Nope delivered exactly what we expected— a story we never could have predicted. We thought all those trailers featured an alien spaceship. Instead that UFO turned out to be an alien shapeshifter. We also had no idea a sitcom chimp would play such an important—and deadly—role. But what did those two predators, both separated by decades and home planets, have to do with one another? How did the movie’s seemingly upbeat ending contribute to its major theme? And did all of those elements come together to make a truly scary movie? This is the real story we think Jordan Peele was telling in Nope, a film about how capitalism grinds up even the best of us.
What Is the Meaning of Nope?
Nope doesn’t belong to any one genre. It’s part alien invasion horror, part monster flick, part thriller, part comedy, and part Western. As for its plot, the main story features multiple people trying to profit off the appearance of a genuine UFO. (Sorry, “UAP.”) None of that is what the movie is about, though. And just like with his previous film Us, writer-director Jordan Peele didn’t make his new movie’s true purpose overt. Nope demands you think about it to unlock it’s true purpose. And it’s true purpose is to warn against the dangers of trying to turn everything into a money-making opportunity.
Nope opens with the death of OJ and Em’s father. A small item, initially thought to be debris from a passing plane, lodges itself in Otis Sr.’s head. It’s only later we find out the truth – a massive flying alien violently ejected that item of its mouth. And what killed the elder Haywood? Literal money, as a bloody nickel served as a harbinger of what was to come.
When OJ, still grieving over his father, realized what was hiding in that stationary cloud, he didn’t try to warn anyone. Nor did he flee for his own safety. He didn’t even swear revenge. Instead he concocted a plan with his sister to capture pristine footage of the “ship” in flight. Haywood Hollywood Horses faced financial troubles. The siblings only goal was to get the “Oprah shot” so they could get rich off of the single most important discovery in the history of the world.
Their neighbor, “Little Jup” Ricky, had similar plans for that alien. He knew for six months what was hiding in the sky over his Western-themed amusement park. Did he tell anyone? Get his family the hell out of there? No, he spent that time buying up Haywood horses so he could sacrifice them to the hungry alien, all while trying to purchase the Haywood ranch so he could monopolize his discovery. In the meantime, he developed a new show for his park, one that enticed the horse-eating creature to “perform” for an unsuspecting audience with no idea the danger they’d purchased tickets for.
Everyone at that show, including the one person who personally knew the perils of trying to control a predator, suffered a brutal ending. The alien sucked them up and ground them to death. It took everything they had and spit them out, reducing them to nothing more than a collection of discarded things.
The disappearance of 40 people at Ricky’s show didn’t deter an anonymous rider from showing up at the Haywood ranch, though. The man on the electric bike wanted to cash in on footage of the alien, despite suspecting it had taken all those people. Like the others, the biker believed filming an alien would lead to fame and riches. And even as his own death approached, money was on his mind. He wanted to make sure someone at least got wealthy off that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Almost everyone who looked at that alien saw dollar signs. They did not see danger, nor wonder. They did not think to warn others and protect humanity. Nor did they turn to scientists to learn about the creature to better mankind’s knowledge. The found a world-shaking phenomenon and only saw an opportunity to make a profit. They fell victim to the pitfalls of capitalism, which persists by grinding people up and spitting them out after making them suffer, even innocent bystanders caught up in another’s greed. All so someone—or something—more powerful can get fat off them. That alien was capitalism personified.
What Was the Point of Gordy the Chimp in Nope?
“Can’t tame a predator.” OJ might have said that, but no one knew how true that was like Ricky. The former child actor saw what can happen when you try and control something whose very nature means it can never be controlled. His sitcom Gordy used a wild animal to sell entertainment. That endeavor—like unfettered capitalism—ended in blood, when one of the show’s chimps submitted to its base instincts, killing and maiming its human cast mates.
Young Ricky only survived by luck. Gordy didn’t see “Little Jup” during his rampage. And before another balloon could pop and set him off, police shot Gordy dead. Yet, despite that day still haunting him decades later, Ricky’s quest to make money led him to make the exact same mistake himself. He crawled out from under that table and walked back onto the same deadly stage.
The story of Gordy both framed and mirrored the film’s main alien story. Unfortunately Ricky failed to learn anything from that chimp’s deadly attack. His greed blinded him, getting himself, his family, and a lot of people killed.
The Ending of Nope Explained
Only two people who knew about the alien didn’t pursue it out of a sense of greed. One was Angel, who was driven by curiosity and a broken heart. He wanted confirmation his belief in UFOs was justified. And he also wanted something to fill the empty void in his heart following his breakup. The other was the famed cinematographer Antlers Holst. His motivation was personal, as he wanted to capture the one thing that had always eluded him as an artist, the “impossible shot.”
Angel survived his encounter with the alien, while Holst gave up his to get the one thing he always desired as an artist. Holst didn’t die because he was greedy, though. He ultimately sacrificed himself in pursuit of something he believed was bigger than himself and any one person. Holst got exactly what he wanted.
But if the movie is saying “greed is bad” by the fate of its characters, why did OJ and Em survive? Why did they live when others who did the same thing did not? They weren’t any better or worse people than Ricky, who was eminently likable. Even that guy on the electric bike died acting selflessly. He pushed for someone else to benefit where he had failed. So why did greed grind up good people, both guilty and innocent alike, but spare two others?
Because Nope is not as nihilistic as it might seem. Just as its ending is not quite the victory for the Haywoods as it might appear at first.
Em got a picture of the alien. She got “the shot.” But what exactly did she get a shot of? By opening up into its full form, the alien looked less like an alien or UFO and more like a butterfly. And with nothing to give the alien any scale, that’s all it looked like. Em and OJ have no way of proving they photographed an alien leviathan floating high in the sky. That image merely looks like a bug flying close to the well. All that work and all that death for nothing. No money, no Oprah, nothing. Well, almost nothing.
There was no amount of riches or fame as valuable as what Em got in Nope‘s final moments. She got her brother back. Like young Ricky all those years ago, the two of them got lucky and survived when others didn’t. But unlike Ricky they hopefully also got some perspective about what’s really important. There’s no amount of wealth in any world worth losing those you love. Because while sometimes the worst thing that can happen to you is money falling from the sky, if that doesn’t kill you there’s value in having been that close to meeting your end.
Is Nope Scary?
As we said in our review, Nope has some great jump scares and moments of absolute dread. But it’s also really funny at times, and never feels like a traditional horror film or even a traditional horror-comedy. At moments it’s more like a thriller than anything else. That’s why it’s possible some viewers will find the horrifying screams of an alien grinding people for food funny. Just like that fictional, ill-conceived SNL “Gordy” sketch with Chris Kattan killed.
Nope certainly has terrifying elements, but it’s not scary in the way Peele’s Get Out or Us are. Ultimately whether or not you find the film scary is an “in the eye of the beholder” situation. Just as we can’t tell you if its ending is uplifting or depressing. Jordan Peele never makes things easy, which is why his movies are so much fun to think about and debate.
But if you still want to know which side of the bloody coin you fall on, there’s another way to think about this question. And that could help you decide if its scary or not.
Is Nope an Homage to Another Famous Horror Story?
In Nope a predator turns a community into his feeding territory, but people in charge there are blinded to the animal’s danger by greed. As a result a bunch of locals get killed, including innocent people who weren’t responsible for the decision of others. And the death toll includes one person who gave their life to their pursuit.
That sounds an awful lot like Alien Jaws to us. And if you find Jaws scary, you’ll probably find Nope scary, too.
Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist. You can follow him on Twitter at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.