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Warning: This story contains spoilers for Nope. Several of them.
Jordan Peele's just-released horror film Nope is, like the writer-director's previous films Get Out and Us, a fright-filled thrill-ride but one that leaves you with some questions. (And how nice it is to get a summer blockbuster that makes us think a little.) Below, our stabs at answers to the queries that are no doubt clouding your mind.
What is Nope really all about?
On the surface, Peele's film is the tale of a UFO which turns out to be a flying, carnivorous monster. The movie's main characters, sibling duo OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), risk their lives attempting to grab footage of it, not only for the sake of history but because their horse ranch, Haywood's Hollywood Horses, is failing and they need the money that such a discovery would fetch.
But the film is also a nuanced exploration of how the media, in particular Hollywood, exploits minorities, erasing the contributions of the underprivileged, dating all the way back to Eadweard Muybridge's groundbreaking 1878 photography of a Black jockey galloping (one of the earliest examples of motion pictures). He's the first ever "movie star" repeatedly referenced in the film. Is that jockey nameless? No more: Now he has an extended family of descendants, including OJ and Emerald.
"I'm most proud in how we addressed this acknowledgement of the first actor, right?" Peele recently told EW. "The jockey that was in the clip that no one knows. In a lot of ways, this film is the sequel to that, the sequel that was needed, the reboot of that original film in which we acknowledge the erasure, we acknowledge the exploitation. We let it lie there, and then we go make the best f---ing crazy adventure alien movie with Black people and Black voices."
Universal Pictures Daniel Kaluuya in 'Nope'
What's up with all the Gordy stuff?
In the course of Nope, we discover that Steven Yeun's character, the tourist-attraction-owning Ricky "Jupe" Park, was a famous child actor, the cute star of the fictional Kid Sheriff who then joined a sitcom about a family whose members include a chimpanzee named Gordy. In an extended flashback scene, Peele shows us how the animal went berserk on set, attacking cast members. While the sequence is terrifying and on point with regard to the director's theme of media exploitation (Jupe's rising career was suddenly kaput), the scene also seems divorced from the main plot.
So why did Peele include it? According to the director, he deliberately wanted to unsettle audiences by featuring a sequence which was both brutal and seemingly far removed from the UFO-oriented action. "I think it's a moment that I knew would sort of hit audiences in the back of the head with a bag of sand," Peele told Sean Fennessey, host of the Big Picture podcast. "But it's one of these moments in a movie where you're just like, wait a second, what am I watching, where are we, how did we get here? And to sandwich that in this big, epic, fun blockbuster."
Is that a real chimp?
Nope. Gordy is a CGI creation based on the performance of actor Terry Notary, who specializes in portraying animals and creatures. Notary's credits include 2017's Kong: Skull Island, War for the Planet of the Apes, and the live-action remake of The Lion King. The sets and props featured in the shots with Gordy were built 30 percent larger-than-life to accommodate Notary's larger-than-chimp dimensions. Ironically (though worth mentioning), for a movie about animal wranglers in danger of losing their legacy, Nope leans heavily on digital effects, no doubt for reasons of safety.
And who is that creepy woman behind the veil?
Sitting in a wheelchair at one of Jupe's Western family shows, she's identified as Mary Jo Elliott (Sophia Coto), the actress who played his step-sister on the ill-fated Gordy's Home. (Sweetly, Jupe calls her his "first crush.") In the movie's flashback, we see her as a smiling blond girl, the one who opens the box of balloons that spook the chimp. It's one of Nope's more punishing moments to realize that she survived the attack, though her face (what little we see of it) is ruined. The grown-up Mary Jo is wearing a T-shirt of her younger visage — so beyond sad — and she also has a prosthetic hand. Still a mystery: Why would she want to see Jupe after all these years? She may be trying to reclaim some sort of power over the elements. She's another clue to Peele deeper theme of Hollywood exploitation: a character who is literally chewed up and spat out by the industry.
Universal Pictures Keith David in 'Nope'
Who plays the director in the beginning? He looks vaguely familiar.
Peele, who never casts actors without intent, buries a lot of connections to horror history in Nope's incidental roles. The brusque director seen in an early sequence is played by Osgood Perkins, a real writer-director of indie renown (I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House), and an actor in Legally Blonde. He's also the son of Psycho's Anthony Perkins. (They share the same gangly frame.) The famous actress on his set, Bonnie, is played by Donna Mills, perhaps best known to general audiences for her stints on Knots Landing and General Hospital, but no doubt known to Peele for her role in Clint Eastwood's unsettling 1971 stalker thriller Play Misty for Me. And the dignified dad on a horse? He's the legendary Keith David, an iconic presence in John Carpenter's The Thing and They Live, two sociopolitically sharp horror movies that Peele clearly loves.
Is Fry's Electronics an actual store?
Yes. Or, more accurately, it was a real store: The Bay Area big-box chain which employs Brandon Perea's character, Angel, was founded in 1985 and at one point boasted dozens of stores, but shuttered in February 2021. The good news? That means there should be an abundance of Fry's Electronics shirts floating around for those who want an authentic, and easy, Halloween costume come this October. And speaking of costumes…
Can you buy a Scorpion King hoodie?
In Nope, OJ wears an orange crew hoodie from The Scorpion King, the 2002 Dwayne Johnson-starring Mummy spin-off, and the first film on which Kaluuya's character worked with his late father. Sadly, at the time of writing, it is not possible to purchase this item on eBay, although you can buy vintage orange Scorpion King promo tees.
Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures
Why does Nope look and feel so majestic, visually?
So many movies are presented to us in fake IMAX ("Lie-MAX," it's called), stretched out and poorly mixed. Nope, though, was actually conceived and shot on large-format IMAX cameras, and the effort pays off. Notably, it's the first horror movie ever filmed in IMAX (that seems like a missed opportunity, Hollywood), and its genius cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema, has much big-screen experience with the format, having captured Interstellar, Dunkirk, Tenet, and the forthcoming Oppenheimer, all for Christopher Nolan.
Nope is also something of a neo-sci-fi-Western, if you'll indulge the comparison: desert canyons, horses, grand vistas, undercurrents of redemption and territorial ownership. Peele agrees with the idea that his film is a corrective to the typical Hollywood oater; Nope has the feel of a huge Western, the most American of genres, frequently loaded with subtext.
Finally, can you explain that ending to us?
We'll try: OJ, Emerald, Angel and gravel-voiced cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) have banded together to try to lure the alien into the open and film it with a special non-electrical camera. OJ rides out on a horse as bait, but the plan is only partly successful, as Antlers and his footage are consumed by the alien. Emerald motorcycles out to the deserted Jupiter's Claim, where she feeds coins into a photo attraction mounted in the bottom of a well. Releasing a large inflated balloon of Jupe's "Kid Sheriff" skyward, she takes several still photos (echoes of Muybridge from the the beginning) until the alien absorbs the helium-inflated balloon and it explodes, presumably killing the creature as well. Emerald gets her shot just before the explosion.
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