So you just saw Jordan Peele’s new sci-fi horror blockbuster, Nope. Maybe you have questions about how things went down in that thrilling finale, or you’re stuck wondering what the flick must actually be about.
When I walked out of a screening of Nope last week, a sense that I wasn’t getting the big message in Peele’s latest weighed on me like an ominous cloud over the Southern California desert. But critics have some smart ideas, so we can turn to them as we try to decipher it.
Before we get to that, let’s break down the ending of Nope. The film runs more than two hours and follows horse trainers (and siblings) OJ and Emerald Hayworth, who discover something large and mysterious is lurking in the sky near their ranch. The flick currently sits at a score of 76 on CNET’s sister site Metacritic. Park your horse here if you still haven’t seen Nope — there are spoilers ahead.
What plan do OJ, Emerald and the others devise?
OJ and Emerald are set on getting proof (the “Oprah shot”) of the extraterrestrial creature in the sky, even after it snacks on Ricky “Jupe” Park and others at the nearby Jupiter’s Claim theme park. (I don’t know about them, but the sight of blood rain would have signaled the end of the road for me).
They team up with cinematographer Antlers Holst, who has a non-electrical film camera (the beast produces an “anti-electric field” that renders things like digital cameras useless). They also deck out the area with tons of inflatable tube men. When those fall down, it’s a sign that the creature is close by. They also know that they need to avoid looking at the beast, and that it doesn’t like to consume inanimate objects like decorative flags.
Once they’re ready to invite the beast back, OJ starts roaming around on a horse. He’s carrying a string of triangular flags attached to a parachute, and it comes in handy later when a stranger shows up and provokes our testy guy in the sky.
Why does the creature eat the TMZ guy?
When the gang’s plan is underway, a stranger pulls up to the ranch on a bike. Emerald speaks to the man — whose identity is masked by a helmet — and realizes he’s from TMZ. News has already started to get out about the incident at Jupiter’s Claim, and he’s poking around for answers.
The TMZ guy proceeds to drive off in what proves to be an unfortunate direction. The beast lurking above powers down his bike and sends him flying. He’s alive but in bad shape, and OJ approaches him to help. However, the guy’s helmet is reflective — just like the mirror that spooks OJ’s horse at the beginning of the film — and OJ realizes he has no choice but to get out of there.
The creature vacuums up the TMZ tail and starts to pursue OJ. That’s when OJ unleashes the flag-parachute invention, which gets the beast to back off a little and buys him time to take shelter.
What does the cinematographer Antlers Holst say to Angel?
Holst finally snags the money shot that OJ and Emerald have been after. But then things take a turn. He mutters something cryptic about them not deserving the impossible, and takes off with his camera.
However, it appears the self-absorbed artist can’t resist getting one more shot. Holst points his camera at the creature, and then it swallows him.
Does Angel (from Fry’s Electronics) live?
Yes, Angel survives the wrath of the beast. His role during the final showdown involves helping Holst. Once Holst and his camera become alien food, Angel wraps himself in barbed wire fencing to avoid a similar fate. The beast tries to suck him up, but the fencing on the ground stays put, and Angel comes barreling back down to the ground. (Another possible reason he survived: The creature probably didn’t like the taste of wire.)
What is the thing in the sky?
We get to know the creature in the sky as a white, disc-shaped animal that could reasonably be mistaken for an alien spacecraft from a distance. In the final scenes of the film, the creature transforms into something more immense and billowy. To me, it almost looks like a flower — well, if that flower had a terrifying, pulsing green mouth.
How does Emerald defeat the creature?
Emerald gets to the TMZ guy’s bike, but the creature (which has assumed its new form) is too close to her for it to work. In an emotional scene, we realize that OJ is going to help her by fixing his eyes on the beast, luring it towards himself.
Emerald’s bike powers up and she drives to the theme park, Jupiter’s Claim. She brilliantly comes up with the idea to injure the beast by releasing a giant inflatable cowboy into the sky.
Earlier in the film, Emerald and OJ visited Jupiter’s Claim and Emerald photo-bombed some strangers by sticking her head into a well that contained a camera. In the flick’s final minutes, she grabs coins scattered on the ground, loads up the machine and snaps multiple pictures of the sky. The well spits out what looks like large polaroid pictures.
Eventually, the beast emerges and consumes the massive floating cowboy. Emerald gets a shot of it. Then, the creature Pop. It appears lifeless, like a torn-up plastic bag drifting in the air.
What happens to OJ?
At the very end of Nope, we see a murky figure sitting on a horse just outside of Jupiter’s Claim. It’s unmistakably OJ, still wearing his bright orange hoodie.
What does the ending mean?
To me, the ending to Nope seemed pretty straightforward. But I also figured there must be a deeper meaning to the final scenes — and to the flick in general — that I hadn’t considered. Some reviews of the flick have helped me make better sense of what Peele might be trying to tell us. You, of course, can draw your own conclusions.
Film critic Alissa Wilkinson writes in Vox that the film “is centrally about how our experiences of reality have been almost entirely colonized by screens and cameras … to the point that we can barely conceive of experiencing reality directly, with honesty and without any kind of manipulation.”
Dana Stevens, a film critic for Slate, picks up on something similar, but also notes that “sometimes the movie seems not to have yet made it all the way out of his head and onto the screen.”
“Buried somewhere in the booming sound mix and thrilling visuals of Nope is a plaintive critique of the predominance of spectacle in the lives of 21st-century Americans, our insatiable need to record and document and watch and perform,” Stevens wrote. “But unlike the alien invader, which late in the movie takes on its full, freaky, magnificently imagined form, these ideas never completely emerge from the film’s rich matrix of images, references, and themes.”
Charles Pulliam-Moore offers another perspective, writing for The Verge that “The specter of [racism, or some anthropomorphization of it] is present in the way Nope connects The Horse in Motion’s jockey to his fictional descendants: skilled professionals whose talents go largely underappreciated and overlooked by others in the industry.”
“Neither of the Haywoods feel quite like ‘real’ people but rather like heightened personifications of artists hungry to become part of the movie-making business — no matter the cost,” Pulliam-Moore wrote. “Foolhardy as their plan to stand their ground while documenting their confrontation with the creatures is, it makes a certain kind of emotional sense when you step back and look at Nope as a text about people pouring everything they have into getting the perfect shot.”
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