Nope Debates the Voyeuristic Morality of Film-Making

keke palmer in jordan peele nope popcorn theology cinematic doctrine
Nope – Anthony Coughlin and the Consequence of Spectacle

During our episode on Candyman (2021), my cohost and I reflected on the obtuse, unsubtle writing of Jordan Peele. Although there is a myriad of layers that comedy and horror share – be it the necessary need to satisfy a punchline, prolonged patience for buildups, and satire – the two forms of media become more and more nuanced the further into the two you go. Comedy can be dry; it can also be slapstick. Horror can be traumatic; it can also be suspenseful. There’s still layover between the two, just as horror has a lot in common with thriller or drama, as often what’s scariest to a person isn’t the monster on screen, but the reminder that the movie ends with a credit sequence and within thirty minutes they’ll be back home, lying in bed, thoughts in head.

Both Get Out and Us are unsubtle, with Get Out being the most unsubtle, and Us being a bit more confusing to some (which amazes me, frankly). Nope, however, is a lot more a movie first and a metaphor second, which I’m indifferent about whether that’s better or not. I am not, however, indifferent to the joy it brings me to see a creator do something different, and Nope being a lot more indiscernible is a much appreciative tone. I believe if Peele had directed Candyman (2021) as originally promoted, that film would have likely been less overt than it was. Although, I confess again, the overt, almost unapologetically expositional dialogue of Candyman (2021) is one of its qualities I think elevates it to a timely status. I mean, how much more obvious does racism need to be for people to believe it’s still pervasive in the United States?

Spoilers: I did get what Jordan Peele was trying to say with Nope. Or, at least, at some point I started to put the pieces together. Parts are obvious, like the important balance between man and beast, and the subsequent exploitation of animals in theater. Perhaps one could stretch that the film is equally about race, but I’m not so sure that’s the route taken here. Even Us isn’t explicitly about race or race relations like Get Out. Us is just a varied, creative expression of division. It’s closer to commentating on class relations than race relations, that’s for sure. Eventually, every director with a successful creative streak makes a movie about creating, or film, or art, and I think Nope is that movie in Peele’s trilogy of features.

Daniel Kaluuya Jordan Peele on set of Nope

Nope labors to capture something of value – to see it for yourself! -. almost solely for the purpose of “because!”. Its themes are more familial to Jurassic Park than even Jurassic World Dominion tried to be. Everything caught on film, seen with the eye, all of it comes down to, “Because!”. Angel Torres worries, almost in a measured panic, whether what they’re about to do is going to matter. If what they capture on camera will change the world, maybe even save it. OJ nods to offer some comfort, but OJ’s entire character is a belabored, arrested development, emotionally stunted figure who barely communicates in full sentences. Everyone in the audience can tell, this is absurd. Absolutely ridiculous. Nope is entirely in the backdrop of understanding any image of a UFO (or, UAP) is never proof, so would it even matter?

I don’t think Nope is saying, “No, it doesn’t matter.”. That’s so… self-righteous. But I do think Nope is asserting the respect needed not only between man and beast, but man and power. Just because you can corral and coerce animals, and your fellow man, to do fun tricks or perform on screen doesn’t mean it’s safe. It also doesn’t mean it’s inherently worth seeing, nor demands it’s always worth experiencing at any and all times. There’s a respect and nuance needed to power, especially as it involves the natural voyeurism present in filmmaking.

Candyman (2021) – Black Gaslighting, Exploitation, and Gentrification

Sometimes the things we see produce a sense of death inside of us. They pull us up from the ground, swallow us whole, and squeeze us so tight we’re not just suffocated; we’re squished. Unlike things we think, there’s something different about the things we see. Tangibility is almost exclusively used to reference the sense of touch, but light is a physical, real thing. When certain lights pass through the iris and the brain interprets it, I don’t know what else to call that other than tangible. And some things pass through us that are so abstract, bizarre, frightening, and heinous that they affect us in a deep, pure manner. It’s raw and sensational, digging deep inside and rooting so tightly you’ll never weed it out.

It’s to this end that I think Nope’s second act not only excels Peele’s growing talent for the macabre but solidifies so much of the film’s effort for questioning the morality of voyeurism. Of filmmaking. It’s so consistently shocking and mortifying, culminating one plotline but asserting the dangers of another. It’s excruciatingly intense, shocking to the point of wide-eyed physical cringing. It’s truly the high point of the film but doesn’t detract from the gripping finale. It’s the sort of sequences that encapsulates so much of what needs to be taken away as the credits roll and you’re walking through the spaceship-like hallway of the movie theater. It’s all the good stuff of a horror-flick wrapped together in a bow.

All of this creates a real sense of melancholy to the finale that I felt immediately upon the ‘climax’ of the film. A sadness exclusive to the death of beauty. Nope works to build in you a natural respect for the subjects of not only filmmaking but creation itself, and when everything’s all said and done, it concludes with a bang that evokes the shocking secondary act: innocence and beauty perish.

shoe nope gordy

And in theme with what we see, or perhaps choose not to see, Peele explores visual motifs relating to the eye. Our first horrific injury is against the eye, OJ wears a ballcap nearly shadowing his eyes, Em is not only frenetic and all over but spends her time freaking out about what she’s seeing, even to the point of urging her brother to leave this behind after what she’s seen, while Jupe continues to ruminate upon the horrors he witnessed as a child, and Angel can’t help but break the law and peer through camera’s to find out what’s happening on Haywood’s property. And all of that is perpetuated by the film’s foundational eye-motif: Otis Jr. quite literally pays for what he says as a coin is lodged in his skull through the soft, spongey organ that is the eyeball. Even down to the little “eyes on you” gesture, we’d be remiss not to meditate on the dangers of what we see each passing moment, especially in an internet age with social media friends hateposting and hornyposting. Some things may not be good to see, and some things may put us at risk.

Nope is a gripping third film from an already prolific content creator, and I look forward to more from Peele as the years move past us. There’s a great tweet about Peele being the “best horror director” to which Peele retweeted “I think it’s time to put the phone down.”. That humbleness is good to celebrate, but Peele is mounting to become one of the greats alongside Carpenter, Argento, Hooper. There’s no doubt in my mind his level of creativity and accessibility will continue to wow audiences for years to come, and I cannot wait for his next feature.

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Melvin Benson Cinematic Doctrine Christian Movie Podcast Host

Melvin Benson is the Founder, Editor-In-Chief, and Lead Host of Cinematic Doctrine. He’s written fiction and nonfiction for over a decade with short stories featured on the Creepypasta Wiki and Wattpad. His novelette Ethereal Temptation, a teen drama with a tinge of magical-realism, can be read for free here. His hope is to see King Jesus glorified as far as the east is from the west!

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