Spectacle examining spectacle: a review of ‘Nope’

Director Jordan Peele presents a mirror to a desensitized society

Jada Thomas, Staff Writer

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

As a generation that has watched 9/11 on replay their entire lives, seen police commit acts of brutality, been surrounded by death throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and become conditioned to anticipate mass shootings anywhere they go, we have been the constant witnesses of tragedy — and yet we are drawn to it still. For instance, when there is a wreck on the road, people are likely to slow down to see what happened. Despite the tragic nature of the accident, they cannot resist the sight of it. Society’s relationship with fame, spectacles and what it costs to gain them is brilliantly explored in Director Jordan Peele’s “Nope.”

The film follows the Haywood siblings OJ, played by Daniel Kaluuya, and Emerald, played by Keke Palmer, as they are faced with a threat in the form of an extraterrestrial creature taking the shape of an Unidentified Flying Object (UFO), which they name Jean Jacket. The primary supporting characters arrive in the form of a western-themed amusement park owner named Ricky “Jupe” Park, played by Steven Yeun, and a tech-savvy salesman named Angel Torres, played by Brandon Perea. These characters interact with Jean Jacket in different ways — the Haywoods and Angel are trying to get photographic proof of Jean Jacket, whereas Jupe is trying to rope the flying saucer into becoming one of the attractions at Jupiter’s Claim, his amusement park — but the core elements of their goals are the same. They want to capture the phenomenon, they want others to see it and they want to be known for witnessing the unimaginable. 

However, this desire for spectacle does not come without consequences. The most extreme testament to this comes at the beginning of the film’s third act. During one of his shows, Jupe promises the audience that what they are about to see will be life-changing and reveals Jean Jacket. The audience’s attention is then glued to the UFO and Jean Jacket chooses this moment to vacuum everyone in attendance inside of it. In perhaps the most disturbing scene in the film, the audience members are shown inside Jean Jacket, screaming for their lives as they are slowly being digested by the creature. These people could not resist witnessing the spectacle that is alien life, so it cast the ultimate punishment upon them: death. 

A few scenes later, this is put into a more literal lens when a man on a motorcycle, reminiscent of a TMZ reporter, shows up at the Haywood Ranch with a camera aimed straight at OJ and Emerald, demanding to know what happened to the people at Jupiter’s Claim. The motorcyclist ends up spotting Jean Jacket, and in a desperate attempt to capture something bigger than what he came for, he begins to chase after it. He is oblivious to the fact that anything under Jean Jacket loses electricity, including vehicles, and rides straight into the trap. The man flies off his motorcycle, and because he is severely injured, he is unable to escape the same horrific fate as those at Jupiter’s Claim. Not only does this display the consequences of society’s obsession with spectacle, but also relays the message that when we attempt to create personal gain out of other people’s tragedy, we pay the price for it. 

Even outside of these key moments, Peele uses every possible element — from storytelling to music and camera work — to not only get the message of the film across, but to make it a phenomenon in itself. True to the essence of the film’s message, some of the most disturbing scenes are ones viewers cannot look away from. For example, when Jean Jacket pours its insides out onto the Haywood’s House, covering it in blood and filth, or when Gordy, a seemingly loving chimpanzee, loses his sanity and murders his castmates. Also, several of the shots are a glorious thing to see, the most striking of which is when Jean Jacket reveals its true form at the end of the film. Lastly, a notable element of this film in terms of the camera work is how Peele chose to capture Jean Jacket, reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s use of the shark in “Jaws” — in that the threat is only visible for a small portion of the movie, but the suspense alone is enough to terrify the protagonists. These techniques, and more, work to make “Nope” a marvel worth witnessing. 

Since the film’s release this past July, it has earned $100 million at the domestic box office and $159 million globally, making it safe to say that the movie has become the spectacle it seeks to teach audiences about. This is a goal that the film certainly achieves; through chilling scenes and disturbing imagery, “Nope” examines our obsession with spectacles, whether it be witnessing one or becoming one, and the potentially heinous consequences of chasing this reality.