Sunday, February 26, 2023

Nope (2022)

Jordan Peele has turned out to be one the major breakout directors in Hollywood over the past few years.  Seeing as how he got his start way back in 2012, as part of the comedy series Key and Peele, perhaps its a mistake to call him anything like a "new voice".  However, all of his important cinematic accomplishments have arrived within the span of seven years.  So that makes him a recent addition by the uncertain standards of pop cultural awareness.  From that perspective, Peele got his first big break with his directorial debut with 2017's Get Out.  That's a film which does everything that a good Horror movie should do.  It sneaks up on its audience from out of left field, and when it comes time to go for the jugular is where Peele demonstrates his skills at crafting a well told tale of terror.  

Rather than just one big jump scare, or resorting minor and unimpressive gore tactics, Peele plays his hand like an architect who is well aware of the genre he is working in, and hence knows a thing or two on how to elevate this type of narrative to the level of genuine art.  His entire story is a multi-layered trap lined with multiple springs and trip wires primed to go off at just the right movement of the plot.  The way Peele builds up his house of horrors in that movie rests upon the strengths the director has gleaned from past entries in the field, while utilizing them all to express his own individual talent.  In doing so, I think what Peele has done there is to give us the modern incarnation of the Body Snatcher Invasion trope.

Get Out proved to be the film that got the attention of a mass audience, and put Peele on the map.  A powerhouse breakout performance like that is sure to raise a lot expectations in viewers, though.  This is true especially for those who now consider themselves the directors fans.  To say that a lot weight was being placed on Peele's next effort is a bit like saying that a stock broker has to hope that the market goes in his favor.  In think the fan created site known as TV Tropes gives a better summary of the result of Peele's next film better than I can.  

"While critics and audiences almost unanimously loved Get Out (2017), Us is proving to have a greater divide between audience and critical reception.  Audiences seem to be more mixed on the film than critics, who see it as good as Get Out if not better.  Case in point, Get Out had a CinemaScore of "A-" (a rarity for horror films, many of which get "B+" rankings if they're adored by audiences) and Us had a less enthusiastic "B".  A big component of this seems to be that the film's slow-burn approach to horror is completely different than Get Out, along with the movie's central allegory being a lot more esoteric compared to the unsubtle but important moral presented in Jordan Peele's previous film.  Another common complaint is the movie's explanation of what the (film's horrors, sic) actually are, in that the movie puts too much effort into trying to provide a "logical" explanation that still makes distractingly little sense, and the (villains) were more interesting when they were left creepily unclear (web)".  Let me just state here, for the record, that I've got no problems at all with any Horror story that needs a slow burn in order to achieve its effect.  Some of the best work I've ever read or watched in the genre has come from narratives where a slow release of information was just the right ingredient necessary to curdle the blood.  So I don't think that's the most valid criticism for why this movie doesn't work.

I think the real reason why Us wasn't such as big a hit as the director's previous effort is explained once more by the same TV Tropes page, when it gives us an enlightening bit of backstage trivia.  "Jordan Peele has stated that one of the things that inspired the film was The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "Mirror Image", about a woman encountering her evil doppelganger (ibid)".  If we assume this is the truth, then everything about Us begins to fall into place, including why it never quite works like the director intended it should.  What Peele has done here is to commit a tactical error, of sorts.  He's a taken a very simple idea and complicated it to a level of epic proportions.  His problem is this is a storytelling weight that the initial concept just isn't able to bear.  The notion of a creepy run-in with an evil double, or duplicate, is one of those creative ideas that is best served in smaller doses, like that of either a short story, or half hour television episode.  This is a vital aspect of the concept that Rod Serling appeared to be very much aware of, so he was smart enough to make sure this fantasy didn't wear itself out by over-staying its welcome.  Instead, where Peele tries to make the idea fit into a mold it can't accommodate, Serling pairs it down to its very essence, delivering a lean, mean, and frightening exercise in paranoia and existential dread.  It's a good way of comparing and contrasting the two creator's strengths and weaknesses.  The latter waters the concept down, the former makes it iconic.

With this hindsight in mind, it's no wonder if Peele's Get Out follow-up didn't exactly live up to expectations.  In fact, I'm starting to wonder if a lot of the fallout from that film's release might have bled into the inspiration for his next project, the movie up for review and discussion here today.

The Plot.

