacrifice himself, capturing his own death on his film camera. 

Muybridge and Holst are certainly obsessed artists, but their selfishness also causes exploitation. Muybridge shows how the paparazzi chase trauma and pain to sell to the world. He visits Aqua Dulce to try to capture and sell the truth behind the death of Jupe and the audience at the Star Lasso experience. Holst, while crucial to capturing the proof of Jean Jacket, is still profiting from the danger that OJ puts himself in. At the end of the day, OJ was the Black jockey and Holst was the white cinematographer capturing the shot without actually being in any danger. And though he is willing to die to get the footage of Jean Jacket devouring his prey, he also unintentionally places Angel, OJ and Emerald in danger in his pursuit of the perfect shot. The film critiques Holst’s belief that the perfect shot is more important than his own life and the lives of others. 

Ultimately, “Nope” is incredibly well-written. The characters are well-rounded with interesting motivations. The plot, split into five chapters, is perfectly paced. Though there’s not really any jump scares, a few scenes had me literally gripping the edge of my seat. The film has many underlying themes surrounding exploitation but if that sounds too much, it’s a must-watch film alone due to its fascinating sound design and beautiful cinematography. If you enjoy “Nope,” be sure to give Peele’s other movies a try as well. Thanks for reading MUSE!

On this blog, members of the Carmel High School chapter of the Quill and Scroll International Honorary Society for High School Journalists (and the occasional guest writer) produce curations of all facets of popular culture, from TV shows to music to novels to technology. We hope our readers always leave with something new to muse over. Click here to read more from MUSE.

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