Whole theses have been written about the parallel meanings present in Jordan Peele's latest film Nope. There is even a short novella written on The Hollywood Reporter about the film's ending and what it means. Careful, 'cause that article contains *spoilers* and honestly, why do I need the ending explained? If I can't understand what Nope is about, I've got no hope. There, I did it. I used one of the many puns I'll use throughout this review. Because ultimately, Jordan Peele's film is about connections, knowing when to turn our gaze away from things we aren't meant to be seeing, and humor. Lots and lots of humor.
What must be said is that first and foremost, Nope is one heck of a fabulous work of entertainment, and walking out of it will have you wishing your ride home takes twice as long, so you can double the time to relish the feeling the film leaves you with. Personally, on the tube ride back, I could hear the haunting noises from the film, the screeches and the gnarled metal, I could still feel the thrills and after emerging into the evening, walking the eerie nighttime streets made me feel like the first time I watched Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho -- exhilarated, on edge and more than a bit frightened.
Speaking of Psycho, and as an aside, Anthony Perkins' son "Oz" Perkins appears as a commercial director early on in the film, and his is just one of the cinematic references Peele lavishes us with throughout his gorgeous film. To catch all I imagine one needs multiple viewings of Nope. Yup, because Nope is dope.
Peele is a master entertainer as his previous films Get Out and Us proved. For his latest horror/thriller/sci-fi project, he was given what seems like an unlimited budget by Universal, probably because his previous work has made the company loads of money, and those were on much smaller budgets. To shoot Nope, Peele enlists the help of Christopher Nolan's frequent collaborator, DoP Hoyte van Hoytema and the result is a grand, badass (can I use the word here?) rich, cool and visually stunning western with Black cowboys, featuring a miracle that isn't exactly a godsend and one psychotic chimpanzee sequence that still gives me goosebumps.
At the center of Nope lies a perfect cautionary tale about our obsession with glaring, looking, staring, be it at our screens, our devices, other people's problems or at the sky -- hoping for a miracle. And the refreshing idea that films of the past, those we really enjoyed watching, can still be made into the blockbusters of the present.
Western anyone? Yup, please. And a little Spielberg's Jaws thrown in there too. Now you're getting into the Nope groove.
Let's talk story. One clear day on a California ranch Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr., the wonderfully pragmatic and perfectly cool Daniel Kaluuya is training horses with his dad, Otis Sr (played by Keith David) when suddenly, during what seems like a magnetic storm, a coin flies into his father's face, wounding him, the horses are spooked and the whole calm, sunny day goes to hell. OJ (the nickname isn't an accident either, remember the car chases on TV we couldn't look away from?) rushes his dad to the hospital -- where unfortunately Otis Sr. passes away from his injury. In comes OJ's sister Emerald (the phenomenally mesmerizing Keke Palmer), as we discover that the Haywood siblings provide horse wrangling services on film and TV sets -- and they are “the only black-owned horse trainers in Hollywood." We also find out that the family has been in the horse business since at least 1878, the year the first motion picture “The Galloping Horse” by Eadweard Muybridge was made. To explain that part of the story, one must watch the film. And then do a bit of research. "Horse in Motion" as it is also known is the very first moving image, a precursor to moving pictures, or movies, as we know them now. But the history of the Black jockey, which Emerald explains to her captive audience on the set, has long been forgotten, replaced instead with a whiter, more Europeanized version of the creation of cinema.
Which brings me to Peele's leitmotif, the key to Nope -- the exploitation of people of color in cinema and TV, particularly up until the turn of the 21st Century. But I won't bore you with my thesis about it, instead, I'll give you a bit more of the story of the film and include my thoughts on why you need, and I mean need to watch Nope.
On the Haywood ranch strange things are happening and slowly the reason why is revealed. A dark, ominous looking disc-like entity is hovering over the area, hungry for blood -- human blood. OJ figures out, from his animal training, that this "thing" doesn't like to be stared at, and honestly, having lived in Italy myself for a while, where everyone has a staring problem, I tend to agree with the "thing" myself. Plus, there is of course the deeper theme of our inability to look away, when we are faced with tragedies on the news, gossip on social media or accidents in our paths. We are a society that looks, instead of doing, and perhaps the only ones worth saving are those who do instead of sitting behind their computers judging and commenting, pretending to make a change. That to me is the profound, deeper meaning of Nope. That the only "news crew" to investigate the actions of the flying saucer is a single TMZ journo on a motorcycle says it all.
Well rounded, well written, and seldom before seen on the big screen characters inhabit Nope, played by grade-A actors like Brandon Perea, who is Angel in the film, the techie guy who installs the cameras on the Haywood ranch to capture images of the alien invader. He provides lightness and somehow, a reassuring presence in the film, which at times is downright chilling. The film's protagonist's beautiful whites of the eyes are enough to keep one spellbound, glued to the big screen. Hope that makes sense, if not, well, just say "Nope." That's the whole point anyway, especially for us women, we need to learn to stop saying yes. Say it with me, "nope!"
The film opens and also cuts to an ape gone wild segment, which I have to admit I needed to look away from at times -- you have been *warned*, it is that terrifying. The monkey ties into the story of Ricky “Jupe” Park played by Steven Yeun. His character used to be a child actor on a TV show titled Gordy’s Home where Gordy was the adoptive monkey and Jupe the token Asian. Again, exploitation of people of color in Hollywood, as a leitmotif, which is both brilliant and not heavy handed. But rather leaves you with a "flea in your ear" as the Italians say. It will keep itching, and you'll keep thinking about it, and maybe, just maybe, that constant thought will change you just a little bit -- for the better. Inshallah.
Those who love cinema, as Peele clearly does, know of one famous monkey who shall always be thought of when a film ape comes on. No, it's not King Kong, but good guess. It is the chimp in Sunset Boulevard, that classic beauty in B&W. In Billy Wilder's film, the chimp represents the past, where Norma's character and life come from and where she still lives. A certain mannerism, the exaggerated ways of past film actors from the silent era, and perhaps that is also the monkey's purpose here. Except here the chimpanzee becomes the problem, because the past of cinema featuring minorities hasn't been so great and to break with an inglorious past, a great tragedy is sometimes needed.
Alright, so you're all caught up here. Watch the film, don't listen to me and for the love of all great cinema, don't read endless reviews and spoilers about the film's ending.
But do, by all means, listen to the film's divine soundtrack on Spotify! But maybe turn it down a notch, not at full blast like Emerald. There, now you're ready to watch Nope. Say it with me, "Nope is dope!"
In theaters in the Gulf, including the UAE and KSA starting August 25th.
USA 2022 | 130 minutes
Director/Writer: Jordan Peele
Prod: Ian Cooper | Jordan Peele
Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Editor: Nicholas Monsour
Composer: Michael Abels
Distributed by Universal Pictures