The movie opens on an intriguing image, that of a rider, or jockey on a horse, traveling down a race track.  In terms of visuals, the pictures couldn't get any more elementary.  It's just the image of a man riding a domesticated animal.  Or at least we can call the horse domesticated up to a point, anyway.  This is an idea the following narrative will keep circling back to over the course of its runtime.  For now, however, we're left with the picture of the nameless jockey, and his equine companion.  Most contemporary viewers will have no choice except to not have a clue what they're looking at.  The way the director sets up his opening image is probably also not meant to help things all that much, either.  The jockey and his ride don't come into focus until the camera reaches the end of an opening tracking shot through what looks for all the world like a creepy, lime colored carnival circus tent with all the old-time charm removed from it.  There's not so much as a colorful poster advertising lions, tigers, or elephants in sight.  Just a weird, green light that seems to come from nowhere, accompanied by Richard Abel's ominous musical score on the soundtrack to keep us in uncomfortable company while opening credits flash before our eyes.  It all comes to rest on the same image, the rider, horse, and the old fashioned strip of film that has managed to immortalize them all forever in the public memory.

I hinted just now that there was something important about that strip of film, and there is.  More to point, it seems that not only is Peele aware of the image's importance, he's also noticed a detail of the footage that has escaped several decades of scholars that have mentioned it in passing.  If you take a careful look, you'll see the rider on the racehorse is clearly an African American.  He was the first official movie star in the history of American cinema, and no one knows his name, who he was, what his life was like, where he came from, or how he ended up.  His identity has been lost to time, and so this is how he'll be remembered forever, if anyone ever stops to look him up, that is.  It's one big collective irony that doesn't appear to be lost on the film's director.  The footage bears a title which reads, simply, The Horse in Motion.  It was filmed in June of the year 1877, by a photographer named Eadweard Muybridge.  All he did was create the first ever motion picture in the history of movies.  No one ever bothered to get the Jockey's name, however.  This is one of the great ironic facts of cinema, and it probably wasn't lost on Jordon Peele.  It sounds like a very obscure piece of trivia to focus in on, and yet it seems like a very deliberate choice on the director's part, as the rest of the film makes clear.

After showing his audience the origin of movies, Peele then goes a step further by tying it into the fiction of his narrative.  In the film, he's described as, "The first ever stunt man, animal wrangler and movie star rolled up in one, and there's almost no record of him.  That man was Bahamian jockey that went by the name of Alistair E. Haywood".  He even gives this anonymous figure a background and family.  In Peele's retelling, the Jockey is (or was, once upon a fictional never time) the owner and operator of the Haywood Horse Ranch.  His descendants are the two main characters in the story, Otis Haywood Jr., and his sister Emerald.  From here on, the Jockey, and his place in cinema history takes a backseat to the rest of the movie that follows.  The historical figure serves as a narrative device to get the plot rolling, more than anything else.  As such, the main story concerns "Alistair's" heirs, as they struggle to make it in Tinseltown.  It's like Emerald says, "as the only Black-owned horse trainers in Hollywood, we like to say "since the moment pictures could move, we've had skin in the game".

The trouble is that clout was perhaps never all the much to begin with, and as time has gone on, there are lot less offers for actual, physical equines in an era where the digital recreation of the same (or any animal, for that matter) has pretty much become the law of the land.  Even if it's not always the best result for a film, it will still remain the cheapest in an industry that seems to be falling on hard times all over the place.  The old dream factory just isn't what it used to be, and ranchers like the Haywoods are the ones who feel it the most.  It's gotten worse ever since a lot of weird stuff (watches, wallets, pennies, nickels, and dimes) fell out of nowhere from the clear the sky one day, and took their father along with it.  He shuffled off the coil with a coin from who knows where lodged in his brain.  After that little bit of left field what-the-fuckery, it's like the business has been blessed with an anti-Midas touch.  All of their prospects have dried up and turned to shit.  It even causes OJ to muse at one point if their can ever be such a thing as a "bad miracle".  Since no one has an answer to that one, Otis Jr. has taken to pawning off the horses in his care to a local, neighboring roadside tourist trap.  Here's where the third important main character of our play comes in.  

The tourist trap is one of those county fair type deals.  The kind of place you expect to find a bunch knock-offs of the kind of rides that are far better in places like Disneyland, or Universal.  The place is known as "Jupiter's Claim", and it's owned and operated by the Haywood's nearest neighbor, Ricky "Jupe" Park.  If you can believe it, this guy used to be a child star back in the 1980s.  Here's where the details get all sketchy, yet the basic outline of things is clear enough.  I think Rick used to be like the main kid protagonist of this old show, Gordy's Home.  Before that, he got kind of a minor breakout role in a movie called Kid Sheriff.  However, it's what happened to Rick during his stint on the Gordy show that's important for this story.  If I had to describe Ricky's sitcom, then imagine Alf with a live chimpanzee in place of an alien puppet, and probably with only a third of the photogenic charm, charisma, and overall likeability.  It was all something to do with a NASA astronaut who was also a suburban housewife, and how she one day decided to take one of the space program's animal specimens, the titular Gordy, home with her to be a part of the family.  Like I said, it's the kind of idea that could only have had a limited amount of shelf life in the 80s.  To tell you the truth, Ricky probably wasn't all that big of deal in the episodes that are still floating around on the Net, if I'm being honest.

