This article contains potential spoilers for Nope.
It was a humid ninety degrees when my wife and I walked into our local, small-town theater to see Nope, but the atmosphere for the next two hours and eleven minutes was chilling. Jordan Peele’s third directorial effort was cosmic, yet close to home. Its story was otherworldly, yet introspective. The comedian-turned-master writer-and-director is back, and Nope has serious implications.
Ultimately, Nope is a cautionary tale—and philosophical survey—of exploiting something uncontainable. Nope is an indictment of attention and abuse. Making a spectacle out of something life-threatening, the characters in this film pay the price for championing death. In the same way, society at large has celebrated, exploited, and championed sin, all the while unaware that it will eventually be their downfall.
Back in 2017, Jordan Peele proved to an already-large audience (i.e., fans of his co-hosted comedy series Key & Peele) that he could be serious—and taken seriously. Get Out arrived at a perfect time: Peele contributed to the renaissance of meaningful horror-thriller films.
Get Out, Us, and now Nope have many similar points, the most significant of which is commentary on race. The messaging in Jordan Peele’s work is unapologetic, yet not forced. Many scenes in his earlier contributions overtly comment on racial and historical issues; in fact, the general premise of Get Out revolves around racial commentary, much to its benefit. But Nope also interweaves a potent social allegory to provide a mutual blend of entertainment, terror, and thoughtfulness. Thus, the latest of Peele’s frightening tales is both an homage to Twilight Zone-era cinema and an allegory of exploitation and abuse; meanwhile, its reminders of Black cinematic history are poignant and refreshing.
Nope begins with a Bible verse and a cryptic opening scene: “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle” (Nahum 3:6, NKJV). The verse, not typically heard in church services, references the “bloody city” of Nineveh (Nahum 3:1). In using this verse to introduce a film set in Hollywood, Peele inextricably connects Nineveh, the unholy city of the Old Testament, to Tinseltown. Nahum is a dark prophecy from a holy God about dealing with sin. Ultimately, the “spectacle” in question is the aftermath of God’s holy judgment on Nineveh; it will terrify, but no one will be able to look away.
“As I started writing the script, I started to dig into the nature of spectacle, our addiction to spectacle,” Peele told Empire Magazine. His movie casts the “insidious nature of attention” in a nightmarish way. First, he depicts the danger of trying to domesticate a chimpanzee in order to make a million-dollar TV show. Ultimately, Gordy reaches a breaking point, killing his human co-stars on the set of Gordy’s Home. This traumatic event plays into Jupe—one of two survivors of the Gordy tragedy—and his prideful attempts to tame the spectacle.
Second, Jupe’s hopes of corralling the most dangerous animal (un)known to man eventually makes him the point-person in the deaths of his wife, his longtime friend and scarred co-star, and a crowd of carnival attendees. With faces bent toward the sky, they cannot help but wonder at the spectacle that mercilessly consumes them.
Similarly, society today cannot help but wonder at what Peter calls a “roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (1 Peter 5:8). Be it sexuality, greed, or self-centeredness, Satan’s desire is to make a spectacle of sin; if he can drain sin of its insidiousness and make it captivating, then it can consume us before the true danger is realized.
The most dangerous animal depicted in Nope—the spectacle—shares commonality with the Devil: they are territorial. In the same way that the spectacle inhabits the ridges around the Haywood Ranch, Satan inhabits the earth; he is “the god of this world” (2 Corinthians 4:4). However, sin is not some UFO unknown to man, but an up-close and personal predator; its territory is the hearts of humans, just as the spectacle’s territory is not the cosmos, but the Haywood home.
In retrospect, Nope’s haunting message is best portrayed within the horror genre. Jordan Peele masterfully addresses issues of our time, making the horror genre perhaps the most tangible ever. He utilizes the reality of horror, its dark sides and grimaces notwithstanding, to convey a meaningful message in its rawest form.
The sinister nature of society’s attention is horrifying. Many are drawn to things which God calls evil. As the prophet Isaiah warns: “woe to them who call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). In a culture enthralled by celebrity, social media, and the self, the mass exchange of “the truth of God for a lie” (Romans 1:25) is palpable. Our societal climate makes a wonder out of the sinister and nullifies true beauty for profit. From Eden to this very moment, humanity is not comfortable with simply beholding the beauty of God—they must hear the siren song of sin, and learn to sing it themselves.
In Fyodor Dostoeyevsky’s The Idiot, there is a famous passage where Ippolít queries Prince Myshkin mockingly: “Prince, is it true you once said the world will be saved by ‘beauty’?” This might be a fraught statement coming from The Idiot, but it strikes the tuning fork of mankind’s heart. It rings true that beauty must surely be undeniable; it must be pure, powerful, redemptive. True beauty is Jesus Christ.
Ultimately, the way of safety from the spectacle is to avoid looking at it or disturbing it. OJ manages this even with the spectacle mere feet above him. He is one of the few characters in Nope who realizes the unrivaled danger of the spectacle before it’s too late. He decides to set his eyes on the ground in order to save himself. In the same way, mankind has the opportunity to set their eyes on something other than a glorified danger—that is, a true spectacle—before it’s too late. Whereas sin has become a pseudo-spectacle, a celebrated predator, Jesus Christ will always be a truly beautiful Savior. Humanity may behold the spectacle of the divine beauty of Christ, which will save us from imminent danger, rather than leading us further into it.