Who’s the main villain of the movie? Who dies? Are the horses ok!?
Beloved writer-director Jordan Peele added his long-awaited third film, Nope, to his collection on July 22. It is a sci-fi horror film that takes both of those genres to completely new and unprecedented places. Peele said about the film, “It’s a bigger adventure than I’ve ever tried to tell. From a film perspective, by far my most ambitious.” Teaming up with renowned cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema the two created the first horror film to be shown on IMAX cameras. In typical Peele fashion, Nope has induced awe into fans old and new, diverted and exceeded viewers’ expectations, and taken over the current cultural discourse, creating a slew of new conversations to be had about film and our relationship with it.
While Nope hit theaters on July 22, it is currently streaming at home, exclusively on Peacock, having made its way to the NBC-owned streamer on November 18th. If you are more old-skool about your media, you can buy Nope on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, and DVD, with extras including a making of documentary, gag reels, deleted scenes, a deep dive into "The Horse in Motion" short film, and more.
Peele has described Nope as a film that tells "the great American UFO story". In countless yet seamless ways, Peele completely deconstructs any ideas the media have presented us about aliens in the past. Nope is an original, atypical alien film that uses the mode of otherworldly forces to explore the idea of the spectacle and “the good and the bad that come from this idea of attention.” The first notion of the spectacle that Peele introduces in the film is the discussion surrounding the first moving picture ever created by Eadweard Muybridge in the 19th century.
This is mentioned because the black jockey that was riding the horse in those photographs has been seen by all but goes unnamed throughout history, while the white photographer lives in infamy. The even more personal connection to this is that the jockey was the great-great-great grandfather of the film’s two protagonists, siblings OJ Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer). This concept of the spectacle quickly grows larger than life as it takes a variety of forms throughout the film that all revolve around exploitation. The theme of spectacle is also personified by the central threat or "monster" of the film, which appears to be a UFO that is inhabiting the skies above the valleys in Agua Dulce, California, and more closely, the Haywood ranch.
Let’s start off with the elephant in the room: the giant flying alien that the whole movie is about, Jean Jacket. Named by the Haywoods after one of their old horses, Jean Jacket is the UFO that is haunting the valley of Agua Dulce, eating anything and everything in its wake. For nearly the entirety of the film, viewers see Jean Jacket storming the skies in saucer form. It looks exactly like the most classic flying saucer: Large, silver, and disc-shaped. As the film progresses, viewers learn alongside the film's characters that it is not a spacecraft with other creatures on it at all. Jean Jacket is a single entity and is the creature/alien itself in its entirety. At the very end of the film, we get to see Jean Jacket morph into its true form. It expands and re-creates itself, opening up from the inside out into an extremely large creature whose final form looks as far as possible from the saucer we once saw. This creature subverts alien imagery in an extremely innovative way. Some have compared its look to that of a biblical angel for it resembles having a vast silky wing span as it moves through the sky.
The dynamic duo at the forefront of the film are the Haywood siblings, OJ and Emerald. At the beginning of the film, their father, Otis Haywood (Keith David) experienced a very mysterious death one day. After his passing, OJ and Emerald were left to continue their father’s legacy, running the family business as the only black-owned horse trainers in Hollywood. Growing up, OJ worked very closely with his father when it came to horse training and handling. This led him to have a deep understanding and compassion for the animals. He is the more serious and reserved sibling whose body language and facial expressions do most of the talking for him. In contrast, his younger sister Emerald is charismatic and exuberant, confident of being her true self in any situation.
Emerald didn’t get the horse training that OJ received from their father. So, while she is dedicated to the family business, she found that she also needed a means of expression and income outside of horse handling for films. Between the two of them, there is a real “team” energy and sibling spark. Despite their differences, their bond with each other can be felt in any scene. Once they begin to experience Jean Jacket’s presence in the skies over their ranch, the two band together, deciding that they will do whatever it takes to get photographic evidence of this beast. Together, they begin crafting plans to get the perfect money shot of Jean Jacket, what they call “the Oprah shot.” With this shot they plan to kill two birds with one stone: they can show the world the creature that has been tormenting them, and they can sell the extraordinary footage for millions of dollars. Before this, OJ was trying to accrue some money by selling horses to his neighbor, Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), that lives in the same Agua Dulce valley, just down the road from the Haywoods.