Both on-stage and in real life, he tends to come off as one of those guys whose ambition outmatches any innate talent it might take to carve a name for himself in places like Hollywood.  Didn't stop him from winning the luck of the draw, at one point.  The punchline is that his big break also became something of a big joke.  See, for the longest time, there was nothing to write home about.  It was just a mediocre show going through the motions, and not much else.  Then some idiot had an idea for a special "Birthday Episode".  So just like that, everything went to hell.  From what I've been told, the whole thing was, as they say, "recorded live in front of a studio audience".  That might have been the biggest mistake, looking back on things.  You see, "Gordy" was a real live chimp, and thing about animals like that is they tend to be extremely territorial.  If they ever feel there's a threat in their immediate vicinity, then they will go into fight or flight mode, and from there all bets are off.

In "Gordy's" case, what happened is the chimpanzee got spooked by all the loud noises and people bearing their teeth at him by doing no more than flashing a positive grin.  That might translate as positive feedback in human terms.  All an animal can see is a threat that must either be gotten away from, or else faced down and conquered, even if it means a fight to the death.  For some reason, "Gordy" chose the latter option, or rather it's more accurate to say that his instincts wound up doing the talking (and kicking, screaming, ripping, tearing, and maiming) for him.  When the stress levels of the "live studio recording" experience reached certain condition red levels, a point of no return was reached, and what happened next became an inevitability that could have been avoided.  "Gordy" went into a fight or flight mode of attack which is really common for most animals in nature.  It's the reason you have to handle them with care, especially if they're being utilized in the entertainment industry.  

It's one of those unspoken facts of life that can't really be escaped or gotten away, or in back of.  It's a lesson guys like Otis Haywood learned growing up wrangling horses with his dad.  They had a motto about it together.  "You don't ever tame animal.  You reach an agreement with it".  It's a lot easier to achieve with cats and dogs, as opposed to an actual canine raised in the wild as a wolf.  With horses and apes, however, the task becomes a lot harder, and someone was sleeping on the job in "Gordy's" case.  That's even if what happened that day deserves to be called a tragedy, there's nothing about that qualifies as unexpected.  See, when "Gordy" went bat shit on the set of his show, it became a literal demonstration of the phrase "berserker mode", and it was done in literal, automatic, animalistic terms.  

While in basic, self-preservation mode the title "actor" wound up killing off two of his co-stars, also, in effect, killing off the series' main leads in the bargain.  One of them got their throat ripped clean out., while another had her head bashed in like it was just a piece of melon with grey matter stuffed into it.  A third one survived, though her lips never did, and she has to walk around town with a veil over her head if she needs to do things like gas up the car or pick up the groceries.  There was one more survivor of the carnage that day, so long as you don't count the audience. It was none other than Ricky.

He was the only other important character on the show aside from "Gordy", and when all hell broke lose, his first impulse was to find a place to hide.  As a result, "Jupe" found himself cowering under a nearby table, his eyes veiled by the birthday setting cloth draped over the top.  He got a front row seat view of the show's "final act" as his "best friend" sort of went on to tear his life apart on several levels except the physical one.  He just caught sight of the chimp making a series of frenzied, intermittent "subtractions" from Mary Jo Elliot, their mutual on-screen "sister".  It was a wonder either of them were still on speaking terms after that.  Still, soon enough, "Gordy" snapped out of his "berserk", and all he could do is look around in confusion at the sudden state of quasi-self-created disarray around him.  Then all he could do is catch site of Rick shivering under the table cloth, fearing for his life.  

"Gordy" gave a number of hand signals which meant, in essence, "What happened to family"?  The worst part is the the animal would have been able to pass a lie detector test if he'd been given one later on.  Let that stand as a benchmark of the differences between humans and other wild species.  It was the table cloth that saved Rick's life that day.  It kept his eyes veiled from "Gordy's" line of sight.  So the chimp literally never "saw" him as a threat.  It just walked right up to the poor kid who was frightened out of his wits by that point, and tried to initiated a trademark fist bump it had been trained to perform at points on the show.

