Art, Aliens, and the Death of Spectacle – A “Nope” Review
This article was a submission from Jake Breidenbach. Find Jake on Instagram at @j_brdnbch. If you would like to share an article with The Zillennial, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a spectacle.”
So begins the intro of Nope. Jordan Peele – self-made auteur and one-man media maverick, who’s made himself a household name with only two films under his belt (as well as years of exposure as one half of comedy sketch duo Key & Peele) is at it again. In his third feature offering, Peele presents us with aliens, Hollywood horse wranglers, western frontier theme parks, Fry’s Electronics, and a killer chimpanzee. There’s a lot of promise and a lot of moving parts, and only some of it works.
The story revolves around Otis “OJ” Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer), a pair of siblings trying to keep their late father’s Hollywood horse rental business afloat. Their efforts lead them to Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), a former child star who now owns a western frontier theme park named Jupiter’s Claim. As a kid Jupe starred on a fictional sitcom about a family living with a chimpanzee named Gordy. An on-air incident involved Gordy violently snapping, mauling Jupe’s onscreen family to death. Present-day Jupe runs Jupiter’s Claim, exploiting his ties to the highly publicized incident for ticket and merch sales. Desperate for work and to keep their father’s business alive, they sell him one of their horses. Little do they know the horse will play a role in Jupe’s main attraction – a carnival sideshow involving visitors from beyond.
Back at the ranch, the siblings themselves begin to notice strange paranormal activity in the sky. The movie wastes no time in wallowing in either’s skepticism, which is refreshing. However, it is confusing in other ways, as we later learn Jupe uses the “alien” as part of his show. So how well known is this phenomenon in the area? And how has Otis, who lives at the ranch full time, yet to experience it until now? The monster in the sky needs to feed, but how often? Evidently a lot, but for how long has this been going on? If the answer is years, why are there not more sightings, more missing persons? If only recently, what triggered this sudden onslaught of terror? The film never addresses this, and even if the monster is meant to serve as allegory (as Peele is wont to do) the lack of clarity around this issue hurts the movie.
Peele has proven to be somewhat incapable of making his metaphors land while also ensuring his in-universe story makes sense; Get Out accomplished the former, Us (mostly) accomplishes the latter, but Nope sort of bungles them both. The metaphor of society’s toxic relationship to spectacle is not coherently developed (this is a bad thing, why?) and the movie’s monster is seriously mishandled – showing all its cards while exploring none of its background. It is somehow both over and under-exposed. Gordy the Homicidal Ape is actually the most horrifying part of the film, and seems like he belongs in a better movie, one dealing with violent spectacle in a much more honest, confrontational way.
The ill-defined nature of the Movie Monster Metaphor is Nope’s biggest downfall. Spectacle as Societal Ill is such a broad and nebulous concept to the point of barely packing a punch. By spectacle does Peele mean social media, and the viral spread of information in the digital age? Or, more loosely, society’s fascination with “bad miracles” and devouring rage bait? Again, the Gordy subplot seems to brush up against this in a potentially interesting way but the main storyline isn’t quite able to match it. It’s also a strange statement as an artist to make so undefined. Art is spectacle, or at least spectacle can be art, and it seems important to differentiate between the good and bad iterations of this concept.
There’s still hope for future Peele entries, and by all means this one isn’t terrible. The cast is solid, and there’s some nice camerawork as well as a few genuinely unsettling images. The movie still functions as fun summer entertainment, even if the allegory isn’t quite out of this world.
Many have noted the similarity of the film’s alien design to that of biblically accurate angels. It serves as a nice easter egg and some possible extended lore that’s open to interpretation – though again it’s another facet of the movie I wish was exploited more.
The film does one great public service by reminding the world of the glory of Fry’s Electronics. This is spectacle.
What do you think about this Nope review? What did you think about the movie? Let us know in the comments below!