Nope (2022)

Nope film review

Nope (2022) Directed by Jordan Peele

Nope’s wayward, sometimes even whimsical, dramatic architecture never reaches the complexity of its concepts, which extract and intellectualize conjectures about our contemporary society with a speculative design totally unsuited to the very obvious axioms that director Jordan Peele’s filmic discourses enunciate with a legitimate acerbic instinct. The uncanny beauty of Nope, the third film in this revelatory filmmaker’s filmography, adheres with intelligent intuition to the same conceptions of his other two films but this time without precise inclinations, here schematically weaves the explicit social criticism of the atmospherically invasive Get Out(2017) with the ambivalence and absolute delirium of Us(2019) thus conceiving an appealing balance between the authentic cinematic value of his craft and the persuasive social declamatory of his writing.

Nope’s script maintains a lingering interlocution with us as audience, its stimulus has an intrinsic duality, between the ambiguous and the obvious, and uses that literary method to cunningly manipulate what we see and interpret as social commentary, causing us to doubt and even confront its deceptive filmic eloquence, Nope’s reality can be both veridical and spurious; it is a dichotomous fluctuation that articulates provocative reflections, yet at the same time dilutes them in a very opaque resolution.

One of the most dexterous and entirely unique filmmakers we have working in the American industry is unequivocally Jordan Peele. Nevertheless, I believe it is too early to establish him as an auteur par excellence within the genre. Social commentary, or the deliberate invitation for thoughtful reflection on what we see, has been a practice that has existed, and will continue to exist, since the genesis of cinema, and to tell the truth, there is nothing, literally nothing, authentic about Peele’s cinematic statements that hasn’t already been done.

In his first feature film, all he did was “unveil” what we all already know, yet in his second feature film, is where we can finally begin to see his ambitions as a filmmaker in better language, that’s where Peele learns the subtleties and ventures into a more complex environment. And I consider that this third feature film in his career, does the same thing again but cohesively brings together these two factions, which seem inseparable, in his style of filmmaking. Nope is the first film directed and written by Jordan Peele that convinces me of his revisionist evocation of contemporary America, at least that’s what he materializes here immeasurably better than his previous films, yet Nope, once again, has nothing earth-shattering to tell us about America that we don’t already know.

Nope makes a sort of critical theory, it tries to scrutinize substantial contemporary issues and seeks a constructive evaluation on our part, it does not have exact destinations but what it does have are speculative ideas that say a great deal about our culture and society from the perspective of cinema. From the complexity of its fantastique, it opens the door to a social philosophy that elementally is what makes Peele’s vernacular relevant in the face of other social critiques within the medium; UFOs as a sense of spectacle and…vice versa?

The aesthetic formalism at the service of abstraction or the unclassifiable profusion of themes and ethereal sensations is the exceptional instrument that director Peele has to found in his film something that triggers conflicting thoughts. The design, which is always carefully executed, wants to join in, to be part of that spectacle so often mentioned in the film; by this time Jordan Peele has reached a degree of cinematic technicality unique in its kind, or rather, unique in his way of filmmaking. Now the narrative no longer depends on the cyclical truisms of Get Out, nor does it survive on the specious formal elegance of Us, it depends on its own nature, and that is its visual storytelling. The characters live haunted by the mysterious clouds and the sibylline atmosphere of the skies that behold them, similarly and organically, we as the audience cannot help but also observe the enormity of the compositional framing system to inspect if there are any unidentified objects in the skies or if there is anything unusual in the darkness that surrounds the ranch where the story is based. Nope emphatically wants us to be part of its spectacle, its wonders and its perplexities.

Ranch owner Otis Haywood Sr. trains and manages horses for film and television productions. When he is killed by a small coin through the eye that inexplicably fell from the sky, his children, the melancholic Otis “OJ” Haywood Jr. played by a somnolent Daniel Kaluuya and the loquacious and buoyant Emerald “Em” Haywood played with effusive eccentricity and ebullient enchantment by Keke Palmer, inherit the ranch. OJ tries to keep the business afloat and maintain his father’s legacy, while Em seeks fame and fortune in Hollywood. The ranch’s financial problems forced OJ to sell horses to the seemingly confident but tormented Jupe played by Steven Yeun, who moved nearby and set up Jupiter’s Claim, a little western theme park where he exploits his story of the Gordy’s Home massacre, a popular sitcom from the past, for profit. That night, the Haywoods notice that their electricity falters and their horses disappear and react unnaturally to an unfamiliar presence. They discover an unidentified flying saucer-like object that has been devouring their horses and then spitting out inorganic matter. Both will see in this unspecified phenomenon an opportunity to be the first to have the privilege of capturing clear footage of a UFO.

The invasive flaws in the plot are many, one of the most uncomfortably protruding being the fact that the story of the tragedy in that famous sitcom is more interesting than the primary plot of the film. Evidently there is a thematic connection between the two sides, as they gravitate fundamentally on the limits of the entertainment business and to what extent those limits become fatal.

Nope philosophizes on the issues of the world of entertainment within cinema, not for nothing, the film devotes a succinct moment to the revolutionary invention of the first moving image achieved with chronophotography through a zoopraxiscope. As we immediately see the primitive splendor of animal locomotion, we then pass as a contrast juxtaposed to modernity where we can observe a large green screen with big production equipment. The symbolism does not necessarily allude to the drastic changes that the digital era has brought to cinema, but it does allegorize the giant leap, though not for that reason any better, of the outrageous progress that constituted the spectacle of the cinematographic medium, which during the times when the name ‘cinema’ did not even exist, i.e. pre 1895, in the time of the kinetoscope, was only a novel, mechanical and scientific invention. The strange phenomena that occur in that ranch where the film takes place, is the scenario of the different speculations that abound and that we make about society, and what better scenario to criticize America than the cinema.

It contains some of the most breathtakingly compelling set pieces I’ve seen, sequences of formidable dramatic effect that have the extravagance to be filmically intricate, especially in their extraordinary cross-cutting control. I admit there were moments where I said more ‘meh’ rather than ‘nope’ or ‘yep’, nonetheless this production is tenaciously plotting something that indescribably alters my senses positively. It’s objectively Peele’s first film that validly earns the right to be debated, because if you thought it was just a snarky commentary on exploitative entertainment let me tell you that’s just the tip of the iceberg.


Matteo Bedon
About Author

When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them.
Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.