Behind the Curtain of ‘NOPE’

I did my best to try to avoid any major spoilers for Nope, but the subject matter, and dissection, throughout this article could be considered spoilers to some. I did not include any character names, or easily identifiable plot points. I tried to be as vague as possible regarding the actual storyline of the movie.

Proceed at your own risk! ☁️

Jordan Peele is a masterclass filmmaker, we all know that already. His newest movie Nope continues to prove his talents. Even with a larger budget, Peele manages to make the movie feel human, and close to home. Of course he doesn’t do it all alone; the entire cast gives it their all. The chemistry between the actors seeps through the cracks and gets soaked up by their characters. It’s pure liquid gold. With everyone’s efforts, Nope can easily be put into a list of greatest films of all time. Right next to Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, respectively. Peele is also known for doing an incredible job of pushing messages through his horror stories. He delivers in a massive way with Nope

When the movie ended, and the credits began rolling, I sat still in my seat. I was in disbelief of what I had just witnessed. Several scenes in Nope made me feel like I shouldn’t have been seeing what was on screen. My working theory is that my brain was interpreting what I saw as reality, because it looked and felt so real, so I was unintentionally trying to wipe it from my memory. I was uncomfortable, and in awe. I turned to my partner and all I could say was how insane and amazing the movie was. There weren’t enough words to exclaim. I had soon realized that Nope was one of the scariest movies I’d ever watched. It wasn’t scary because of jump scares — although even those got me in the best way — it was scary because of the pure weight and scale of the movie, and I mean that in a few ways. 

The way in which the objects and spaces are portrayed:

The set design leaves everything feeling and looking open. The whole plot takes place in a secluded location that resides outside of genuine civilization. It’s all dirt fields, mountains, and long stretches of road. It’s a vast landscape that makes you feel small. There is nowhere to hide from the sky when that’s all there is.

The messages within the horror:

Jordan Peele has been fairly open about what his intent was when writing Nope, but he makes sure to still leave things open to interpretation. The most obvious message is regarding Hollywood, and sensationalism. Way too often do we capitalize on fear and violence. A perfect example being the news over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement after the death of George Floyd. There wasn’t a moment when we weren’t being exposed to death. Millions of people were dying from the virus; it was so common that it seemed to become normalized. Millions of people watched the death of George Floyd; the man’s last breath was recorded and shown to the world. In the instance of what happened with George Floyd, I understand that the video was meant to show people the true nature of the police force, and it was meant to be used as a message. But the video became a spectacle; it was being passed around the internet and news stations. We were all overexposed to such a tragic death. Eventually the video wasn’t shocking anymore, it was seen so many times that it lost its real meaning.

So many tragic events that have been captured on film over the years, and shoved in our faces, seem to also have lost their meaning. How many times have we seen the events of 9/11 take place through a shaky camera? How many bodies have we seen on the news in regards to Ukraine? Do you still have the images of mass graves stuck in your head from when people were dying of COVID-19 faster than hospitals could handle? I don’t, because those pictures and videos were shown to me so many times that it eventually didn’t bother me anymore. Does that say something about me, or about the media’s obsession with violence and overexposure? 

Nope captures the essence of spectacle perfectly. Right from the opening, until the very end of the movie, you get a real sense of humanity and how we react to such violence, trauma, and fear. There is a character in the movie that goes through an extremely traumatic event as a child, and as an adult he has shoved that trauma down as far as possible. Instead of talking about the experience in a natural way, he decides to capitalize on the event, going so far as to having a whole shrine dedicated to that time of his life that people can pay him to see. He has also become a successful showman in the entertainment industry. When asked about what happened, he retells the Saturday Night Live sketch that was inspired by it, instead of telling the real story. The idea that this character feels the need to turn such violence into something he can profit from is disturbing on many levels, and very real to life. There’s something to be said about child actors who are molded into thinking everything has to be made into entertainment. There is no time to be human because there’s money to be made. This character and his trauma can also be a great representation of what happens in culture after we are exposed to violence and death. We often find ways to cope by turning the trauma into something that we can laugh about. We often cover up our uncomfortable feelings with comedy, on a personal level, and a collective level. Including that SNL comment in Nope was one of the smartest moments in the movie. A quick Google search will show you that SNL is quite known for turning historical events into something that audiences can digest and laugh about. But I think more people should be talking about how these seemingly harmless comedy sketches may be impacting our perception of trauma. If we keep normalizing and joking about violence that we collectively have to experience, will any of it matter in the long run? Will we eventually be so accustomed to seeing and hearing about death that we never actually face it in a healthy manner?

