Say yup to Nope

Movie uses classic tropes to explore themes of fame, race

People often criticize horror film characters for making stupid decisions, insisting that if they were in a similar situation they would simply say, “nope” and get out of there. Jordan Peele combats this trope along with tackling themes of race, tokenism, miracles, and disasters, the way humans view animals as a force of nature versus something to exploit, and the fame and money-seeking nature of society in his appropriately titled 2022 release, Nope.

To avoid the trope of horror characters making ridiculous choices, Jordan Peele wrote many interesting, deep characters for Nope, and makes an effort to justify their decision-making with their respective stories and personalities.

He plays on the audience’s expectations by introducing several side characters, such as Angel and Antlers, who audiences would normally expect to be comedic relief and then disappear for the rest of the film, and having them stick around, and even survive in Angel’s case.

The movie also subverts the audience’s expectations by having the protagonists, Emerald and OJ, instantly believe each other about the supernatural elements of the film without the typical horror trope of denial and cynicism. They feel a lot like real siblings, and their relationship adds heart and humor to the story.

The character writing ties in beautifully to the two main themes of the film: tokenism and clout-chasing. This is Peele’s first film to focus on BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) as a whole instead of African American struggles specifically.

The main characters of the film are OJ and Emerald, siblings who work on their father’s farm, Haywood Hollywood Horses, who often rent their horses out to rodeos, television, and commercials.

They often use their status as descendants of the first black horse jockey on film as a sort of gimmick to get hired, tying into the theme of tokenism.

This is made even more evident in the opening scene of the film, in which OJ and his father, Otis Sr., are working on the farm and a sudden wind kicks up, sending a golden token flying through Otis Sr.’s eye and out of the back of his head, killing him. This scene quickly sets the tone and acts as one of the many examples of symbolism and imagery that is used to convey the themes.

Other notable characters include: Ricky (who goes by Jupe), an Asian former child actor with interestingly thematic past trauma that now does horse shows, Antlers, a renowned cameraman who takes his work gravely seriously, and Angel, a Hispanic security camera installation worker that Emerald and OJ stumble upon when purchasing cameras to capture a strange phenomena happening on their farm.

While other film-makers may have written these characters as one-dimensional, Peele gives every character a unique personality and motivation. Each character displays a point on the spectrum between work and fame, Jupe being on the far, unhealthy end of the fame-focused side of the spectrum and Antlers being just as unhealthy but on the work-focused side.

Emerald and OJ are perfect examples of these motivations handled healthily, as Emerald basks in fame and social situations, while OJ focuses on his work and his horses and is a much quieter type.

The plot of the film kicks off when OJ and Emerald stay at their late dad’s farm. OJ sells a few of his horses to Jupe in order to continue working his father’s farm, not knowing that his farm is the hunting ground of a mysterious geometric alien.

Later, OJ witnesses the alien kick up the wind and steal one of their horses, Ghost. Emerald and OJ set out on a mission to film the alien. Emerald wants the footage for fame and glory while OJ hopes that the publicity will bring him enough fortune to be able to save his dad’s farm.

OJ and Emerald are later joined by Angel, who forcibly inserts himself into the situation after spying on their security cameras and catching a glimpse of the alien, and Antlers, who joins them after they contact him in an attempt to get an “Oprah shot” of the alien.

While OJ, Emerald, and Angel, the more balanced and healthy characters, are able to combine their desires and skills to both survive and get the shot of the alien they are desperately after, Jupe and Antlers are not so fortunate for entirely different reasons.

Jupe and Antler’s storylines illustrate how either side of the work and fame spectrum can be equally dangerous. Getting sucked up in fame-chasing and getting sucked up in your work can lead to you… getting sucked up.

Another interesting thing about this film is the character naming. Every character has an appropriate and thematic name. OJ is named Otis Jr., after his father, who is a role model and main motivator for him.

Emerald’s name is a little more cryptic, but her name is meant to be reminiscent of the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz. She is seen falling asleep to the film about halfway through the movie, making me believe this is entirely intentional.

The Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz is seen as this glorious famous city, and people who enter are forced to wear glasses so that the emerald colors don’t blind them. As it turns out, the city is a scam, and the glasses don’t protect visitor’s eyes, they are actually only green-tinted. This is very similar to the way that Emerald views fame and Hollywood.

Jupe uses the name of his self-admitted token Asian child character instead of his real name is a representation of how he has reduced himself to his fame and doesn’t know who he is anymore.

The name Antlers is connected to nature, since he is always filming predator and prey interactions, and ends up as prey, while Angel is a guardian angel figure, who watches over OJ and Emerald through the cameras.

The care and thought put into even small details like names in Nope illustrate how intricate and well-crafted the film is as a whole. The script writing and the way the characters and themes tie together in a perfect bow makes Nope easily one of Peele’s best films. Many of his fans, myself included, are already anticipating his next release, and the many more to come.