Right before either "actor" could perform this strange, almost ritualistic moment of re-connection is when the studio security barged in and "canceled Gordy's contract", permanently.  The whole thing was a bad mess, and it's pretty clear to Otis that Ricky's career, and in many ways his whole life had been derailed by the entire affair.  Gosh damned bad timing if there ever was one.  Now ol' "Jupe" spends his days as a roadside carny trying to recapture those glory days as best he can.  He's basically turned himself into a poverty row version of Walt Disney, and pathetic as the whole setup is, he turns a profit.  Which makes Rick one of the few people willing to do business with Otis and his livestock.  OJ (as he's come to be called, and don't think there's not irony attached there) has recently considered the possibility of buying back some of his horses from Rick, and it's here that the plot kicks into action.

It all starts on what seems like a clear and average California evening.  Otis Jr. is out in the pasture tending to Ghost, one of the ranch's prize stock, and the de facto territorial leader of all the other horses on the Haywood property.  All of a sudden, Ghost takes fright at nothing and bolts out into the desert.  Otis chases after him until the energy in his jeep powers off out of the clear blue sky.  Even the light's up at the home place, as well as those of Ricky's property just visible in the distance first begin to flicker, and then blink out.  The ranch's go all at once, while Ricky's stadium lighting does a slow fade, like a silent rock concert that's been interrupted in mid-chord.  For a moment, OJ is left alone with nothing but the wind, the crickets, and the sound the Ghost braying out there in the night.  It sounds like the old devil is having a caniption fit.  Then the wind to pick up one stealthy bit at a time, until Otis realizes he's was probably never really listening to an evening breeze at all.  Whatever else is out there in the night no longer sounds like just the weather.  OJ can't tell if it's the sound of a motor, or another living being.  All he knows is that one minute the wind picks up, there's a flash of light, then silence.

It takes a beat before the power both at the ranch house and Rick's tourist trap all begin to turn back on, almost as if nothing had happened.  Ricky's voice can ever be heard stammering over a speaker system installed in his little amusement park.  Sounds like he was in the middle of a busy night, and the brief moment of weirdness forced him to go into trouble-shooting mode.  OJ also notices something else, both of which begin to bring on a good case of  the shivers the more he thinks about it.  To start with, there was something out there in the night.  He couldn't see it, but you could feel it, skulking around out there, keeping out of sight of the lights.  The second point is even more alarming.  OJ couldn't here Ghost anymore.  The poor creature sounded like it was screaming for its life before the breeze kicked up.  Then nothing.  It's the final piece of the puzzle that keeps Otis Haywood Jr. up at nights, staring out into the fields, looking for any sign of movement, whether above or below.  The fact of the matter is that there was a cloud hanging overhead, not too far from where he and Rick were when the power went out.  When the lights came back on and Ghost stopped screaming, the cloud was still there, right where it had been before reality turned upside down.  The cloud still hasn't moved a single inch.

There was a strong breeze for a moment when things went dark.  When the light switch was flipped back on everywhere, the rest of the sky had rearranged itself accordingly, like it always does.  Everything above the Earth had changed, except for that one, single, cloud.  The damn thing just stood there, like a floating statue in the air.  Otis decided to keep an eye on the cloud, and it kept on doing the same thing.  It never moves off, breaks apart, or flies away like a normal piece water vapor would.  

It just went hanging around in the same spot of air, like a sentinel guarding its territory.  This last thought is what really unnerves OJ.  Over the coming days, a number of other horses begin to disappear, and always its under the same set of circumstances.  They get spooked and run, the power goes out, a breeze kicks up, the livestock vanishes into thin air.  And when it's all done, the damned cloud (or is it perhaps something inside the cloud?) just hangs there as if nothing were wrong.  The only conclusion left to draw is that there's some kind of monster out there, hanging in the sky above the Haywood Ranch, the same ailing property that once helped put motion pictures on the map, and now it's eating away all of the horses.  There's just one thing any sane person can say when faced with circumstances such as this: "nope"!

Conclusion: A Deliberate Attempt at Breaking the Mold.

From what I can tell, the response to this flick has been more or less a continuation of the kind reception that greeted Peele's last genre effort.  It has a Rotten Tomatoes score of 86 percent, from critics, while audiences seem more inclined to split the difference right down the middle, at roughly 69% in terms of their approval rating (web).  The site's critical consensus describes the movie as "Admirable for its originality and ambition even when its reach exceeds its grasp, Nope adds Spielbergian spectacle to Jordan Peele's growing arsenal (ibid)".  I suppose that's as good a contemporary snapshot as we're likely to get on this project, for the time being at least.  There may come a point not too further on down the road when we'll start to get a better idea of this film's public reputation in a better light.  Right now it's like its reception is stuck in a kind of holding pattern.  It seems to have left a lot of folks scratching there heads, and wondering whether they like it or not.

