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Jordan Peele’s Nope

Coins rain and the ethics of renunciation

Jordan Peele not only rethinks the horror genre here, he breaks through any genre classifications altogether, to even end up with a legendary motorcycle slide from the anime masterpiece Akira.

Written by


Sep 13, 2022

© Universal Studios

Narrowing NOPE down to one major theme doesn't do the film justice. Yet at the forefront is the motif of seeing and being seen. Whether it is the most obvious supernatural UFO creature that seems to be able to see everything from above, or the human feeling of not being seen and valued.

In its narrative style, the film is extremely open, which makes it challenging to know what we are dealing with. The viewer is not led to an ultimate eureka moment here, it is much more numerous puzzle pieces that are mysteriously and equivocally placed, seemingly holding substance even in their non-composition. Through Hoyte van Hoytema's lenses, the excellent production design and also to emphasise the elegant typographic treatment, NOPE appears possibly larger and perhaps more elevated than it truly is. Nevertheless, it certainly is a well-done balancing act of creative entertainment and a symbolic cinematic experience.

At the centre of the plot, there are two animal accidents. In a flashback, a chimpanzee opposes its rulers and reacts with extreme brutality on a sitcom TV set. In the present, a horse imitates it in a less disastrous way at the beginning of the film, also during a filming. The animals are emblematic of exploitation at the expense of short-lived spectacle and challenges us to reflect on the natures of humans and their greed for sensation at the expense of the weak.

© Universal Studios

“Peele does not feel he owes any answers”

Seeing and being seen here is always tied to a decision to be made

Decades later Steven Yeung's character — aptly named Ricky “Jupe” Park, in antonym to the film's title — drew on his fame from the mentioned sitcom of a bygone time. Having learned nothing from the incident, he tries to control another animal, the far more dangerous, UFO-like creature. It is either seeing an opportunity for wealth through sensationalism or to warn and save his fellow people.

Similar choices have to be made by the other characters as well. Taking the protagonist's father, for instance, who, despite the brief but cool appearance of acting veteran Keith David, has equally exploited his horses for the fame. So it is no coincidence that the arrival of the alien-like apparition suddenly causes it to rain coins, representing greed, and it is also no coincidence that the coin flies into the father's eye causing him to die.

In addition to the coins, keys also fall from the sky and hit one of the horses. Is it a punishment or much more to be understood as a form of liberation. Peele does not feel he owes any answers here. What is certain, however, is the distinction between an animal's instinctive action and the conscious decision of humans, which can be judged.

The attempt to document the UFO creature, one of the characters, seeking self-affirmation, asking if what they are doing is not heroic. Sacrificing one's own and others' survival to share a recording is also reminiscent – although in its most radical form – of our own reality where the uncaptured is considered never to have taken place and in which an ethic of renunciation is growing in importance in a world saturated with sensationalism.

With greed at the core of us, opportunities before our eyes and suffering ever present, the decision can sometimes just be — NOPE.

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