I liked “Nope” and I’ve tried to explain it more for those who aren’t interested in researching all of the allusions and references to other films. Therefore, proceed at your own peril. I have tried not to reveal all of the mysteries of the plot, but there may be spoilers.
We journeyed out to the theater to see “Nope,” Jordan Peele’s latest film, starring Oscar-winner Daniel Kaluuya from “Get Out” and “Judas and the Black Messiah.” Peele is more political than M. Night Shymalan, whose films and themes Peele’s works most resemble (of directors working today). As such, much of the film is commentary on the film industry (spectacle), including the role of Blacks through the years. There is also commentary on the American emphasis on commercialism. (The coin in the plastic evidence bag is a subtle dig). It’s a veritable homage to alien encounter films throughout history, with horror/thriller films, especially Spielberg’s, entering in, as well. There is dialogue regarding possible proof of the existence of aliens and the value of such proof to anyone securing it: “People are gonna’ come and do what they always do. Try to take it for themselves.”
Thus begins the plan to capture pictures and video of the aliens, who seemingly are lurking behind a cloud that never moves above a remote far west ranch. Is that a spaceship in the night, or is it a marauding creature? Therein hangs the tale. The central plan to capture video of aliens that dominates “Nope” will be quite an adventure; the audience gets to go along for the ride. I enjoyed it more than my puzzled spouse, but I admit to having spent way more time watching the movies this film honors. It struck me as not unlike the the way that Mel Brooks satirized genre after genre with his humorous films. Only this movie is a cross between thriller/horror/science fiction, saluting those genres. (There are plenty of alien encounter movies to draw from.)
Special kudos go to the sound engineers overseeing the sound effects, the score by Michael Abels, and the cinematographer shooting what appears to be a silver disc in the sky, Hoyt van Hoytema. A prophetic quote from the Book of Nahum (3.6) starts us off: “It will cast abominable filth at you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle.” Literally.
The characters who lead us on the adventure are a brother and sister (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer) who have inherited a horse farm that provides trained horses for Hollywood productions. Haywood’s Hollywood Horses was founded by Otis Haywood, Sr. When Otis, Sr., dies in a strange fashion—seemingly shot by objects that fall from the sky without warning—Otis, Jr., known as O.J. dedicates himself to carrying on the Haywood tradition. Young O.J. wants to continue training horses as an animal wrangler and also wants to buy back some of the horses the ranch has had to sell to a neighboring circus-like attraction, Jupiter’s Claim, to stay financially afloat.
O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) is the son who understands animal behavior and tries to warn others about not looking an animal in the eye and remaining calm, etc.; his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) is O.J.’s somewhat unreliable sidekick. Emerald does not see the horse farm as her future. She constantly inserts personal promos for her many other skills, which range from motorcycle riding to acting. Emerald is more extroverted, but O.J. is the one who negotiates with Jupe (Steven Yeun) to provide horses for his attraction, Jupiter’s Claim. It is also Emerald who, upon agreeing that aliens might be visiting the nearby remote landscape, wants to secure definitive proof via photographs and video as a money-maker.
Emerald contacts Cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), a crack videotographer,who lugs what appears to be an old IMAX camera out to the remote western site, to assist the young video salesman Angel Torres who originally hooked up photographic equipment the duo bought. The video sales guy is played by Brandon Perea as Angel Torres and he contribute much in the area of comic relief. While I enjoyed Angel’s contribution, we had difficulty understanding TV “Password” hostess Keke Palmer’s dialogue.
O.J. feels it important to keep alive the tradition and history of the (fictitious) relative Emerald says was the Black Bahamian jockey shown in a few minutes of film thought to be the very first moving picture image ever captured. The short piece of film was captured by 19th century inventor and adventurer Eadweard Muybridge in 1878. Muybridge had been commissioned to study the movement of a galloping horse; the name of the Black Bahamian jockey was lost to history, but, for purposes of this film, Jordan Peele has created a fictitious identity for the rider—Alistair Haywood, the family’s horse ranch founder. O.J. Sr,—presumably Alistair’s son and heir— is played by veteran horror actor Keith David, who appeared in “Armageddon” (1998) and “Dante’s Peak” (1997) over his long career.
Here are some of the homages to other cinematic moments:
.When Keke Palmer slides on the motorcycle, it is a reference to a classic anime film, “Akira.” It’s been referenced in dozens of movie for the last 30 years.
.When a character says, “They’re here,” it’s an homage to “Poltergeist.” Easter egg references (“Spielbergian,” said one critic) abound, but the “Nope” plot is definitely original.
.There is the opening reference to a chimp attack during the filming of a TV show called “Gordy’s Home” in 1996. A real chimp attack was featured on Oprah’s syndicated TV show. Charla Nash, a woman who was mauled and disfigured by her chimp Travis appeared on Oprah. When Jupe’s former co-star Mary Jo (Sophia Coto) from “Gordy’s Home” visits Jupiter’s Claim, she is wearing a hat and veil to hide her scars from the chimpanzee attack. Both the scars and the outfit resemble Nash during her real-life interview with Oprah.
.OJ and Emerald visit a Fry’s Electronics store to purchase the surveillance equipment they hope to use in their efforts to capture the alien on film, where they meet employee and alien enthusiast Angel (Brandon Perea). Each Fry’s location featured a unique theme before the family-owned chain when out of business in 2021. Burbank’s Fry’s Electronics store had an alien theme.
.”The Wizard of Oz” has been named as a big influence by Peele. The way in which the alien uploads “food” via dust tornadoes reflects that, as well as the name Emerald and her repetitive wearing of the color green.
.O.J. wears orange, in tribute to his name. The hooded orange sweatshirt that says “Crew” is identical to those worn on the set of the Rock’s film “The Scorpion King.” There is also a poster of the 1972 film “Buck and the Preacher,” Sidney Poitier’s directorial debut, seen in the film.
.Every famous movie about alien encounters that you can think of is referenced, directly or indirectly. The fist bump between child and chimp reminds a bit of the E.T./Elliot finger connection. Even the film’s title of “Nope” is similar to “E.T.,” since E.T. meant extra terrestrial and some have said that “Nope” means “Not of This Planet.” On the other hand, the phrase is spoken throughout the movie. There is one point where our hero (Daniel Kaluuya) opens the truck door, looks out, murmurs “Nope” and re-enters the vehicle. Every major alien encounter film—“E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “War of the Worlds,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “Arrival” receives attention. This isn’t even throwing in the “B” movie efforts like 1998’s “The Faculty” or films like “Alien Autopsy” (2006), “The Mothman Prophecies” (2002); “Ancient Aliens” (2009); “The Blob” (1958); “The Thing”; “District 9” (2009); “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (2008) or any number of lesser movies.
.Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) reminds of other key characters in Spielberg films, like Quinn in Spielberg’s “Jaws” or Bob Peck’s Muldoon from “Jurassic Park.” I found his grizzled presence reminiscent of Lance Henriksen, a veteran presence in numerous horror films. Wincott’s decision to venture out and film the creature in a climactic scene seems to be his desire to get “the impossible shot.” As Antlers told Emerald when she approached him to help them film the encounter, “Horse Girl, this is a dream you’re chasing. The one where you end up at the top of the mountain—all eyes on you. It’s the dream you never wake up from.”
I found the movie to be quite original and unique. Like Peele’s other films, you can peel the plot layers back like an onion. Most fun I’ve had at the movies this summer, because English majors always want to explore symbolism and themes that are buried beneath the surface, and that is what Peele incorporates in his films, which I enjoy. You can still enjoy it on the surface as a thriller, without the deep dive, however.