Jordan Peele’s Movie Nope Explained and Unpacked. I am such an enormous yes for this new movie Nope. Why? Because it is fresh. And new. And utterly different. Also? Because it says things about movie making, fame, and pride that I haven’t seen said in a long, long time. Wait, WHAT? It’s an alien movie isn’t it? Like an E.T./2001 Space encounter wasn’t it? How in heaven’s name did you get that it’s a movie about movie making and fame? Well… watch the movie, then join me as we tear it down, then build it back up again, alright?
Brilliant. First though, don’t go past the trailer if you haven’t already seen the film. First Trailer. Then walk through. Then deconstruction. Then theories. Got it? Great.
Nope Movie Walkthrough
Could it be we didn’t actually understand everything going on when you originally watched Nope? That’s actually a pretty high probability for this particular movie. So maybe we should walk through the basics of the movie in order to see if we can explain it. I’ll be moving through the movie chronologically – and reassembling various fragmented portions of the movie to make it a little more clear what actually happened when.
The movie opens when, during a ’90’s sitcom named Gordy’s Home, a chimp, appropriately named Gordy, suddenly, and out of the blue, violently attacks the cast, crew, and audience on the recording stage. Jupe, the youngest character on the show, played by Ricky Park (Steven Yeun, from I, Origins) survives the attack. The attack is only hinted at obliquely at the beginning of the movie – but don’t worry – we get all the that later in the movie when it is revealed that Gordy was actually very friendly to Jupe, right before Gordy is shot in the head.
Leaping forward to the present day, Otis Haywood Sr., trains stunt horses for Hollywood movies and TV. Otis believes they are the cusp of being financially independent if they can just close this last Hollywood gig. But when Sr. is killed when mysterious objects start raining from the sky, his two kids, OJ and Em take over the ranch. They attempt to keep the business going, but things are not going well. Em on the other hand, is seeking fame and fortune in Hollywood as an actor, stunt double, etc. Em and the family tell others on the set that they are related to the person riding a horse in the very first moving picture. (This frames the idea of catching that one infinitely perfect video – the unicorn that will set them up for life. We’ll get back to this idea later – seeing as though I think it’s the entire point of the whole movie as I mentioned earlier… but, like I said, patience!) But six months later, when they are fired from a prominent gig that their father had worked previously, their gig is pretty much up. OJ doesn’t have the people skills for it, and his sister, Em, is two feet out the door.
In order to continue paying off the steep bills on the ranch, OJ is forced to sell horses to Jupe. Who’s Jupe? Please, 3 paragraphs up, I reminded you who he was! Pay attention people! He was the youngest character on the show, Gordy’s Home, and it’s obvious he never really recovered from the death and chaos that took place on the set that day. He basically has spent his life milking the tragedy of his experience for cash. Jupiter’s Claim is Jupe’s “attraction” business where he charges people to learn more about his childhood, and Gordy’s murderous rampage. But soon, he is going to reveal a new show… a show about aliens.
Soon after, OJ and Em begin noticing that the electricity on the property is freaking out, and horses begin to vanish, they witness a UFO that has been chomping on their horses. The Unidentified Flying Object’s M.O. is to eat whatever it can devour, and then spit back any non-organic materials. Which, is how OJ’s father died… a quarter hit him in the eye and lodged in his brain. Well, the duo decide the next obvious course of action isn’t to run like hell, but rather to get a shot of this bizarre phenomenon that is plaguing their ancestral home. Heading to Fry’s (which was a decidedly Californian experience… up there with Pic N’ Save, or maybe 5 Points Car Washes? Was there more than one 5 points? I don’t even know! hahah.) the brother and sister bring Angel Torres in on the adventure when they ask him to setup their video equipment they just purchased. But their first attempt at a recording is thwarting when an enormous Praying Mantis covers one camera and the other camera fritzes out. But they have an epiphany when they realize that the UFO is hiding behind a stationary cloud… aka, it literally never moves. (Not extraordinarily smart aliens I’d say.)
Jupe’s show, turns out to be an attraction where he uses one of OJ’s horses as bait, in order to call down the aliens for the paying audience. Well, it works, because the UFO arrives and eats the audience, Jupe, his family… everything. Interestingly, OJ realizes that the “ship” isn’t a UFO at all. But rather an actual alien. And so much so, that whoever looks at the alien will die… so he refuses to look at it in order to try and remain alive. It’s a similar theory as to training horses… “Don’t look him in the eye!” And with that bit of trivia sorted, OJ thinks he will be able to get his killer shot… the one that will set them up for life. But after the next attempt fails, the trio decide to bring in the big guns (Holst – the acclaimed cinematographer that was on the set when OJ was fired from the job.) – thankfully Holst is also hunting that illusive perfect shot… and so he agrees to join in the hunt.
