Anthony Pantalone, Editor
I was seven years old the first time I was face-to-face with a bear. Dusk, Leetonia Road, Tioga County. My father and I were walking on a dirt road towards our car when we noticed a dark black figure moving ahead of us. Being a child, I was paralyzed by fear. I had never seen a bear before and standing a couple hundred feet away from one felt surreal. My father had always told me how black bears were much more scared of humans than the reverse. I knew not to run away — which would trigger a predatory instinct in this animal to chase me down. Instead, the bear would take three steps, and we would take three steps. This pattern would continue until it passed my father’s truck and into the woods. I was fine, but I would never forget the feeling of being so close to this wild animal that could tear me apart so easily. Jordan Peele’s “Nope” perfectly encapsulates that same feeling by exploring the experiences of dealing with a territorial predatory animal — in this case, a UFO.
Writing “Nope” during the pandemic — a time where people could not watch films in theaters — Peele intended for this movie to be seen on a large screen to be truly appreciated. It was filmed using IMAX cameras and carries the hallmarks of a classic summer blockbuster. The movie may be a visual spectacle, yet the concept of spectacle also thematically drives the film. The act of capturing a spectacle for the world to see — whether it be through a wind-up camera or space-themed live show — motivates each character for better or worse. Ricky “Jupe” Jupiter (Steven Yeun) attempts to commodify the presence of a UFO by showing it off to theme park guests and ultimately meets his end doing so. The protagonists — Emerald (Keke Palmer) and OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) put their lives on the line to get the perfect “Oprah” shot of the alien and reverse their financial woes. Cinematographer Anders Holst (Michael Wincott) knowingly sacrifices his life to get a close-up shot of this creature. The inclusion of a reporter from TMZ who only cares about rumors of this phenomenon also holds incredible importance pertaining to “spectacle.” TMZ is known for distastefully chasing attention-grabbing news and images by any means — consider its handling of Kobe Bryant’s death for example.
Living Through a “Bad Miracle”
One central question that Peele offers is “What do you call a bad miracle?” It sounds simple, but there is no simple answer. This film intends to answer it by examining how one is forced to process a “bad miracle.” The characters of the film are faced with unspeakable horrors, and the trauma of that experience profoundly affects them. A coin spit out by the alien-being pierces Otis Haywood Sr.’s (Keith David) eye, killing him in front of OJ. This cloud of grief then hangs over the protagonists throughout the film and places them in a financial position where they need to profit off a video of the UFO. Also, Jupe witnessed the “Gordy’s Home” massacre in 1998 and is shown still experiencing trauma through flashbacks. This horrifying ordeal even causes him to include mementos of that day in his own private museum. The only means by which this character can live with his trauma is by turning it into a form of spectacle. Thus, using the UFO as a focal point of a theme park live show is the only way he can face this new “bad miracle.”
I had the chance to attend an IMAX screening of this film which included a live conversation between Peele and Palmer, and this filmmaker specifically cited Spielberg as one of the major influences for “Nope.” While comparisons to “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “Jaws” are obvious, examining the possible influence of “War of the Worlds” allows one to better understand what Peele achieves with “Nope.” An interesting parallel could compare Spielberg’s exploration of post-9/11 trauma in his 2005 adaptation of “War of the Worlds” with Peele’s examination of pandemic trauma in “Nope.” Both movies attempt to examine inconceivable horror and grief through the concept of aliens violently coming down to Earth. Spielberg in “War of the Worlds” encapsulates 9/11 trauma by conveying the sheer panic and terror people felt in response to their own helplessness. Peele capitalizes on the experiences of living through the COVID-19 pandemic—as he said in an interview with GQ—by writing about a “newfound fear from this trauma:” going outside.