Nope Explained. What does it all mean?
Jordan Peele’s latest offering is a meaty spectacle of epic proportions that thrills just as much as it provokes. With Nope, Peele remains a master of misdirection, confidently crafting a truly American parable that deftly touches on family legacies, the profundity of so-called “Bad Miracles”, and the struggle to create movie magic.
In an endless wave of empty action vehicles, Nope is the rare blockbuster that grounds its absorbing phenomena with thematic and philosophical heft, giving us new things to be afraid about in this ever-intimidating world.
Many might leave the film confused or, even, frustrated, with more questions than answers, judging the experience to consist of disparate elements that don’t quite gel. Yet, when you take another look high above the clouds, a rich array of puzzle pieces slowly begin to connect.
How We Got Here
Nope follows the Haywood family, who run “Haywood Hollywood Horses”, a ranch that trains and handles horses for the movies. The family has deep roots in the industry, tracing their lineage all the way back to the unnamed man in the famous “Horse In Motion” pictures, the first series of sequential images that created a motion picture. When the patriarch, Otis (Keith David), is killed by mysterious debris falling from the sky, his son, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya), and daughter, Em (Keke Palmer), inherit the ranch.
OJ fails to emulate his father. Struggling to keep the business afloat, he’s forced to sell horses to Jupe (Steven Yeun), who runs a nearby carnival attraction named “Jupiter’s Claim”, which exploits his notorious traumatic childhood experience for profit. In 1998, Jupe starred in a sitcom that featured a live chimpanzee as part of his TV family. However, one fateful day the chimp went berserk and brutally murdered most of the cast and crew.
One night, OJ and Em come across a UFO with an electromagnetic field that powers off nearby machines and electronics. With the help of Angel, a tech support employee, and a prolific cinematographer, the two aim to capture evidence of the entity in the hopes of making it big. But it soon becomes apparent that this UFO is no ship, but a territorial predator (lovingly named “Jean Jacket” by OJ) that will consume those who look directly at it. Jupe and his carnival-goers become the chief victims. It all culminates in a thrilling and shocking finale, where the creature transforms into an amorphous, squid-like being (one of the greatest creature designs in recent memory) that is finally bested and recorded.
While Nope is a fun ride, there are a lot of additional elements here that don’t quite serve the narrative directly at first glimpse; giving the impression that Peele’s metaphorical aspirations supersede the need for clear, cogent storytelling. But this is far from the case.
Look Upon “Bad Miracles” with Caution
“What’s the word for a bad miracle”. OJ says this early in Nope and it becomes key to understanding the story’s thematic ambitions, and Jupe’s ultimate inclusion in it. Many might wonder why Steven Yeun’s character needed to be in the film at all. He mainly comes and goes without any real impact on the narrative. It’s as if his storyline was just about to get going before he’s shockingly consumed by the alien. But when considering the nature of “bad miracles”, his seemingly ancillary “Gordy” storyline has deeply huge implications on the thematic trajectory of the film.
Soon after Gordy goes ballistic and murders almost everyone on set, he seemingly locks eyes with a young Jupe who is cowering under a prop table. But remarkably, Jupe doesn’t become his next victim. Instead, out of the carnage and bloodshed, a floating shoe unfathomably emerges and draws Jupe’s attention. It’s a startling early incarnation of one of OJ’s so-called “bad miracles”. Amidst all the horror and viscera, a truly enigmatic wonder appears, saving Jupe from making eye contact with the unhinged and predatorial Gordy. When he does eventually look at the ape, it’s through the filter of a thin tablecloth, a literal fine line separating life and death. Jupe lives to tell the tale, earning a sizeable chunk of money while doing so.
This occurrence goes hand in hand with OJ’s first brush with the alien in Nope. The existence of a colossal, extra-terrestrial species is another unabashed miracle, but it comes at the cost of his father’s life. Only through repeated encounters does OJ learn not to look directly at this territorial apex predator, and it proves vital to his survival.
Both Jupe and the Haywood family attempt to profit off these “bad miracles” and the trauma associated with them: Jupe establishes the aforementioned carnival while the Haywoods try desperately to secure photo evidence of the UFO. Yet, it’s Jupe who fails to fully appreciate what saved him in the first place, as he stares directly at and in utter awe of the alien before he and his carnies are horrifyingly devoured.
Whether it be an enormous alien or an unhinged Chimpanzee, the only way to survive in Jordan Peele’s world is to avoid eye contact with the beast. Even though Jupe is killed off before his storyline is seemingly complete, there is a thematic throughline that is satisfyingly capped off with him, and it lies there for those who choose to dig deeper.
Family Legacies and Movie Magic
Nope’s final act serves as a great commentary on the trials and tribulations of filmmaking. Our characters go through a lot to secure that mesmerizing final shot. Even their cinematographer, with an analog IMAX camera in tow, is ultimately killed in his pursuit of the “impossible shot”.
The entirety of the final climactic sequence evokes the struggle filmmakers endure to bring miracles and ravishing spectacle onto the silver screen. Moreover, only when OJ (hilariously) embraces the “Scorpion King” hoodie does he truly and confidently don the mantle of his family’s filmmaking legacy. Echoing the greatest of western epics, he heroically helps his sister secure that final shot, effectively making our wildest imaginations a reality. Which is what the greatest cinematic experiences ultimately do. And Nope is just that, a great cinematic experience that wholly embodies the term “movie magic”.
By immortalizing this wild untamed beast in celluloid, the Haywood name will finally be given its due, guaranteed to stand the test of time. OJ and Em will finally receive the laurels their great-great-great grandfather was never given for his part in film history. Moreover, their triumph is a long-awaited victory for those who have long been kept at the periphery of the filmmaking world.
With Nope, Jordan Peele has not only crafted a blockbuster unlike anything before but created a celebration of cinema that not only relishes the wonders of the medium but confronts the glaring inadequacies it has long been home to. It’s the rare meta-commentary that avoids condescension. Not bad Peele, not bad at all.
- Prabhjot Bains