Izzy Astuto ‘25 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
When Nope was initially announced as Jordan Peele’s next project, I was thrilled, excited to see Peele’s spin on the extraterrestrial genre. Seeing it for the first time in theatres, I was blown away, but I hadn’t fully processed all of its themes and complexities. But when I saw Nope for the second time, during the length of it I furiously typed up a series of observations in my Notes App, everything finally clicking. The movie has refused to leave my mind since, and I think for good reason. Jordan Peele remains at the top of his craft, releasing movie after movie that are masterpieces of the horror genre.
Inspired by film legends such as Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock, Peele has achieved a level of mastery that came out of nowhere for many people who were only familiar with his comedy content in Key and Peele before his 2017 directorial debut, Get Out.
In writing this article, I struggle to fully defend my reasoning to cover the movie around two months after it was first released. There are plenty of movies being released now that I easily could have chosen to write about instead. So why has this movie stuck with me, pushing me to produce something to get out all of my thoughts on it?
I think part of it might be Peele’s own involvement in the entertainment industry. He is speaking from a significant amount of his own experience when we see the main siblings, Daniel Kaluuya’s OJ and Keke Palmer’s Emerald “Em,” Haywood interact with the abrasive film crew, or Ricky, also known as Jupe, played by Steven Yeun, as he reminisces on his days as a famous child star.
On Gordy’s Home, the sitcom that Ricky starred in as a child, Ricky experiences first hand the consequences of treating animals poorly and not giving them the care that they need, a main theme in the movie. While on set, Ricky comes face to face with the titular Gordy, a monkey, after Gordy has just attacked the rest of the cast. When Gordy holds out his paw to Ricky for a fist bump, Ricky realizes that he is just lashing out because he was scared of a balloon popping on set. Then, suddenly, the authorities run in and kill Gordy right in front of Ricky, splattering the monkey’s blood all over him.
This is mirrored in one of the other initial scenes we are shown in the movie which introduces Keke Palmer’s character, as the two siblings try to fill their recently deceased father’s shoes by taking over the family business, Hayward Hollywood Horses. This business hinges on the Haywood’s connection to the first man ever captured on film, a jockey and their ancestor, Alistar E. Haywood. The siblings bring one of their prized horses, Lucky, onto the film set of a commercial, but Lucky ends up getting spooked when the crew ignores OJ’s instructions on how to behave around the horse.
The antagonist, Jean Jacket, is introduced as some type of flying saucer. However, OJ puts together that this sentient creature can be treated in the way one would a horse. As long as you do not look directly at the creature, it will not attack you. However, Jean Jacket is provoked in the first place because Ricky has been intentionally luring it out with horses he had been buying from the Haywoods for months. In pursuit of the fame he once had, Ricky begins selling tickets to see Jean Jacket. Even though he saw the effects of exploiting an animal first hand, he repeats this cycle, causing Jean Jacket to begin lashing out, eating horses and, eventually, people.
This cycle of mistreatment is incredibly realistic within real life Hollywood as well, both with animals and people. Jordan Peele movies are notorious for their metaphors, and Nope is no exception. One interpretation of the movie is as a metaphorical indictment of the way disadvantaged groups are exploited within media. An example can even be found in Nope itself, with Alistair Haywood. This character is not the actual identity of the jockey from the Animal Locomotion picture series, but his real name has been lost to time. Many horse jockeys from the time period have been documented to be black, so this creation on Peele’s part probably isn’t too far off. The fact that his identity isn’t known, even though he is literally the first man ever filmed, says a lot about how the film industry operates. Imagining how he may have been mistreated on set, as well as how he could have become famous, but instead was swept aside with decades of history, parallels Gordy’s own erasure the minute he acted out due to the cast and crew’s apathy towards his safety and comfort.
I would be remiss to ignore possibly the most discussed theme of the film: fame leading to corruption and exploitation. Once OJ and Em discover Jean Jacket, their first instinct is to record it and become famous. Their entire grand plan to defeat it at the end is focused on destroying it, yes, but also capturing evidence of its existence for the public. This obsession with documenting everything is seen everyday in the real world, shown, once again, in the movie with a TMZ photographer who ends up trespassing on their farm during the final plan. He is thrown from his motorbike, fatally injured, yet is still only focused on recording the creature. To me, this twisted fascination was scarier than many of the more on-the-nose horror elements in the movie.
In case they aren’t actually able to kill it, having some type of evidence to prove to other people that it does exist could be important, because Jean Jacket has proven to be harmful, and there may not be another solution other than violence. That wouldn’t be true, however, if not for Ricky’s involvement at the start of all of this. Presumably, Jean Jacket had existed peacefully, and only started its own violence when it was lured out with Ricky’s actions to make it into a media sensation. A modern day parallel to this would be the recent events surrounding Ned Fulmer of the Try Guys.
For those who don’t know, Fulmer was recently accused of cheating on his wife, Ariel, with one of The Try Guys employees. Cheating is a very personal issue that harms real people, such as Ariel and the two kids the couple had together. It also had to be made known to the public to some extent, considering the public nature of their relationship. He could not still be given a platform after committing such a despicable act, but in the process of revealing this to the public, it instantly trivialized the real life ramifications his actions had. This “scandal” started trending on Twitter immediately, being treated as hot internet drama. If Fulmer had never been famous, this would not have happened, and the pair could have separated in a way that was most beneficial to those negatively affected, but instead it’s turned into some controversy.
In an interview with Today, Peele said, “When we’re driving, we’re in traffic and there’s an accident, that traffic slows down. It’s because everybody’s sneaking a peek at that awful spectacle and it’s slowing everybody down. And so I latched onto that and said let’s make a movie about that.” And he does so expertly, shining a light back onto the audience as we go about our day to day lives. The next time you see social media descend like vultures onto some controversy or scandal, take a step back and think about Nope. Think about the tragedy of Jean Jacket and Gordy and the people they harmed, and the way that they were harmed, and take a second to consider how these are real people on the other side of our screens, and how all of our actions have real, tangible consequences.