Audiences know to read between the lines of Jordan Peele’s films. Well, go ahead and bring out your strongest pair of reading glasses yet.
Jordan Peele’s epic, western, sci-fi thriller, and third film stars Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer as brother-and-sister horse wranglers defending their family ranch from an extraterrestrial threat. Now, if you’re like me, you went to see this film opening weekend because Daniel Kaluuya and Jordan Peele are a match made in cinematographic heaven. And, I am happy to report, that the pair have done it again. Though I am a huge fan of NOPE, and will absolutely see it again before it leaves the
box office, this film didn’t quite “hit” as hard as I would’ve liked it too. But there’s a first time for everything, right?
Keke Palmer plays (and magically, might I add) Emerald Haywood, an aspiring Hollywood actress, singer, model, producer, motorcyclist, craft services chef, you name it, whose overwhelmingly outgoing nature makes her a bit of professional liability. She works alongside her introverted brother Otis “O.J.” Jr. [Daniel Kaluuya] who takes over the family show horse-training business after their father [Keith David] passes from a freak accident on the family ranch.
In my opinion, Kaluuya’s ability to portray Otis Jr as timid and shy is one of the best parts of the movie. In an interview with Vanity Fair, director Jordan Peele says that Kaluuya is “his favorite actor in the world”, and that the O.J. was created specifically for Kaluuya. He goes on to say, “one of the things I admire most about him is his powerful stillness. Nobody else has it. He doesn’t need words to communicate his thoughts or emotions. In the scariest and quietest moments, you know exactly what
he’s feeling and experiencing just by looking at him, and that’s so powerful. His big eyes, his body language—he brings so much emotion.” And though I couldn’t agree more, I do think that this idea of “powerful stillness” is where critique arises.
Released just last week, NOPE has already been critically acclaimed for its cinematography, direction, performances, and plot. Which doubles as the film’s biggest critiquing point. Some of the film’s more critical feedback suggests the plot is “confusing” or “empty” and, to be clear, there is nothing “wrong” with the plot. However, I do understand the negative feedback it is receiving. Let’s jump right into that.
1. For an epic spectacle, Peele relies heavily on the power of stillness.
NOPE is beautifully shot. Set in the California Dessert, the film is full of a wide scenic shots filled with sand and horses, long, beautiful shots of the clear blue sky or picturesque night shots, and of course, close up’s of Kaluuya’s very expressive eyes. However, for a film over 2 hours, there are many long quiet moments. This is not uncommon for Peele, especially in his biggest hit “Get Out” where each of the scariest moments rested in the power of stillness. The film is definitely an epic, (a style of filmmaking with large-scale, sweeping scope, and spectacle.) In fact, the opening scene of the movie lets us know that we are about to witness a spectacle.
It’s a quote from the bible that reads, “And I will cast abominable filth upon thee, and make thee vile, and will set thee as a spectacle.” Nahum 3:6: Don’t get me wrong, NOPE is a full-on spectacle from start to finish… but it is paired with a lot of intense stares, long pauses, and lulls. Arguably too many.
2. Too Much given away in the previews
A movie preview or trailer is a first impression or introduction to a film. Its
the function is to get audiences excited about an upcoming project, by leaving questions unanswered and creating a sense of wonder around the subject matter. The trailers for NOPE did just that. The first trailers released on cable, on streaming services, and on social media for NOPE were short clips of the cast in a desert, looking up into the sky and saying “nope”. These short and sweet teasers, combined with an all-star cast and Jordan Peele as the director? I was sold. But then I got to the theater, watched the movie, and left feeling like the trailer was the only truly
captivating part of the film. Everything that the film was, had been showcased within the film’s trailers (to a certain extent). They looking into the sky, the horseback riding, an outgoing Keke palmer, them living in the dessert. Now there certainly is way more to NOPE than just a few clips on a trailer. Unfortunately, the other components of the movie were hard to follow. This leads me to my next point.
3. It’s almost impossible to spot the movie’s symbols and metaphors without having to google them.
I sat in the audience of NOPE for nearly 2 and a half hours never fully
knowing exactly what was going on. And though I have been taken aback by Jordan Peele films before, this was a whole new level of “what the hell was that?” It wasn’t until several articles later that I understood the spectacle before me. Though I am certain Peele did this intentionally, it took away from the wonder and excitement of the film. I enjoyed the shots I was looking at, the dialogue, and the baseline plot of their being an alien that’s eating people, but I knew I was missing the bigger picture the whole time, and that was frustrating. Here’s what I learned after doing some research. Thanks, Teen Vogue.
- Gordy was a cautionary tale: The Gordy incident is a tragic spectacle, one caused by the desire to tame a wild animal and use it for spectacle: profit and entertainment.
- Jupe wanted to buy the entire Haywood ranch to keep the Star Lasso Experience going.
- Jean Jacket terrorizes Agua Dulce at 6:13 PM, the same time Gordy attacked on Gordy’s Home.
- Jean Jacket’s excretion on the ranch house explains Otis Sr.’s death.
- The chapter titles refer to the movie’s animals and foreshadow death.
- The balancing shoe could be another “bad miracle.”
Oh, and this gem from Essence Magazine.
- Within the Biblical context of this passage, being made a spectacle is the most brutal of punishments. Spectacles are barbaric, as they strip the autonomy and dignity of a living thing for the entertainment, amusement, and invasive curiosity of others. To bear witness to a spectacle is not always an experience of wonder. As shown by the rampage of the film’s predatory alien entity and the tragedy of Gordy the chimpanzee, witnessing a spectacle can be an experience of sheer terror and trauma.
See what I mean?
Even with its flaws, NOPE is still an incredible film. The laughs, suspense, cast, and overall eerieness of the film have made a repeat watcher out of me. It’s also one of those films that’s great for watching in theaters, offering a nice contrast from constant streaming. I’m getting it 4 out of 5 tulips.