Director Jordan Peele mixes science fiction, westerns and racism in “Nope”. The result is enlightened popcorn cinema with powerful images.
At the beginning there is a quotation from the Bible. A verse from the book of the prophet Nahum about the fall of the Mesopotamian city of Nineveh: “I will throw filth on you, shame you, and make a spectacle of you.” So far, so mysterious. A few dialogues from the off with laughter in the background were previously heard during the title sequence of the feature film “Nope”. The pictures follow later in the film, it is a fictional television show, “Gordy’s Home”, in which a chimpanzee is the star.
From the show itself you can also see images in the first few minutes of “Nope”, without dialogue. Instead, there is the disturbing sight of the monkey banging his bloodied hands against the feet of a lifeless figure whose upper body is covered by a sofa. A boy, hidden under a table, watches the action with barely controlled breath.
Sound confusing? It is very likely that this is also the intention of the US director Jordan Peele, who is presenting his third feature film with “Nope”. In it, he initially presents the audience with apparently unsorted things that are not immediately understandable and are only explained later on. In part anyway. The program mentioned will definitely still play a role, but the actual plot has more to do with horses.
Especially with those of Otis Jr. “OJ” Haywood (can look skeptical like nobody else: Daniel Kaluuya). Together with his sister Emerald (quirky and self-confident: Keke Palmer), he runs the only ranch in the USA where horses are trained by African Americans for Hollywood. Like his father, Otis Sr. (Keith David), who recently died under mysterious circumstances, he is the film shooter horse wranglerthe horse trainer who makes sure the animals stay calm and do what they’re supposed to do on camera.
When the OJ is closed, calming down and overall work don’t go so well. On a shoot, he first has to put up with the condescending behavior of the team, who would rather have had his father on the set. Then his horse suddenly freaks out because someone held a mirror right in front of his eyes, which OJ couldn’t prevent in time. The job is over for him and his sister. With OJ already in debt, he considers selling the ranch.
witnesses of strange events
Shortly thereafter, he offers Lucky, the horse with the freak out, to the operator of a Wild West theme park nearby. This Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), used to be a child star on a TV show. Title: Gordy’s Home. He was the frightened boy under the table. The monkey Gordy, as seen in a continuation of the horror scene, spotted him under the table at some point, but spared him and instead approached him in a peaceful manner, raising his fist in greeting.
OJ and Jupe therefore have even more in common than just the horse deal. You are witnessing strange events. For example, OJ was present when his father was fatally injured. A 5 cent piece had cut his eye as it shot from the sky towards the ground. The horse Otis Sr. was riding at the moment also took a beating, with a security key stuck in its side, OJ noted with irritation.
Jordan Peele enacts the scene of OJ’s father’s death in a sober, terse manner, with just the right dose of unsettling signals. A cloud approaches, from which a kind of kite string seems to hang, there is a yelling as of screaming voices, then a dry hiss as objects of everyday use fall to the ground. For a plane crash, as the official explanation will be, far too fast.
OJ suspects another cause. Jupe is one step closer to this other: He thinks he has observed aliens. It doesn’t take long for OJ to see something in the sky at night, an elongated flat shape, only suggested but present enough to make the horse at his side shy and run.
OJ soon realizes that the thing in the sky poses a threat. His sister Emerald, OJ’s counterpart in her extroverted manner, is also frightened by the strange apparitions. However, she is dying to try to film to prove UFOs exist and become rich and famous along the way. They equip their ranch with high-tech cameras.
Jordan Peele has in his first two films, the The horror comedy “Get Out” (2017) and the horror thriller “Wir” (2019) addressed racism quite directly. In “Nope” the plot follows in parts a more classic scheme, combining UFO conspiracy themes and the fight of intrepid Americans against an unknown threat with Western motifs.
Except that Peele casts his characters against the prevailing conventions of the genre: OJ, Emerald and Otis Sr. are African-American cowboys, and Jupe, who appears in cowboy costume in front of his visitors, is Asian-American.
Peele mixes other motifs into his screenplay, such as the preference for animal-handling experience. OJ’s work with horses will save his life in the end, while Jupe’s encounter with the chimpanzee, which ended happily for him, leaves him as fearless as he is unaware of the alleged aliens.
Justice for African American Cowboys
A massive blob of film history is also processed in “Nope”. Immediately prior to the scene where OJ has his mishap with the horse on camera, there is a short sequence of English film pioneer Eadweard Muybridge showing the serial photography of a horse and rider in motion using his projection device called the ‘Zoopraxiskop’ made a two-second short film. “The Horse in Motion” from 1878, created in the USA, is considered the breakthrough of moving images on the way to film.