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  • Jenna Burtch

The Spectacular and the Surreal: Jordan Peele’s Nope

SPOILERS for Jordan Peele’s Nope


Jordan Peele’s 3rd film in the horror and thriller genre is his new movie, Nope. This film centers itself around two siblings, Emerald and OJ Haywood, played by Kiki Palmer and Daniel Kaluuya. The Haywood siblings live in rural California, just outside of LA and run their late fathers horse farm, Haywood’s Hollywood Horses. Their horses are rented out to movie productions as live animal actors. As the film progresses, the Haywood siblings grapple with harassment from an unknown extraterrestrial “flying saucer” which later reveals itself to be a living octopus-esque creature that consumes everything that looks at it and is named “Jean Jacket'' by OJ.

One would think that this is where the movie resides itself in the thriller genre, an alien encounter film, a few deaths here and there and deep alien lore; however, this is simply false. Peele takes this idea in many different directions, pulling in aspects of animal rights and exploitation, the disregard for disaster, and the spectacle of pain and suffering.

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Animal rights and exploitation in film and media is a big topic of Nope. While the horses of Haywood’s Hollywood Ranch are used for different acting jobs, they are well taken care of by the Haywoods. Animal exploitation is more seen in the character Ricky “Jupe” Park, a former child actor turned amusement park owner played by Steven Yeun. Jupe’s experience as a child actor was not a normal one by any means. In his youth he starred in a show called, “Gordy’s Home” which centered around a family and their pet/sibling chimpanzee, Gordy.


During one of the tapings of an episode, Gordy is enraged by something on set and begins attacking the different cast members of the show. This scene is played out to the audience from Jupe’s point of view as he hides under a table, Gordy darts around the set covered in blood after attacking the cast. Eventually police arrive on the scene and Gordy is shot and the flashback ends.


This scene, to the audience, is one that is unsettling but also one that Jupe later chooses to profit off of. In an interview with Empire, Peele explains that, “It’s about exploitation. It's about feelings of rage at the industry.” This rings true not only with Gordy but many other characters in the film. Not only are the horses on Haywood’s farm exploited by the film industry but even Jean Jacket itself, who Jupe tries to tame by feeding it horses he had been purchasing from the Haywoods as a part of his amusement park. This attempt to contain Jean Jacket eventually leads to Jupe, his family, and other park goers’ deaths as they are all eaten by Jean Jacket during one of Jupe’s “alien encounter shows.”


In a broader context, Gordy and Jean Jacket are symbols of exploitation, monetized tragedy, and spectacle. Gordy is used as a punch line to a show and is continuously exploited by an industry that doesn't care about him, while Jean Jacket, in the same breath, is used by Jupe as a spectacle for his show. Jupe is able to subvert his own trauma in order to profit off the same situation that he experienced as a child that eventually leads to his death.


Furthermore, the film begins with a quote from the Old Testament “I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle.” (Nahum 3:6) This quote in of itself sets the scene for the entire film and acts as a bridge between Peele’s inclusion of Gordy and the audiences’ understanding of Gordy. Gordy was pushed into the movie industry and used for his talent and this exploitation of him is what led to his death as the hands of his controllers and this quote aligns heavily what happened to him. His enraged attack on his co-stars made him into a spectacle and this spectacle was used and monetized by Jupe and the industry itself. During a conversation with OJ, Jupe references an SNL skit that was made about Gordy, laughing at the fact that Gordy was portrayed so hilariously. Peele began the movie with this thought of exploitation and spectacle in mind and uses the Nahum 3:6 quote as well as the Gordy flashback to set up the audience for the symbolism behind Jean Jacket and how similar it is to Gordy.


Gordy and Jean Jacket’s role in society are also interesting when juxtaposed against actual people in the film and media industry. Many are taken advantage of by those in the industry with power as it may provide them social or monetary gain and Gordy and Jean Jacket act as symbols of not only the animal but also human exploitation in Hollywood and the media world.


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