If there's any truth to these estimates, then it's a response I can kind of sympathize with, to an extent, anyway.  While I sat watching the flick, there were times when my mind wasn't perhaps so much all over the place with speculation.  It's just that as things unfolded, I found my mind kept flitting back and forth between various hypothesis for what on earth was I even supposed to be looking at?  Let that stand as the kind of mindset Peele's direction places you in as you watch his story unfold.  The real kicker is that I couldn't tell if this response was a bad thing, or else maybe even a kind of good one.  From all the other reviews I've either watched or read up on, this appears to be a running theme.  I keep seeing variations of the same response from both the positive and negative reviews of the film.  You get the sense that the director has crafted a kind of cinematic puzzle to both tease and beguile the audience.  Thus creating this strange, mixed brew of a reaction from the aisles.  There are a lot of time when you can never tell quite what's happening, or even what it all means.  And yet, the ironic truth is I don't recall ever wanting to leave and take my time elsewhere.  Instead, Peele somehow managed to keep me in my seat, and glued to the screen the whole time, even if the story left me scratching my head.

This seems to be a feature, not a bug.  It's almost as if the entire film is meant to force the viewer to think about what it's seeing, and most important of all, to try and figure out "what it all means".  To be fair, that's not exactly the worst thing any story can do.  Some of the best works of fiction out there are the kind that can make you think.  The best part about that sort of thing is that sometimes, in fact quite often, it doesn't always come from the expected quarter.  You don't have to be dealing with a prestige picture like To Kill a Mockingbird or The Irishman in order to get the occasionally surprising, yet welcome food for thought.  Sometimes you'll run across a piece of pure, fun schlock that can surprise you with a few nuggets of thematic gold tucked away within the folds of its grade B production value.  Howard Hawk's The Thing From Another World is just one such example (and perhaps criminally underappreciated as of this writing).  It could be that Peele's latest film is another.  At it's heart, Nope is very much a B Movie Drive-In style picture on an A list budget.  It's overall tone and setting seems geared as a series of callbacks to the days Bug-Eyed Monster Movies in all their simple glory.

The desert setting is lifted straight out of films like Them!, The Monolith Monsters, or It Conquered the World.  That this is a deliberate homage choice on the director's part is made clear the most during the film's final reel, where Peele is willing to resurrect one of the most iconic images from the history of 50s Sci-Fi, and give 21st century movie-goers their first ever revived look at the type of classic, "Flying Saucer" style UFO.  I suppose if there was ever a moment when things all began to come together for me, and sort of click into place, then that might have been it.  At least I maybe began to figure out part of whatever puzzle it was the Peele has placed in the spotlight.  To start with, the first clue to figuring out this cinematic conundrum is to realize that it seems as if the director really is a true cinema geek.  He's an unabashed fan of 50s Science Fiction, and doesn't give much of a rip what anyone else thinks about it.  That makes at least part of this flick something of a tribute to the cheesy space invader stories that he most likely enjoyed watching as kid whenever they would rerun on the local TV late show.

That's the first part of the equation.  The second, and more challenging puzzle to solve is just what, if anything else the filmmaker is up with this story?  Here's the part where things get interesting, because I think a lot of it has to do with the kind of reputation Peele has gained over the years in the eyes of a mass audience.  This is the best explanation I've got for not only the meaning, but also the logic of the narrative Peele is spinning for his viewers, and in order for it to make any sense, we'll have to backtrack a bit and go over the ways in which the director made a name for himself once more.  Jordon Peele's greatest claim to fame so far still rests with his efforts on Get Out.  It will likely remain the keystone work which will define his entire reputation for the foreseeable future.  A lot of that is down to the sheer level not of just skill, but also of accessibility.  Everything about that story is so easily identifiable with (especially that of the main character's plight) that the audience has very little choice except to come away with this raw, visceral response to what they've seen on the screen.  For better or worse, it remains the height of the director's efforts in the terms of creating an effective atmosphere of pure terror on film.  It's very little wonder that this remains the film people know Jordan Peele from the most.

So the ironic thing with a film like Nope is that it really does read as if the director is now taking stock of his own reputation, and trying get a better perspective on where he's at, what his career so far means to his audience, and more important what the work mean to himself as an artist?  These seem to be the major questions hanging over the story of Nope.  As many critics have noted before, the entire film appears to be a thematic examination of fame, celebrity, and notoriety.  It appears to be the strongest theme the film has to work with, and so it makes sense to look at it from that angle.  The major issue I have with this approach is not that it's wrong, or in any way incorrect.  It's that most aren't taking this notion as far as it ought to go.  Most reviewers of this film content themselves with rehashing the same few ideas when it comes to taking a look at this film.  They know the director is talking about the themes or price of fame, and then they try to tie it back in with Peele's previous work.  Now to be fair, there's plenty of reason to double back and compare it with what has gone before.  The problem is that most of the commentary stops just there, and never considers that they need to look at how Nope holds itself in comparison with works like Get Out and Us.  What does this new film tell us about the direction Peele is headed in as an artist?  These are the questions we need to ask if we ever want to get a proper sense of the film as a whole, something with it's own identity in contrast with its siblings.

