Jordan Peele’s third feature horror film titled ‘NOPE” was released on July 22nd earlier this summer, an addition to his repertoire of horror films. Peele’s movies are known to be a spectacle on social commentary- from Get Out and the concept of generational racism; to Us and the misplaced fear of outsiders instead of ourselves. In this ongoing theme, NOPE explores a multitude of ideas such as: generational trauma, “bad miracles”, and spectatorship in America. In this essay, I will be exploring the layers of this film and discussing the purpose of the themes.
The Exploitation of Trauma
The film introduces siblings Emerald and OJ Haywood who recently lost their father. Alistair Haywood, in a mysterious way- a coin fell from the sky into his skull. They are generational owners of a horse ranch that profits off selling horses as well as selling the use of them for Hollywood films. From the very beginning, the idea of exploitation is seen of not only the horse but of their family’s history. Its important to note that throughout their dynamic- the idea of grief and resentment towards their father is prevalent in their behaviors. Emerald is bubbly and outgoing- but displays resentment towards her father and the family business- while OJ is reserved and oversees the business- but remains the dealing the grief of his father’s inexplicable death. Even so, both siblings profit off the pain the hold inside in order to keep up with the business.
We are the then introduced to one of the Haywood’s clients, Ricky “Jupe” Park- former child actor and present owner of an Old Western themed amusement park. Jupe’s childhood fame did not follow him into adulthood- similarly to many other child actors remaining stuck in the past – more specifically a show he starred in named “Gordy’s Home”. This show consisted of an all-American family who happened to also have a chimpanzee as part of it. The show tragically ended when the chimp when out in a rage and slaughtered the cast- except for Jupe. We see then that Jupe kept items from the set and exploits this occurrence for money. Jupe uses his trauma in a way that he can exploit it- without even realizing it. He profits off being a survivor- in turn deeming himself as invincible.
“A Bad Miracle”
The theme of a bad miracle is plagued throughout the film, the beginning screen opens with- “Nahum 3:6: I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle.” Which leads us to the question … what is a bad miracle? It can be described as something great, or spectacular- that only brings horror instead of good.
As the film develops, we come to the discovery of a UFO that has been plaguing the Haywood Ranch for months- observing them and preying when vulnerable. We come to find out that the UFO takes captive any creature that makes eye contact with it, releases it onto the land, and essentially turns the prey into a spectacle. It is then speculated that the flying objects released from the sky that killed Otis Sr. -came from the very UFO.
The juxtaposition of such an evil entity lies within it being a miracle for several characters. For the Haywood’s, the idea came to them that if they could get a picture of the UFO- “The Money Shot”, they would receive notoriety and wealth. For Jupe, (who also found about the UFO months before), it would mean that he could yet again profit off something terrible by creating a spectacle of it in a show.
The Culture of a Spectacle
It is apparent that the idea of spectacle is the premise for the film’s themes. It is with well confidence to say that the message is- creating a spectacle out of something that cannot be tamed, leads to horror. We see this from the beginning with the story of the Gordy the Chimpanzee- a creature who had gone far too long being a source of entertainment until he finally had enough. We then see it with Jupe’s attempt at creating a show of the UFO for the people of his theme park to see- only to become more victims of this predator. This goes to show that individuals have grown desensitized to danger- even though the threat of horror is right in front of their face