In order to get this shot – Holst brings an IMAX camera that is manual… like – turn the crank sort of manual? Analog even? Which, should ring a bell in your head like… hey, isn’t this similar to the original horse shot that showed all four feet off the ground? Yes, exactly. Anyway, the new quartet setup those inflatable, waving arm guys – you know the ones, you see them at awful car sales places – all over the property, so that they will be able to see if the alien begins to approach. But just as it begins to attack, a TMZ reporter rides his motorbike onto the property, and figures out how to get eaten by the alien. All the while? He’s yelling at OJ to film. Hrmmm. Holst, in heaven, gets a number of different shots of the alien as it’s unfolding itself and declaring itself alpha. Holst is so enamored that he runs up onto a hillside in order to get an even better shot. Well, that gets him eaten as well. Holst’s ad-libbing screws everything up because the camera went with him. Chaos ensues as the three remaining people have to run for cover. OJ, in an attempt to lure the alien away from Em, he calls the alien his direction while Em jumps on an bike and books it back over to Jupiter’s Claim in order to get away. Assuming that OJ has been devoured by the alien, EM does everything she can to survive, including releasing a massive helium dirigible mascot into the sky. The alien attempts to eat the massive balloon but it explodes doing so… killing it. EM manages to capture the fight between the dirigible and the alien with an an old school analog camera. But when she sees OJ alive? She leaves the photos behind. The end.
Jordan Peele’s Movie Nope Explained and Unpacked
Peele does a ton of interesting things here in this movie. It turns the mythos of UFOs on its head. It looks at the unheralded contributions of African Americans in movie making over the years. It dismantles the standard alien movie and rebuilds it from the ground up. There are a lot of really amazing things happening in this glorious film.
But the single biggest, and most important thing that Nope does is that talks about movie making as the Moby Dick of experiences. Eh? Film making and Moby Dick? Well, yeah. Notice how the beginning of the movie, Em introduces us to their Great, Great, Great (there’s another Great) Grandfather, the jockey that road the horse that was in the very first moving pictures movie. This was a seminal moment in film. It was a moment that would never be forgotten. And as a movie maker, Jordan Peele is talking about the Director’s, the cinematographer’s, desperate desire to capture lightening in a bottle. To repeat that never to be forgotten moment. Not just for financial gain, but for creative control, and for the independence it would naturally bring to the table. It would be a liberating experience.
I mean, think about it. OJ and EM are inches away from selling the horse ranch to pay off debt. They are desperate. Trapped. And they don’t know what to do. But, the alien gives them an opportunity. An opportunity to turn their fates upside down. If they could only capture lightening in the bottle. And look, half the movie is literally about movie making. It’s about getting battery supplies to cameras, and back up power setup. It’s about mechanical cameras to fail over to when the power goes out. It’s about setting up for the shots, and getting them above all else, even when people are dying. It’s about movie making! It’s about pulling it all together simply to get that final shot.
If you watch closely though. At the end. You’ll see that they had basically failed to get THE SHOT. I mean, they had gotten it, but Holst screwed it all up by getting killed, and losing the manual camera in the process. So yeah – the don’t have the shot. And as EM realizes this… she knows there is no proof of this massive galactic battle raging around her… so what does she do? She puts coins in the old daguerreotype camera at Jupe’s Jupitor’s Claim (oh, I get it now! hahahaha.) in order to hopefully snap a photo of the battle between the dirigible and the alien. And she gets it. She snaps the photo perfectly. But at the end of the day? She cares more about her brother’s survival than about the “perfect shot.”
What Does the Movie Nope Saying?
Nope is a cautionary tale. It’s a story for movie makers, from a movie makers, to movie makers. It’s a story about about the dangers of getting too enthralled with landing the perfect shot. Finding your Moby Dick, and chasing it until it kills you. It’s a movie warning Hollywood to care more about people, than about a movie that will make them millions and provide them with power beyond their wildest imaginings. And it’s interesting that the film comes from an African American film maker, but I don’t see it as a key detail specifically. OJ and EM declare themselves to be a part of Hollywood… and provide their bona fides at the outset of the film. And then they go on to prove how dangerous chasing that perfect film, or perfect experience can be. They craft their own warning, to themselves. And I would argue that it is a similar argument that Peele is making to other movie makers. Others that are chasing that unicorn… the unicorn that is most assuredly dashing them on the rocks.