If we look at the film from this slightly modified perspective, then I think a clearer picture is given a chance to emerge.  What we're presented with now is not just a brief satirical jab at fame and celebrity with no previous connection to what came before.  Instead, the film reveals itself as being the director's own, sometimes caustic ruminations about the making of his own reputation, what he thinks about it, and where he stands in relation to it.  The two major themes the film keeps circling back to, almost like a carrion bird zeroing in on it prey, are the intertwined ideas of notoriety and animals.  When put together, what you get is this sort of parable about the lengths people will go to in order to get some kind of recognition to their name, even if it isn't necessarily the most positive type of fame, or no matter who they step over on their way to the top.  In this case, the stepped-on comes with a kind of hidden jeopardy attached to it.  You can try and step on as many people as you want in the race for the big brass ring, Peele seems to be saying, but if you step on the wrong sort, it might come back to bite you.

This seems to be where characters like "Gordy" the chimpanzee, or the Haywood Horses all come into play.  It's also the part where I think a bit of course correction is needed in terms of a lot of the other commentary I've read on this film, especially in how it relates to Peele's previous work.  I can't tell you how many reviews I've read out there by critics all but splitting their skulls in two with increasingly desperate attempts to look for the same angle in this movie as the one that runs through the entire course of a film like Get Out.  So much of the criticism is taken up with trying to prove or discover the racial commentary running through Nope.  It's treated as such as being so much a part of the director's repertoire that the reviewers who take this line might be in danger of losing sight of the actual story in front of them.  Now to be fair, it's understandable why a lot of critics out their would keep gravitating towards the themes and ideas of Peele's first major work.  Not only is that movie a certified classic in terms of the Horror genre, it's also one with a clearly good heart and important message at its center.

How can you not gravitate to such an artistic notion?  It is possible to make a logical point that it is, in fact, sheet lunacy not to, and that's a very valid conclusion.  In fact, it puts one in mind of the phrase: "He who ignores history is doomed to repeat it".  I don't think there's any need to begrudge such a sentiment.  Nor do I believe for one second that this is something Peele disagrees with.  If there's anyone who can speak to the type of experiences and setbacks African Americans still have to deal with in this Country, then he's proven himself to be one of the voices who are more than capable of talking about it.  The crux of the problem in trying to place that previous framework into this particular film is that I don't think there's anything in the movie that helps support such a thesis  Not only am I unable to find anything in the film that supports the idea of it as a continuation of the ideas found in Get Out, everything I've read from those who insist they have to be there has allowed me to address the heart of the issue of this glaring mistake.  If I had to give a capsule critique of the critics, and the way they handle Nope, then it would go something like this.  Even if your hearts are in the right place, and you want to give Peele's latest efforts the benefit of the doubt, would you please, in the name of anything decent, don't make the mistake of trying to shoe horn in the idea of Get Out into this film in such a way that it makes you come off as the most insulting kind of galloping racist.  

Seriously, could everyone just stop and think about what they're saying for a minute?  If you apply those ideas to this story, then the real kick in the teeth is that the movie gives you just one angle to work with, and the more you take a close look at it, the less tenable it becomes.  Let me put it to you this way.  The closest the film gets to anything resembling the themes of Peele's first effort is in the way it talks about handling animals in show business.  This is the second major theme of Nope, and what the director appears to be getting at here is man's relationship with nature (as opposed to the mistreatment of people).  What Peele is focused on seems to be how the quest for fame is an often dangerous goal, even at the best of times.  It can make people callous not just to the welfare of others, it can also lead to either the neglect or flat out exploitation of nature in the service of one's own selfish goals.  This appears to be the major fault of Ricky in the film.  Here's a brief head's up in terms of spoilers, yet the entire action of the film is kicked off by the way he stumbles across some kind of being from outer space, and the first and just about the only thing he can think to do with or about it is to turn it into a star attraction in his little carnival side show.  Now this is a plot point that even unfavorable critics seem willing to treat as an allegory for the mistreatment of minorities.  There's just one problem, however.

