The Current Debate: NOPE and the Society of the Spectacle

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Jordan Peele’s sci-fi thriller offers a piercing critique of mass entertainment and the costs it exacts on filmmakers and audiences alike.

By Leonardo Goi

Jordan Peele’s Nope is a UFO story where characters aren’t concerned with killing an alien so much as capturing it on camera. In that regard, it’s an extraterrestrial thriller that feels very much in sync with our zeitgeist, one whose chief preoccupation revolves around our struggles to process singular, horrific happenings in an age when they are so swiftly commodified into something sellable, scrollable, and endlessly watchable. 

Daniel Kaluuya plays OJ Haywood, Keke Palmer his sister Emerald. They’re the descendants of the Black jockey immortalized in Eadweard Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion (1878), a man whose name (unlike the horse’s and its owner’s) has long been erased from history. The Haywood siblings own a ranch in Agua Dulce, where they train horses for film appearances. But business is drying up, and a neighbor—former child star Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun)—wants to buy them out. That is until a flying saucer starts stalking the ranch; determined to record it and nail an Oprah-style “perfect shot,” OJ and Emerald set out to parlay the close encounter with the unknown into an unlikely route to fame and wealth.

Peele’s scope is arguably wider here than it was in Nope’s predecessors, Get Out (2017) and Us (2019). His third feature deals with a vast array of motifs, themes, and cultural and cinematic references, not to mention different storylines—some sketched more convincingly than others. Indeed, one may argue the film struggles to coalesce into a cogent, persuasive whole, as if it were distracted by its many detours and ideas. As Robert Daniels contends at Polygon, “Nope’s larger issue lies in the ways in which Peele’s script perpetually stops short of adding up all the moving parts into a whole.” 

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