Nope is the second straight Jordan Peele production in which a Bible verse hangs over what is essentially a monster movie. It also extends his catalog of films effectively suggesting that we, the people, are just as, if not more, monstrous than the terrors above — or, as in Us, below. If Get Out is trim and unforgettably pointed, and Us is messier by way of both ambition and slashing, Nope is a happy medium between grand, accessible and thoughtful.
It’s also truly a movie for the times. Tony Reinke’s Competing Spectacles (2019), about “attention as the new commodity of power,” might as well be a companion piece. Get Out tackled unseen racism and performative equality. Us broached classism, convenience, privilege. But Nope is concerned with the serpent of the Internet Age: spectacle.
In a highlight scene, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya, reminding us that being quiet can be cool), opens the driver’s side door of his pickup truck, only to see the gaping, stormy mouth of the movie’s “UFO” hovering above him, then promptly close the door with a nonchalant “Nope.” If only more of us had the self-control to be OJ in our daily lives, overrun not by supernatural beasts but superpowered devices. If only we had the power to stop gazing, endlessly, at this viral video, this accusatory headline, this gossipy broadcast.
“The root danger,” Reinke writes, “is not the sparkling world but the sin within us.” He cites Proverbs: “Never satisfied are the eyes of man.” Peele seems to agree. Nope‘s creepiest subplot, involving an ape accident-turned-TV skit-turned-amusement park, point to man’s incessant desire to consume and commodify images, no matter their ugliness and no matter their cost. Eventually, living things just become collateral damage: an ape here, a horse there, even crowds full of people or giant sky creatures.
In Nope, characters literally survive by refusing to look their foe in the eye, conveniently shaped like a screen and fluttery like a lens. One dies with a coin having sliced his eye, a nod to the deathly link between money and attention. Several others all but usher in their own demise for the sake of “the shot.” OJ and Emerald (an invaluably lively Keke Palmer) actually have reason to pursue such a thing, coming from a family all but robbed of proper credit for image-making, and yet even their most emotional connection seems to come when they lock eyes with each other (or excitedly, violently high-five each other) rather than hunt the beast central to their profit.
Now back to the Bible verse. Nope is perfect summer entertainment for many reasons: the leading/contrasting brother-sister dynamic, the vast landscapes but tight-knit location, the imaginative alien twist, the blockbuster sound. But it’s important because it doesn’t solely suggest we stop looking up, where the “big bad” lies. With its vague biblical preface, and skyward gaze, what if it’s also challenging us to cooperate with what’s beyond us? Looking up helped OJ identify the “UFO” and engage it accordingly. How often might we benefit from looking up from our screens — and the petty, divisive worlds we create on them — to remember the majesty of the stars above? And maybe wonder about their author? Or, gasp, cooperate with Him?
OJ’s final appearance is like that of a spirit, shrouded in fog and mist. He sits perched atop the horse that drove him in one of the movie’s highest-octane scenes, an Old West dirt-road sprint away from a mega-monster. Whether he’s dead or alive here isn’t quite as relevant as the wooden sign above him: “Out Yonder.” That’s where good movies, like Nope, dare us to explore.