MAJOR SPOILERS are ahead for Nope. Experience Jordan Peele’s latest film in theaters for yourself before reading ahead.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned between Get Out, Us and Nope, it’s to expect the unexpected from writer/director Jordan Peele. The filmmaker who started in sketch comedy before becoming one of the most innovative voices in cinema today isn’t out here delivering the same brand of what he’s done before in his work, and this really shows through Nope. We need more of that in filmmaking. Coming out of Nope, which has become the most successful wholly original film of 2022, what impressed me the most is how Peele's latest flick played with my expectations before my viewing and during my viewing, and ultimately became an even more satisfying concept because of this collective experience.
Nope is Jordan Peele’s take on an alien movie. After the filmmaker played around with a few horror ideas thus far, there’s something ballsy to be said about his decision to go back to the drawing board in a sense with Nope’s more science fiction leaning. Now that there’s been some time for many of us to experience the flick, I want to talk about why I loved the alien story at the center of Nope, even though seeing it play out really threw me off too.
What I Expected Going Into Nope
I thought Nope was about aliens, and the marketing wanted me to think it was about aliens too, when at its core the movie is way more about humans I’d argue (which I’ll get to later). The first Nope trailer that came out five months before its release teased flying saucers, “bad miracles” and aliens. The image I latched onto the most that made me really believe there would be some kind of alien sighting was the image of a creature’s hand and a human reaching for each other.
I thought it was going to be Peele’s alien invasion movie, with full-on first encounters and perhaps a solid social commentary about the dynamic of the two and so forth. I also expected this to be a lot more of a horror movie than it was. Many of these things played out, but in a way we’ve never seen this concept be sincerely explored, making for one of the most original sci-fi concepts in years.
How The Movie Itself Plays With Expectations
While I was in the theater, Nope was playing with these expectations too. The movie starts off with a brutal chimp attack on the set of a television show before cutting to the tragic and unexplained death of OJ and Emerald Haywood’s father. Once the UFO has been sighted, there’s a scene where these alien figures begin to appear in OJ’s barn, and I really started to believe this would be an unbridled alien movie complete with little creepy guys invading their home. But these were actually masks worn by humans. Later, it’s revealed that the hand of the creature I saw in the trailer was not an alien creature, but the chimp who attacked a group of actors, including a young Ricky (Steven Yeun). I started to think, are there even aliens in this movie?
Right before one of the most disturbing and clever scenes took to the screen, when Ricky is out there putting on a show for his guests, I also began to think the UFO was actually something of the former child star’s creation, made in order to bring in people to his theme park and dazzle them. I kept trying to figure out the puzzle of this Peele movie, and then the real alien moment happened. The crowd was sucked into the UFO, crammed into its “mouth” before their blood was poured onto the Haywood house. It's an absolutely unnerving take on UFOs. That’s when I started to realize that this was a ride I was meant to go on and my preconceived notions about what it might be were not taking me anywhere and telling me something more uncomfortable than I was ready for.
How The Nope Alien Story Exceeded Those Expectations
Upon seeing the Nope ending play out and leaving the theater, I realized the idea of expectations vs. the reality of the movie became something really central to my experience for the movie. Between what the filmmaker had made prior to the marketing and moments within the movie, it was all leading me as an audience member to reflect on my own (and your) relationship with spectacle. If you recall, Nope opens with this quote from The Bible, Nahum 3:6:
I’m sure with further viewings of Nope, I and more viewers will dissect more hidden meanings within the movie. Within my theatergoing experience, I found its themes to be focused on the dangers of spectacle, something I was expecting from the flick itself. The characters and the audience spend much of the story trying to spot and grab evidence of this flying saucer. We want to see more and learn more, and we eventually discover that this thing has the power to kill all humans and creatures on Earth, but they find this only happens as long as they keep looking up at it.
Why do we place so much focus on ‘bigger is better’ or needing to see to believe certain things? Perhaps some things are better left not poked and prodded at and spelled out for us, including the movie’s alien, though we don’t really learn much about in Nope other than its absolutely terrifying purpose. I felt Nope, through the journey of the film, effectively expressed this idea that humans are curious to discover every nook and cranny of an idea such as extraterrestrial life, and the great lengths one will go to capture something as grand as the first aliens perhaps could (will?) take us to the point of destruction.
Take the Gordy/Ricky backstory, which showed that the concept works outside of aliens in the storyline. The adult Ricky had an actual secret shrine devoted to the most traumatic moment in his life, where people around him were brutally killed and he nearly died as well. Ricky also exploited his own childhood fame, likely elevated from the chimp incident to build his own theme park.
Nope delivers because its concept is super interesting and horrifying in a completely original way that really placed the mirror back on my own expectations from the film, but our growing addiction to spectacle and answers that we may not want the answers to despite our hunger for it. Even in movies itself, we’re so used to getting an origin story for big franchises to learn about how these aliens came to be or filmmakers feeding us answers about the worlds they are creating. However, there’s so much meaning to how we as humans react to the unknown that says a lot more about the terror of humanity rather than a fictional entity. And aren't we around each other much more often than flying saucers?
YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.
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