Although the Haywood siblings are the film's main characters, in many ways, Ricky “Jupe” Park is the core character of the film, for his backstory, and the current life that he leads personify the main themes that Nope discusses. “Jupe” Park is a washed-up child star who is desperately clinging to fame and relevance by running a self-exploitative theme park called “Jupiter's Claim" based on a film he was in in the 90s. Having resided in the Agua Dulce valley for a while, Jupe has encountered Jean Jacket the UFO, and learned that Jean Jacket likes to eat horses.
At his theme park, Jupe runs a live show called “The Starlight Lasso Experience.” During the show, Jupe summons Jean Jacket. To do this, he buys horses from the Haywood ranch, and unbeknownst to the Haywoods, Jupe uses them as sacrificial bait for Jean Jacket to come down and eat the horses in front of a live audience. Through this endeavor, he exploits both the horses and the UFO in an attempt to maintain the admiration of an audience that he received throughout his childhood. The theme park is not just about ‘Kid Sheriff,’ the film Jupe was in as a child. In Jupe’s office, there is a secret back room dedicated to a sitcom called ‘Gordy’s Home!’, which was the show in which Jupe got his television beginnings. This room is a mini-museum full of rare memorabilia from the show that Jupe charges expensive entry fees to fans to look inside.
The audience, without knowing it, gets their first look at ‘Gordy’s Home!’ at the very beginning of Nope when there is an unexplained horrifying scene showing a chimp covered in blood, eating someone’s guts on a TV set. There is also a focus on a mysterious shoe that is floating perfectly upright on the ground behind the bloody chimp. There is no knowing that Jupe is connected to this incident until a bit later in the film. Fast-forward, Jupe has a meeting with OJ about horses that Jupe has purchased from the Haywoods. During this meeting, OJ is trying to buy some horses back from Jupe. Jupe, knowing that he has fed the horses to the UFO and cannot give them back, quickly diverts the conversation to his secret back room of ‘Gordy’s Home!’ memorabilia. Here is when audiences are connected back to the first scene in the film, as Jupe tells the Haywoods a pivotal story from when he starred in the show.
It turns out that when the chimpanzee actor went on the killing spree on the TV set, Jupe was on the set as well, and watched all the terror unravel right before his pre-pubescent eyes. What happened was, in the episode of ‘Gordy’s Home!’ that was being filmed, it was Gordy the chimp’s birthday. Gordy was gifted some balloons, one of them popped, and that sound irreversibly triggered Gordy to act upon his animal instincts. This resulted in Gordy going on a rampage and killing and maiming many cast members of the show; most notably a young girl who was Jupe’s co-star, Mary Jo (Sophia Coto) who ended up surviving, but with many deformities. While this was happening, young Jupe was hiding underneath a table, barely breathing, or moving a muscle to try and not trigger the chimp to kill him too. The table Jupe was under had a slightly see-through tablecloth hanging over the table’s edge that Jupe was watching everything through.
Eventually, Gordy makes his way over to the table that Jupe is hiding under. He is hovering around it very slowly and looking at Jupe through the other side of the tablecloth. This tablecloth ended up being Jupe’s saving grace for it prevented him from making direct eye contact with Gordy and setting him off. Right as Gordy is reaching to give Jupe a fist-pound, he gets shot down by his handler. Jupe retells this whole story to OJ and Emerald Haywood when they are in his office. He tells it with an eerie combination of a stone-cold, and comedic tone that perpetuates the idea that this highly tragic event was actually a spectacle to tell of for years to come. Meanwhile, the flashbacks the audience sees as Jupe recounts the tale are clearly monstrous and grim. Especially for a child to have witnessed, and to then be boasting about later in adult life.
Jupe now believes that his survival of this near-death encounter with a wild animal is a miracle. Though, he wrongly attributed his survival to him being a “chosen one” of higher powers. The suspicious vertical shoe of Jupe’s co-star floating up-right in the background gave Jupe more fuel to believe that whatever greater energy caused Gordy to snap was the same one that allowed him to live that day. He internalized from that day forward that he must have an innate, impenetrable connection to greater forces in the universe like aliens and wild animals that would keep him out of harm's way. This directly ties into Jupe’s decisions to interfere with Jean Jacket and try to tame it by sacrificing others to it for his own profits. Unfortunately, a real life situation fairly similar to this one involving a chimp actor acting out did happen some years ago. Fans also speculate that in addition to real events, a dream that Peele had helped drive this plot point as well.
Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) is a young tech-wiz who works at a local electronics chain. He hates his job and has a pretty “over-it” attitude. We learn this quickly due to his prompt admission that his girlfriend recently broke up with him leaving him feeling confused and heartbroken. The Haywoods meet Angel at the electronics store when they go in to buy cameras to begin recording Jean Jacket. Angel notices they are getting some pretty high-tech equipment and insists on coming over to install it. When at the ranch to help the Haywoods with the cameras, Angel makes himself at home there, trying to get as comfortable as possible with the Haywoods to uncover what exactly it is they’re doing with the cameras. He makes a joke that doubles as prodding to them, asking if they’re filming any aliens. They don’t give him the time of day, but after he pushes his knowledge about both tech equipment and aliens onto the Haywoods, they accept him and let him in more on the happenings with Jean Jacket. Soon after he becomes an established member of the Jean-Jacket-Footage-Initiative, helping the Haywoods in their mission of getting their “Oprah shot.”
“Wizened grouchy cinematographer" Antlers Holst, (Michael Wincott) is a cinematographer whom the Haywoods meet on a Hollywood set that they are providing horses for at the start of the film. Once the Haywoods start getting into the thick of their encounters with Jean Jacket, they reach out to Holst for film expertise. Holst agrees to help the Haywoods when he hears that they are trying to get the legendary, perfect shot of Jean Jacket. Holst quickly becomes consumed by the idea that he may be the one to record this elite footage. Getting carried away by the plan they have all made to capture Jean Jacket on camera, Holst begins to follow his own agenda instead. With his camera recording in stride, Holst goes out into the valley in plain sight of Jean Jacket and gets obliterated by the alien as he essentially takes his own life for filming's sake.
It can be argued that Jean Jacket is the villain for directly terrorizing the Haywoods and all the people in the surrounding area. It can also be argued that Jupe was the villain for exploiting not only himself but also Jean Jacket, and all the horses he fed to the alien. Jean Jacket and Jupe’s relationship, though, can serve as heavy symbolism for the American dream and how that can often be the true villain based on society’s varying interpretations of what that is supposed to mean and look like; and, more importantly, what the idea of the American dream drives people to do.
Nope likely had audiences on the edge of their seat with fear and anticipation at some point during the film, if not many points, or the whole thing. Jean Jacket as an extraterrestrial creature, who inhaled as much as it could physically handle, definitely acted as a scary monster for the film. What also proved to be frightful and unsettling in the film were the ways in which certain events can truly change a person's character, or, have them act on their truest, darkest sides. Through this, audiences saw how easy it is for humans to take traumatizing events in their lives or around them and flip them on their heads, wielding them for personal gain.
Early in the film, the first signs that all is not well on the Haywood ranch that viewers get is when Otis Haywood dies in an inexplicable way. Just about in the middle of the film, Jupe is hosting his show “The Starlight Lasso Experience” when Jean Jacket decides not to take the usual horse bait, and instead, inhales everyone in the audience of the show, most of the attractions of the theme park, and Ricky “Jupe” Park and his co-star, Mary Jo, who was in the audience as well, find their fate together in the belly of the beast. Later, when the Haywoods are executing their long-winded plan to lure Jean Jacket close to them in order to get footage of it, an indistinguishable man on a motorcycle appears.
It turns out that he is a TMZ reporter, looking for his own claim to fame by trying to get his own footage of the alien. He is unsuccessful, falling victim to the hungry clutches of Jean Jacket just like cinematographer Antlers Holst. Many horses also died at the mouth of Jean Jacket, but at the end of the film, Jean Jacket itself also dies. After trying to eat a giant balloon of a cartoon Jupiter, Jean Jacket is unable to digest the balloon, and it implodes in the sky. Before Jean Jacket disbands itself, Emerald gets the “Oprah shot” of it on an old-fashioned well camera that was a part of Jupiter’s claim. The camera, which is located at the bottom of a well, captures the image of what is directly above it, and lucky for the Haywoods, Jean Jacket was perfectly positioned over the well for just a moment.
Since Nope’s release, themes that audiences have been eagerly unpacking are speculation, exploitation, and what part we as humans play in the preservation of these behaviors. In this age where social media aggressively dominates all of our lives, this film has helped to demonstrate how nobody is free of charge when it comes to engaging with spectacles, and how different people’s engagement with the spectacle is indicative of just how large the spectrum of exploitation can be. Considering the ever constantly expanding scope of Peele's films, he will have no problem curating the team and budget he desires to make his next idea come to life. And we already can't wait for it!
I'm Emma, a writer for Collider. I am also a multimedia artist and music lover. Check out my book/film review account I run with my friend on Instagram 🙂
'Nope' Explained: Every Question About Jordan Peele's Movie … – Collider
Who’s the main villain of the movie? Who dies? Are the horses ok!?