NOPE. Original science fiction blockbuster
The essence of Jordan Peele’s cinema lies in symbolism. The American director has proven this through both his debut film Get Out! and his second film Us which have provoked audiences (including university professors, historians, and psychologists) to engage in endless in-depth analyses and interpretations. Interestingly, Peele’s work, filled with symbols, Easter eggs, historical and socio-political references, is also incredibly accessible and attractive to the average moviegoer. This “universality” of Peele’s cinema is a result of his deep understanding of horror as a genre, allowing him to craft multi-layered stories that appeal to mass audiences. With Nope Jordan Peele sets the bar even higher than before, as his latest production is a genre patchwork sewn together from elements that might not immediately form a new pattern.
The action of Nope mainly takes place on the Haywood ranch situated in the beautiful hills of California. The Haywoods are involved in a rather specific business – they provide their horses for films, TV shows, and advertisements. Given their proximity to Hollywood, this makes sense. When Otis Haywood Senior (Keith David) dies under mysterious circumstances, his legacy is taken up by Otis Jr., known as OJ (stoic Daniel Kaluuya), and his sister Emerald (vibrant Keke Palmer). The problem is that neither OJ, who is reserved, nor the energetic Emerald can fully adapt to their new roles. To solve the financial problems of the ranch, the Haywood siblings decide to sell horses to a nearby amusement park run by Ricky “Jupe” Park (grotesque Steven Yeun), a former child TV star whose career was interrupted by an unusual and terrifying event on a sitcom set. Soon, it becomes apparent that the death of Otis Haywood Senior, Jupe’s activities, and the increasing disobedience of the ranch’s horses are related to the regular appearance of an unidentified flying object in the sky. This paranormal phenomenon also becomes an opportunity for Otis Jr. and Emerald to achieve financial stability. Alongside a tech specialist from a nearby electronics store, Angel (tension-easing Brandon Perea), and filmmaker Antlers Holst (intriguing Michael Wincott), they aim to capture the phenomenon in one perfect shot.
Despite the above extensive plot description, in which I’ve tried not to include any spoilers, Jordan Peele’s latest film is actually quite a straightforward narrative. The writer, director, and producer of this film skillfully guide the viewer from the beginning to the end of the story, leaving little unresolved. Can “Nope” be considered merely an intriguing, original, and exciting summer blockbuster? Yes and no. As mentioned earlier, Peele understands both the audience and the genres he works in. The same holds true for Nope where horror effectively blends with science fiction, western, and dark comedy. Peele not only navigates these genres comfortably but often pushes their boundaries, establishing new rules of the game. The creators spared no expense, ensuring that this cinematic genre patchwork makes a visual impact on the audience. The use of IMAX cameras and the involvement of Hoyte van Hoytema, a graduate of the Łódź Film School and known for his work on films like Interstellar and Dunkirk by Christopher Nolan, guarantee a full cinematic experience. An experience that quickens the heartbeat, electrifies, and captivates.
A Film Full of Questions
With all this visual richness, wild action fueled by creative ideas, the atmospheric music, and special effects provided by Peele and his team, can one completely switch off thinking during the screening and ignore the elements that suggest that there’s more to this than just a (survival) struggle? Why would OJ, Emerald, Angel, and Antlers be so fixated on capturing the UFO in a perfect shot (the “Oprah shot”)? What is the unidentified flying object hovering over the Haywood ranch, and what does it signify? Why would Emerald tell the creators of the commercial, in which the Haywood horse was to appear, that her ancestor rode the horse from Eadweard Muybridge’s famous moving image from the 1870s? What’s the purpose of the tragic flashback from the set of the TV show featuring a chimpanzee named Gordy? Why does a certain sneaker appear to levitate? Why does Nope begin with a quote from the biblical Book of Nahum? I assure you that these questions are just a few of the doubts that come to the viewer’s mind during the screening. This speaks to the fact that Jordan Peele continues to keenly observe the world, contemplate human values, seek justice and recognition for Black Americans, and still love cinema. Because “Nope” is simultaneously a film about traumas, problems, risks, truth, beauty, and faith in others. It’s a creation that celebrates the process of cinematic creation while critiquing an exclusive and exploitative Hollywood (hence the presence of the western). Peele’s production prompts reflection on the history of cinema while looking toward the present. It even laughs at CGI, a tool it utilizes effectively and – importantly – humorously, and ponders how far one can go for the sake of art.
Although many critics have noted that Nope is largely influenced by Jordan Peele’s fascination with Steven Spielberg’s cinema, in my opinion, the latest film by the creator of Get Out! is the ultimate evidence of his self-awareness and originality. The world presented in Nope is solely Jordan Peele’s vision. A wondrous, yet unsettling vision; critical, yet full of faith; direct, yet laden with symbols. If only such blockbusters were the only ones to grace the screens, the world would be a much more beautiful place, and people would be more intelligent. Because Nope isn’t overly intellectualized, nor is it mindless entertainment. It’s a sharp social commentary, a film about moral dilemmas, and dazzling, original science fiction that has been absent from mainstream cinema for years.