It's the way the narrative handles its animal characters.  It doesn't show them sympathy, so much as a very cautious and careful respect.  The kind of acknowledgement you expect from one apex predator to another.  It's like Peele says, you can never really tame a wild animal.  All you can do is come to a sort uneasy agreement with it, and even then, all you can do is to just hope that it never goes south in a hurry.  Otherwise, you've got major troubles, in which case I just hope your able to defend yourself against a wild animal attack, like the one that claims the lives of Ricky's co-stars on Gordy's Family, when that show's star attraction went into automatic fight or flight and started something of a one chimp massacre.  Then it just got put down once security arrived on the scene.  Are you beginning to perhaps see the pitfall that a lot of critics are falling into with a scenario like this?  Peele's screenplay is able to tell the difference between human beings and animals, and treats each accordingly.  In their eager, collective rush to declare this film the next Get Out, it seems as if Peele's most ardent cheerleaders are having difficulty with both making that same distinction, and then keeping it in mind as they watch the movie.  Now I'm willing to chalk all of this up to naivety, and let bygones be just that.  However, let me just close the book on this part of the review by saying that if you think the film's thesis on animals is any kind of good metaphor for race relations, then that just sounds like the worst kind of racism.

Thankfully, Peele is in no way as shortsighted as his fans.  Indeed, it's almost like this is a film that keeps those fans in mind.  As the film goes on, it sounds very much as if a lot of the ideas powering the story is the desire of the filmmaker to shake even those on his side out of a certain sense of smug complacency.  In the last resort, what the film boils down to is something like a clarion call.  It's a mistake to claim this is a case of the director repudiating the meaning of his earlier first effort.  Peele is too smart to even indulge such a thought.  Instead, it seems more as if what he'd like to happen is for his audience to wake up to the larger picture he's trying to work with.  At the heart of this film is the way that fame can turn into its own kind of trap, and how this can lead to people, celebrities in particular (such as himself) into surrendering their values and personal integrity, and hence, ultimately, giving up their very selves to something plastic, and phony.  In that sense, the story of this film can be looked at as a further expansion upon the ideas that Get Out started with.  It does so by posing that subtle question of just what is personal integrity suppose to be, and how do you hold on to it when everyone else around you is losing theirs?  That's pretty heady stuff to be working with on a creature feature.

The good news is the Sci-Fi genre has proven time and again that it's more than capable of sustaining narratives that tackle just this sort of material, even if or when the production is poverty row schlock.  And then again, even Peele seems to be aware that schlock has its place.  All he's done with a film like this is to take all the old Drive-In movie tropes, and once more tell a modern narrative of greed and authenticity around them.  At it's heart, Nope is really a story about a family trying to figure out how to survive in a 21st century landscape that can't even seem to keep its head on straight most of the time.  The one surefire way to secure a future for themselves is to find the right kind of notoriety that will help put the Haywood name back on the map once more.  The arrival of a man eating UFO on their property turns out to be the very ironic miracle they were asking for.  Once they've figured out they have an actual space alien on their hands, the rest of the movie concerns OJ's and Emerald's exploits in trying to get the perfect shot of the creature on film.  Doing that wouldn't just put their name back in the game, it might also go a fair way towards revolutionizing the modern world, or at least that's what they hope.

It's in following the two main leads along as they try to capture that one great money shot where the nature of Peele's satire begins to kick in.  The Haywood sibs are a likeable pair, and there is a sense in which you might want to root for them.  However, as things go on, the way Peele frames their story makes us begin a slow and subtle question of their motives.  It's true there is a bit of desperation involved to their mission.  However, does that really entail going to so much trouble?  Wouldn't their be other logical solutions?  Besides, you get the sense that if they just take the livestock from the area and make no noise, the darn thing would just as soon leave on its own accord, and probably never look back or hassle the area again.  Wouldn't that be a smarter option?  Yet still we follow along as the main characters go to all the trouble of setting up cameras in and around the area where the UFO is located.  Then going out of their way to get its attention, thus putting their lives and others in danger.  It's a very clever hat trick that Peele plays on his audience as the film progresses.  We start out feeling sorry for the main characters, and by the end, we wonder if they have gained the world while losing themselves.

This is a question that lingers as the credits role, and in some ways takes us right back to the beginning.  The film starts with a quote from the Bible, Nahum 3:6.  “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle.”  It's a sentiment that seems to apply to the film as a whole.  Nowhere is this more accurate than in the case of Ricky, who was pretty much willing to turn his entire life into a spectacle for the sake of recapturing one of the most fleeting moments of happiness in his life.  The punchline here being that it was always a hollow sort of contentment to begin with.  Meaning the character has spent his entire stage time walking around in useless circles.  Another important thing to note about the director's strategy is that Peele consistently relates the idea of spectacle with exploitation.  In doing so, I think this is where he directs us to the core of the film, and leaves both the audience and his main cast in an interesting quandary.  The artist has given us a spectacle to enjoy, and yet this is written in such a way as to play on our fears of exploitation at the expense of any possible dignity we might be able to find or realize in ourselves.  It's a fault that lies even in the heart of the main cast, and much like Alfred Hitchcock, Peele is good at making us, as viewers, complicit in the exploits of OJ and Emerald as they try to find the right spectacle to make others notice them once more.

