This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
jack’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
When hearing about the reception for Peele’s latest, you’re left wondering whether he’s officially missed the mark or that he’s taken on too much, bitten off more than he could chew. The reception for Nope isn’t exactly polarizing – it's still as beloved as his previous features were – but what’s evident with this film is that it’s Peele continuing to develop his own form and tackle concepts and ideas that feel elevated; Peele is, now obviously, a filmmaker who will evolve over time – it's hard to believe that this, his third film, is made by the filmmaker who made Get Out because Peele is more willing to showcase his fascination with complexity and his ambitious drive now that he knows he has the audience who will listen to him. Whether they’ll click with the film or not is another story: Nope is Peele’s most “polarizing” work.
The initial thing that captivates me about Nope is its landscape. It's totally different from his previous two works, which have examined upper-class dynamics and communities; the landscape of Nope is a barren wasteland. What we see with the film is the vastness of hills and mountains and dirt, a ranch struggling to survive as a theme park operates miles away. In the house, a man attempts to maintain his familiar lifestyle after his father passes away while his baby sister seems to coast in and out of his lives: Emerald finds the emptiness of her childhood home lingering with repressed pain and untouched memories while OJ exists in the house to feed a ghost and nothing more. Likewise, the theme park operator, a former child star turned survivor is haunted by the ghosts of the past: the pictures of him at his prime haunt him, knowing that the only reason he remained relevant is because he survived a massacre from his costar, a Chimpanzee.
Ghosts linger in Nope: the faces of the murdered cast and failed opportunities for Jupe and the presence of a complex father for Emerald and OJ. What's even more evident is that Peele acknowledges the ghosts that aren’t that obvious to note: the ghosts of the entertainment industry that abandoned each of these characters when it wasn’t convenient to supply them with money and power anymore. The fading sign of the family business, Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, represents an industry abandoning practicality and talent in favor of artificiality but more so, it’s the eraser of their voices in cinematic history. Peele makes it known that cinema, as much as he loves and admires it (which is evident in his formalism and his own homage), it’s an incredibly problematic history of silenced voices and rewritten passages in textbooks. On the other side, entertainment is so quick to bask in violent tragedy rather than empathize with a victim: Jupe’s spitefulness is fueled by a total lack of processing his trauma, choosing to project his desires for money because money fixes all problems, right?
I find it more interesting when it comes to the former – but it’s not to dog down Peele’s exploration of Jupe’s story – because it’s where Peele projects his own frustrations as a Black filmmaker. Cinema, since the very first moving picture, has been erasing the prominence of Black voices. One of the earliest scenes explores that first picture: Eadweard Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion. We talk about the filmmaker, but not the actor: a Black jockey whose descendants include the Haywood family, their great, great, great grandfather galloping his way into history, but his name remains unknown. Peele is using Nope to enhance his criticism of Black eraser in cinema history: the Western landscape, the most American of genres, is now a total apocalyptic wasteland where the surviving descendants attempt to keep their existence strong and well – it's probably Peele’s most subtly melancholic and lonely work.
This all spirals under the more obvious concept of spectacle and wonder, a “bad miracle.” The Bible quote at the beginning – I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile and make you a spectacle” - Nahum 3:6 – is the key to the entire film, that we humans are so absorbed with looking that we really don’t necessarily care what exactly it is, as long as we find ourselves completely latched onto something that separates us from our own mundane lives. Jupe capitalizes on animal murder – he feeds horses to the UFO believing he’s got it trained – as an attempt to project his pain onto the desire to be wealthy; the dark joke of this is that it tragically parallels his past. He may want to run from it, but we, the viewer, will always see him as that “bad miracle,” the only survivor of the Gordy’s Home attacks. He himself is a spectacle controlling spectacle. On the other side, OJ, Emerald, and Angel become fascinated with the UFO because it brings them a sense of fulfillment – and their desire to not struggle financially; remember, a picture of this thing is worth so much.
What Peele ultimately wants us to learn in Nope is that we can observe and stare and gawk at things all we want – it will not stop us from the importance in confronting our own internal conflict. We can watch films or go on our phones and observe spectacles and marvel and wonder and be terrified of them: they don’t take away from our own reality and what troubles you. The pain that Jupe felt as a child was projected on a spectacle that ultimately stripped him of so much – including his and his family’s lives. His inability to heal corrupted his spirit and turned him into something unrecognizable, becoming a spectacle that’s been exploited by an industry of whispered pasts and silenced truths. For Emerald and OJ, observing the UFO is, in part, a projection of their own grieving process with their father: OJ chooses to remain in his routine because it’s a way to keep his father alive, while Emerald struggles to separate her grieving with her frustrations. Unlike their Capitalist counterpart, they ride off into the sunset because they realize the important thing – “Don’t look at it, look ahead – and what lies ahead is each other: the spectacle in human connection, the beauty in finding someone who gets you, and the ability to heal together while the ghosts of the past finally can rest.
I plan on saying more – there's a lot to the film and I think everything comes together so perfectly with everything I've already said – but I'll leave it at this: this is Jordan Peele’s greatest film, and I don’t think there’s been a movie released this year that has made me feel like this yet or if there will be a movie following this that affects me this much. It was so terrifying and yet, it was so cathartic. To those who say it’s not scary, I'm convinced you didn’t watch the fucking movie.