The following article has been rated S for Spoilers!
Famous Anthropologist Yuval Noah Harrari in his bestseller book Sapiens notes, that when Humans tried to domesticate wolves for the first time, they took control of natural evolution, which was a big milestone in cognitive revolution, which led to the agricultural revolution. Humans took control over nature which made them the alpha on this planet. While this control over nature has been a boon, it’s been a bane too. Jordan Peele's new venture "Nope" puts a lens into this thesis.
Nope is an abbreviated form for "Not of Planet Earth" which refers to extra-terrestrial beings. Nope revolves around the Haywood Siblings (Daniel Kaluya and Keke Palmer), Angel (Brandon Perea) and Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) attempt to capture the “Oprah Shot” of the UFO that’s “terrorising” the locality. Just like every Jordan Peele film, this film too packs in a lot of allegorical commentaries on alarming world issues like fetishing spectacle to the point of extreme danger.
It's all in the Showbiz!
Starting from the Biblical verse Nahum 3:6, Nope alludes to how Hollywood or to be more precis how filmmaking has affected humans’ perception of a spectacle. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “Spectacle” as “something exhibited to view as unusual, notable, or entertaining”. Humans have always been fascinated/obsessed with capturing the “spectacle”. Today, in this world running on zeros and ones we are (even myself) we don't really live in the "spectacle", instead we treat it as means of getting quick fame. This status quo is satirized at the climax featuring an unknown reporter from “TMZ” trying to ruin the Haywoods' attempt to capture the UFO for the "Oprah Shot".
In a particular scene, we see Emerald and Angel having a cool chat in a restaurant after having experienced a “blood rain” around their region, OJ just starts to think about the horror and talks about it. But both Emerald and Angel just stop him from talking about it. At the end, we see OJ not being consumed by the UFO because once in for all he tries to live in the moment rather than capturing it and at the same time his sister capturing the picture of UFO. Just like Antlers from the film, we humans even risk our own lives to capture the ”spectacle” but do we really care about it? When we read any news or see a picture on the bloodsheds of war, we just get pity for that second which might extend to few days of “heated discussion”. Nevertheless, do we really get to acknowledge the horrors of war? Or are we just seeing it as mere “spectacle” from a distance? The film doesn’t really try to provide solutions to these questions on “spectacle” rather than that it is left to us as a paradox.
Erasure of Black People
It’s no wonder that racism was seeped into every field in the United States and Hollywood cinema was no exception. From his debut work to “Nope”, Jordan Peele tends to address about racism prevailing in the American society. On hindsight, Haywoods’ attempt to capture the UFO’s picture tends to be something narcissistic but there’s a bigger picture to it. In the film, we are introduced to the Haywood Family’s contributions to Hollywood with Emerald explaining about the famous Muybridge reel of 1887 featuring a galloping horse and what’s considered to be the first motion picture. While there are still questions about whether the man riding the horse in the reel was of black or white origin, Peele uses this mystery to the fullest in order to talk about the erasure of Blacks’ contribution to Hollywood.
“Nope” being a subversion of the “western” genre films, Peele places the posters of “Duel at Diablo” and “Buck and the Preacher” which are films with black cowboys as protagonists. Unfortunately, these films got whitewashed in the course of Hollywood film history. The Haywoods’ siblings try to use this UFO picture in order to get back the recognition that their previous generations have lost. It’s weirdly fitting that a movie about underappreciated members of Hollywood whose family’s contributions to the medium of film have been completely erased, snubbed by the Oscars.
Nope, you can’t control nature!
While the Haywoods’ Oprah shot is the major core of the film, it’s Jupe’s (Steven Yeun) subplot and his gift of controlling nature for a spectacle that fascinated me the most.
Most of the famous amusement parks across the globe use marine creatures like dolphin for acrobatic spectacles. The National Geographic has claimed that at least 20 dolphins are killed to catch a single healthy dolphin. Journalist Boyd Harnell in 2005 exposed to the world that illegal whaling and dolphin hunting is operating under the radar near Taiji Islands, Japan and amusement parks serve as their biggest clients to this network. We get joyous by witnessing the dolphin acrobatics but at what cost we experience this spectacle?
The story of Jupe and his control of nature for the cost of a spectacle made me retrospect on these incidents aforementioned. We see his traumatic past life, where the 10-year-old version of him experienced the rampage of Gordy the Chimpanzee in the TV show he starred. After killing the cast of the show, the chimpanzee approaches and goes for a handshake to 10-year-old Jupe. But Jupe thinks that he has a “special power” to control nature. Even after experiencing horror nearby, he didn’t learn his lessons just like us humans who didn’t stop whaling for the cost of a spectacle. Cut back to grown-up Jupe, he takes his spectacle to the next level using the “terrorizing” UFO. But the UFO swallows the people witnessing the spectacle along with Jupe.
Peele connects Jupe’s subplot to the main core of the Haywoods’ Oprah shot to convey that no matter how we control nature to our own convenience we need to know that it always belongs to its true habitat. “Nope” provokes the thought that we should learn our lessons promptly and be in harmony with nature!
Veteran Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky has said that a book read by thousand people is thousand different books. Similarly, modern art movements like the surrealistic movement lean more towards abstract interpretation of the viewer rather than the artist giving a definitive explanation. Jordan Peele’s “Nope” is like a 21st century surrealist painting that truly is a great ode to Spielbergian horror and the world we live in.