It's this ironic goal which leads to the final note of uncomfortable ambiguity at the very end.  It's true there is a sense of triumph to be found.  There's even a callback at the end to the very first image we see of the nameless rider on horseback from the Muybridge footage.  The interesting thing about this ending, however, is that it doesn't seem as if Peele has absolved his characters, or let them off the hook.  There's one line from the film, in particular, that together with the Nahum quote lingers over the movie's final shots.  At one point, another character makes a telling comment about the Haywoods quest for fame through capturing footage of the UFO.  “This dream you’re chasing, where you end up at the top of the mountain, it’s the one you never wake up from".  It's a line whose meaning lingers with us as the film ends, and the credits role.  It takes on an even creepier note when you consider the nature of the journey our heros have taken.  They start out being ignored by those in the Hollywood industry.  And when they aren't being ignored, it's fair to say that they are being taken advantage of.  That they are, in effect, being exploited.  By the time the film ends, a kind of twisted fairy tale has happened.

The best way to describe it without too many spoilers is the claim that there's a dragon joust taking place.  At the end of it, the dreaded "wyrm" lies vanquished.  And yet Peele is able to leave us with a lingering sense of unease that helps put a dent to the end of this fairy tale.  At some point, we're never sure where, the Haywoods become obsessed with capturing the dragon on film, and by the time of the final act, we're dealing with a set of characters whose priorities have taken on a subtle shift from when we first met them.  If there's any sense of triumph involved for them, then the sense of unease that comes with it is best expressed in a notion put forward once more by TV Tropes.  "(There) remains the possibility that history will repeat, and the trio will exploit the horrible tragedy for fame and fortune just like Ricky did with Gordy's rampage (web)".  Here's a more unsettling way to phrase it.  We start out with a pair of underdogs who are being exploited to the hilt by an industry that, for all intents and purposes, seems to be on its last legs.  Jump cut to the very end of the story, and here's the question that won't go away.  What if they've gone from being exploited to becoming exploiters themselves?

It's an amazing amount of thought to pack into just one single B movie homage.  The fact that Peele is able to pull this off just goes to prove once again that we seem to be dealing with a genuine talent.  The kind of artist, in other words, whose skills seem to be gathering steam.  All of this is what allows me to go ahead and give this latest effort the green light.  If there's any caveat I think should be given before anyone else decides to check it out, then it would be the advice to realize this might be the kind of film you have to be willing to take your time with.  Peele is the kind of director who likes to tell stories with all kinds of layers to them.  It's something I think most viewers of his films are familiar with.  I'm not setting that down as a complaint, either.  It's just that this is the type of film that wants to tell itself differently from the what's become the typical formula for the Horror genre.  It's still possible to tell good stories in this format, but you've got to work at it, and mine for gold all at the same time.  Fright Flicks right now seem in danger of slipping back into a variation of the kind of rut it found itself in back during the 80s.  The worst thing that happened to it then was that filmmakers made the mistake of believing all the buckets of blood and guts were the only point of the Gothic tale.  That's how we got saddled with a pointless slew of Jason and Freddy sequels and knock-offs.  Right now, history seems in danger of rhyming with itself, and that makes Peele's efforts here a refreshing sort of novelty.

His storytelling methods hearken back a lot of older practitioners of the genre.  People like Rod Serling or John Carpenter are a good example of the type of Horror that Peele specializes in.  It's the mode of writing where the Terror works on more than just the gross out level.  It strives to get under your skin in a different way, playing upon the notion that nothing is a whole lot scarier than gore effects thrown in your face all the time.  Instead, once again, like Hitchcock, Peele will start by introducing a single off note into an otherwise normal proceeding, and will then proceed to build on it in all the ways he can think of in order to make the viewer's flesh creep.  His ability to do this with a minimal amount of blood stains is perhaps one of the most underrated aspects of Peele's talent.  The real trick lies in getting everyone else to realize this.  I'm starting to wonder if critics in the future will have to go out of their way to suggest ways in which audiences will have to learn to view a film in different yet appropriate frames of mind when it comes to understanding something like Peele's latest effort.  Perhaps the best way I can put is that if you can learn to like guys like Serling or Hitchcock, then it will be easy to enjoy a film like Jordan Peele's Nope.  

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