There is also a point to be made about using animals as a source of our own entertainment with no regard to how the animal is feeling. In Nope there is a common thread throughout which people see animals as only props; they’re solely there to serve the actor. Often the mistreatment of animals in the entertainment industry comes at cost — they will eventually break. What comes after that can be unpredictable, as demonstrated in the movie, and tragically in the real world. Wild animals are not meant to be pets, they aren’t here to entertain us, and profiting off them in the entertainment industry is blatantly inappropriate. You can’t enter the domain of a wild animal and get upset when they get stressed, and scared, and try to protect themselves. Same goes for taking the animal out of its natural habitat. There’s no winning for anyone in either instance. Nope tells us that if you’re going to use animals in the entertainment industry, know how to treat them with respect, and make sure you’re educated on how to handle them properly so that everyone is safe.

As a society we’ve become more and more obsessed with historical violence and trauma. That itch has always been there for some people, but in the age of social media it has become more accessible than ever before. Occasionally I’ll have to warn my family and friends, who are active online, about disturbing videos that are going viral, because I don’t want them to be exposed to something so awful, especially without their consent. It’s just too easy to be scrolling through Twitter and all of a sudden you see a clip of someone falling to their death from an amusement park ride. Or a clip of someone who live-streamed their suicide. It’s not normal to be exposed to death in this way. It is not normal to see so much visceral and real violence.

As I was thinking more about Nope, and the messages it holds, I had a realization that I’m just another person who is part of the problem. In my Watch Later list on YouTube one of the videos listed was about disturbing things found on the internet. I fall for the sensationalism; I get obsessed with certain stories and clips. Millions of other people do too. Disturbing iceberg lists, disturbing deep dives, disturbing things across the internet, disturbing moments caught on camera. They’re everywhere, and they’ll continue being everywhere because we’re addicted to spectacle whether we can admit it or not. It’s in our nature. 

Nope is also very much about fame, Hollywood, and this fantasy of the American dream. The first thing the main characters do when they realize there might be something strange happening in the sky, they buy equipment to capture it on film, so they can hopefully get famous. Safety is off the table. They have no idea what they’re getting themselves into, all that matters is getting it on video. There’s a point in the movie when the showman tries to make a profit off it, too. He puts dozens of people’s lives at risk solely in hopes of giving them the most spectacular show they’ve ever seen. He wants to capitalize on whatever it is, and people show up for it; they would put their lives in danger just to see something no one else has. Even when things are clearly going sideways, they all get their phones out to try to capture everything. The obsession with fame throughout Nope is glaringly obvious. Yet in the real world, it seems no one actually wants to address the issue of scrounging for fame, money, and virality. 

Another point that Nope makes is to talk about the Black history within the film industry, and how important it is to recognize where everything started. There’s an ongoing theme of western cinema and culture throughout the movie, because what’s more American than cowboys? Nope lets us know that this idea we have of Western America is so wrong. With the fictional Hayward family, Peele uncovers the history of Black erasure in the film industry. While the story of a Black jockey riding a horse being the first ever recorded video isn’t exactly true, there is still the underlying message that Hollywood has not shown proper respect to those who deserve it. Nope forces us to ask why Hollywood has been so desperate to hide the people of colour who have impacted the film industry, and history in general. There’s a moment at the end of the movie that really makes you wonder, will this young Black woman be credited for what she achieved? Or will her name be erased from the story?

And for the record: Black cowboys existed long before Hollywood decided to whitewash them in modernized film. 

On a lighter note, Nope does a fantastic, and hilarious, job of hammering in the fact that in most horror movies the white people are often the ones who end up getting killed, due to their own stupidity and curiosity. While the Black characters (if they’re not just there solely to be written off), are the ones to get the hell out of danger. Peele has said in interviews that he wanted the title of Nope to also be a representation of how Black people often react to scary or dangerous situations. They say “nope, I’m out,” playing things smart, and not risking their lives. 

Jordan Peele never fails to give us something to chew on. Nope is bursting with metaphors and challenging conversation. It’s easily one of those movies that will stick with you long after you want it to. No matter how many times you come back to it, it’ll still give you the same chills as it did the first time you saw it. I’m sure even after I’ve published this piece, I’ll still find more to say. 

Nope is a masterpiece of film, art, and writing. Watch it, and digest it. Talk to all your friends about it. Have those challenging conversations. Educate yourself, and be vulnerable.

Enjoy the spectacle. 


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