The Undeniable Spell of Spectacle
Nope by Jordan Peele
Nope starts with a quote from the Bible from the prophet Nahum which states: “I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle.”
For anyone that thought this would be spoiler-free, sorry for spoiling your day.
That in itself gives a splendid introduction and synopsis for the next 130 minutes that Jordan Peele invites you into his wonderfully twisted mind.
Jordan Peele has quickly become an auteur known for turning the mirror toward us showing us who we are. Making us the horror within our own story.
He did it well with both Get Out and US (some people are questionable on US, I enjoyed it) and now with Nope.
While clearly given a much bigger budget for the film than previous endeavours, Peele keeps the story quite compact regarding his main characters. Daniel Kaluuya makes his return as one of Peele’s leading roles cementing Peele’s auteur status and is joined at the hip by Keke Palmer.
A great supporting cast of Steven Yeun, Michael Wincott, and Brandon Perea join them for the majority of this spectacle. And Spectacle is the key word because that’s exactly what it is.
Quite unlike previous reviews of films, here, I want to focus on the more cultural and psychological/philosophical questions that I think the film was exploring alongside a quick review and possibly a synopsis because you can kinda get that anywhere.
The film repeatedly asks the question: What are we willing to do for a buck?
The film begins with the death of the father of siblings Kaluuya’s OJ and Palmer’s Emerald, Otis Haywood Senior played by Keith David, as a nickel falls out of the sky penetrating his skull as he is working on their ranch. The Haywoods are ranchers and they own the business Hollywood Horses Ranch. From that very moment, OJ is convinced that what killed his father was not simply something falling out of a plane, and an accident.
One night, the horses are acting up and OJ heads out to the ranch and sees a saucer-like figure zip through the sky. OJ hypothesizes that what is in the sky is a UFO or a UAP.
At this moment a plan forms in Emerald’s head. She wants to get the UFO on film and sell the film to the highest bidder so they can go viral, get rich and get famous.
Not particularly concerned about the larger ramifications for the world.
Only at one point during the film, does Perea’s Angel bring up “saving the world” as an aside to the larger question of getting evidence of a UFO and getting it on Oprah to rake in the millions.
The “Oprah shot” they say.
The fact of the matter is Peele’s mirror explores society’s realities. Whereas we would often like to dream that we would be like all of the superheroes in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and do what is best for the world, the reality is that most likely the media would rush to be the first to profit off of whatever danger we would face, hoping to sell the footage to the highest bidder.
Saving the world is an aside at best.
Climate change can be seen as a clear allegory.
The film even explores TMZ’s role in their rush out to collect all gossip regardless of the cost to anyone involved.
Anything for a buck.
Now don’t blame OJ and Em for wanting to get in on the way the world works. This is commercialism at its finest. Everything is commodified and everyone is waiting for a spectacle. The chance to yell, “Worldstarrr!” Our phones always at hand.
The story often takes a dart to 1998 when a young Jupe, Yeun’s character is on the set of a very popular television show called Gordy’s Home.
The titular “Gordy”, is a chimpanzee. Now one day Gordy snaps, attacking multiple actors on the set of the television show due to being startled by the pop of a balloon. Funnily enough, as the attack is happening, signs within the studio continue to call for “applause” as the audience and the rest of the cast hide frozen in fear. The authorities are called and right when Gordy is about to give young Jupe a fist bump with a fist drenched in blood, he is shot dead.
Jupe, now, years later has created a fantasy, where everything went well and there was just some miscalculation on set and Gordy was a little rowdy. He even makes a joke out of it, giving the example of an SNL sketch. And continues to profit off of Gordy at his carnival, Jupiter’s Claim. He has a room enshrined to the legacy of the show and that moment in particular. He also attempts to profit off of the UFO-like creature and lure it out to entertain his audience. And has been buying horses from the Haywoods as they attempt to save their drowning business.
Safe to say those attempts go horribly wrong.
The film explores ideas around our need to create everything into a moment, into something to be sold. Exploring our need for exploitation, recognition, fame, and money.
It also turns the question to cinema as cinematographer character Anders Holst played by Michael Wincott is obsessed throughout the film with getting the “impossible shot”.
A man so dedicated to his craft and to the under the spell of spectacle that he will die to create it.
In Jordan Peele’s Nope, we are all under the spell of spectacle.
We seek spectacle, often unaware of the pains that we put ourselves and others through in our yearning. We seek spectacle and aim to profit off of it.
While this can be attributed directly to cinema and the pursuit of art, it can also be attributed to many other industries where we exploit continuously for profit. Unaware or more likely uncaring for the harm we do to others.
With the quote, “I will pelt you with filth, I will treat you with contempt and make you a spectacle” one can take many things from Peele’s film. One can approach it also from the position of exploitation of the natural world in the pursuit of human profits and the need to control the uncontrollable. Or that with the spectacle that we seek in our hyper-digital era. From the side of the media and the constant need for stories with truth and facts often fall to the wayside. See it from the view of the pursuit of art, willing to do anything, even die.
A painful human pursuit.
I love cinema. Good cinema, like good art, allows us to question ourselves and our environment and come away from the film with many questions. Often not wrapping things up neatly in a bow but allowing us to ponder and reflect on society, and possibly question these parts of ourselves we are previously unwilling to question.
But with the undeniable spell of spectacle, we remain asleep, unaware, uncaring, and unwilling to ask larger questions.
I like that Peele asks larger questions.