Breaking Down the References and Easter Eggs in 'Nope'

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Photo credit: Universal Pictures
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Jordan Peele's third film, Nope, premiered in theaters last Friday, and spoilers are already running amok on Twitter. The sci-fi cowboy epic starring Daniel Kaluuya, Keke Palmer, and Steven Yeun is more straightforward than Us and Get Out, offering what Peele called "the great American UFO story." Of course, knowing Peele (and America), there are still tons of pop culture references to discover and hidden meanings ripe for audience interpretation. Below, our breakdown of the biggest details in Nope.

Spectacle (Nahum 3:6)

The film begins with a biblical quote from the Old Testament: "I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle." The term spectacle is a one-word summary for the whole film, and it's one of the only deeper meanings Peele revealed in the film's press run. In a Fandango interview, the filmmaker even shared that he wrote the film at a time when a return to the cinema was in question, so he wanted to go big.

"I wrote it in a time when we were a little bit worried about the future of cinema," he said. "So the first thing I knew is I wanted to create a spectacle. I wanted to create something that the audience would have to come see."

The alien monster at the center of the film is a huge spectacle, one you can't help but look at (even if looking leads to your immediate demise). Capturing such a spectacle on film is a huge part of modern show business, whether the subject is real (documentary) or contrived (based on fiction).

It's also part of TMZ's core business model: continuing tabloid culture by turning every celebrity sighting into a spectacle (hence the TMZ cameraman showing up). The mission of Emerald (Palmer) and OJ (Kaluuya) to get the alien on film becomes an allegory about Hollywood in general, and the way the industry exploits most of the people involved to keep up with spectacle culture. Jupe's (Yeun) story is another powerful example.

Photo credit: Universal Pictures
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

Gordy's Home!

The massacre on the set of Jupe's sitcom, Gordy's Home!, is the most unsettling sequence of the film, and it pulls from some real-life references. Though there isn't a real on-set incident involving a chimp attack (at least not one fans have found yet), people have been mauled and received similar injuries to those seen on Jupe's costar Mary Jo. In 2009, a famous chimp named Travis mauled Charla Nash, a longtime friend of its owner; when she revealed her injuries on The Oprah Winfrey Show, she wore a hat and veil similar to what Mary Jo wears on the day of the Jupiter's Claim attack.

Peele also shared the opening credits of Gordy's Home! this weekend, and the show itself is filled with space references. In the sitcom, Gordy appears to be a chimp who went to space and now lives with an astronaut and her family, the Houstons. One shot shows Jupe and Gordy looking at the sky through a telescope, and another shows Jupe hiding under a certain table. There's even a historical connection in Gordy's name. In 1958, a squirrel monkey named Gordo was launched aboard a U.S. Army rocket called Jupiter IRBM AM-13.

In the present day of the film, Jupe appears to have unprocessed trauma from the massacre, but he also profits from it through money and infamy. He tells OJ and Emerald about the incident through recalling an SNL sketch where Chris Kattan plays Gordy. (In real life, Kattan plays an ape-like person in a series of sketches called "Mr. Peepers.") He also has a hidden room filled with memorabilia and shows it to fans for a fee.

His reaction to the alien is also informed by his experience with Gordy. Instead of fearing the alien, he believes he's formed some sort of connection with it, and "tames" it by feeding it OJ's horses in preparation for his big show. Perhaps he thinks the alien favors him because Gordy spared him during the attack in his childhood.

There's even a direct comparison between the alien and Gordy. During the on-set massacre, Jupe silently hides under a table that is covered with a tablecloth, so he doesn't look directly at Gordy during their final fist bump. That silence and not making eye contact is probably what spared him; it's the same behavior OJ and Emerald use to evade the alien's attacks.

Even though this is probably lost on Jupe, as he amplifies his voice and looks straight at the alien during the show, it seems like he's subconsciously connecting the alien encounter and the massacre, as his alien costumes look like the cameras from the set of Gordy's Home! He tried to profit off the alien, like he profited off Gordy, and ended up as part of a rainstorm of blood.

The Horse in Motion

During Emerald's speech at the film set, she mentions what can be considered the first batch of moving pictures: a series of cabinet cards depicting a man riding a horse. The photographs taken by Eadweard Muybridge in 1878 are known as The Horse in Motion, and Emerald claims that the horse rider is her and OJ's great-great-great grandfather.

In real life, the identity of the jockey is unknown, though Muybridge did publish a book on his experiments in photographing movement. (Apparently, he wanted to know whether all four of a horses' feet left the ground at any point during its stride.) Though there's some question of whether or not the rider was actually Black, there's a long history of Black cowboys that has recently been explored in films like Concrete Cowboy and The Harder They Fall.

Buck and the Preacher

Speaking of Black cowboys, the decoration of the Haywood home includes a poster of the 1972 Western Buck and the Preacher. Directed by Sidney Poitier, the movie stars Poitier and Harry Belafonte as cowboys in the late 1860s who lead a wagon train of Black settlers from Louisiana to the unsettled territories of Kansas, while fighting off white raiders hired by plantation owners to scare the passengers back to the South. The civil rights era saw a surge of Black actors like Poitier (Duel at Diablo), Sammy Davis Jr. (Sergeants 3), and Jim Brown (Take a Hard Ride) starring in Westerns.

Fry's Electronics

The electronics store where Angel (Brandon Perea) works is the now-defunct family-owned chain Fry's Electronics, which was headquartered in San Jose, California, and had 31 stores across nine states at the time of its shuttering last year. Like Best Buy, the store carried everything from tech equipment to home appliances; many a West Coast kid has spent hours there while their parents shopped for a new fridge (no, just me? Okay, then). The stores were known for their themes (from Egyptian to steampunk to, yes, cowboys). The location where Angel works, with the flying saucer sticking out of the front, was the Burbank, California, branch near Hollywood.

Oprah Shot

Emerald names the elusive perfect shot she's seeking after Oprah Winfrey, the media mogul who's still known today as the most iconic talk show host. Though Winfrey remains the most sought-after interviewer on the small screen (see the Harry and Meghan and Adele specials for example), The Oprah Winfrey Show went off the air in 2011 after running for 25 seasons.

The Scorpion King

The childhood story that shows the complicated history between OJ, Emerald, and their late father, Otis Sr. (Keith David), revolves around The Scorpion King, the 2002 Mummy spin-off staring Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson. Otis was a horse trainer on the film, and he brought along young OJ for the child's first on-set job. He also took their horse Jean Jacket for the gig, which was supposed to be the first horse young Emerald ever trained. The snub still irks Emerald as an adult, so before the final action sequence of the film, OJ nicknames the alien Jean Jacket, showing that Emerald now has the chance to tame her first animal.

The Scorpion King hoodie also has tons of meaning for OJ. He's kept it for nearly 20 years, and it's a symbol of his role in continuing his father's legacy. If you land on the "OJ isn't alive" side of the film's ambiguous ending, he now wears that hoodie as he looks over Emerald, who will continue the Haywood legacy, wherever the Oprah shot leads her.

Photo credit: Universal Pictures
Photo credit: Universal Pictures

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