[Editor’s note: The following story contains some spoilers for “Nope.”]
Crazy fan theories and wild trailer breakdowns aside, filmmaker Jordan Peele has been remarkably open about what his third film, “Nope,” is really about — from the actual UFO-centric plot to its underpinnings as a movie that’s also about moviemaking — even if that doesn’t seem to have so far satiated clue-obsessed moviegoers.
“People are always trying to get me to spill secrets on the thing, and I’m like, ‘I can’t really tell you anything’ and also, ‘I don’t even know how to tell you what this movie is,’” star Keke Palmer told IndieWire. “It’s pretty hard, because it has so much going on. It’s really what you would call a cinematic experience, that is literally what Jordan has created. It’s like nothing else that you’ve seen of his before, but yet is just as thoughtful and has so much to say as the other things that you’ve seen. But the tone of it, the way that it balances horror and action and adventure, it’s just very unique. And so it becomes, ‘I can’t tell you even if I wanted to.’”
But that fan desire for spilled movie secrets actually suits Peele’s motivations quite well, because as the filmmaker told IndieWire during a recent interview, what he’s really trying to highlight with “Nope” is “rubbernecking.” Potential audience members who can’t help looking at “Nope” material? Oh, that’s almost too good.
It all starts with the film’s meta bent, as it follows an iconic Hollywood family (the Haywoods, including siblings OJ and Emerald, played by Daniel Kaluuya and Palmer), lauded horse trainers who have been bringing up equines for the movies for decades, and includes a real obsession with the power of images, including our shared desire to film things to better galvanize their reality and power. (Did it really happen if you didn’t get it on camera? Such is the tension at the heart of “Nope.”)
“Making a movie that involves the moviemaking process is just so inherently meta,” Peele told IndieWire. “I mean, when you’re on a set that has a set [within it], it gets very confusing. The first thing we have to acknowledge is we’re making something about what we do and we’re trying to uncover some of the insidiousness of it, and the horror specifically that comes from the search for spectacle, the addiction to spectacle, and the negative sort of whirlpools of trauma that you can get in through this industry by being addicted to the attention.”
The concept of spectacle — and our seemingly natural desire to look at it, i.e. rubbernecking — frames much of the film, including a key plot point about getting that long-chatted-about UFO on camera. Peele wants to dig into that more.
“When you’re on a road, and there’s an accident [and people are rubbernecking], what you’re talking about [is] trauma as entertainment,” Peele said. “It’s intrinsic enough in our DNA that traffic slows down when there’s a spectacle to be seen, a bad spectacle. … Everyone likes some form of horror or darkness. We need it. We need to contend with these things, whether it’s coming to see my movies or your procedural television that just goes to the darkest place of all time every night, but somehow you go to sleep OK. We need this. Horror [films] and the people who try to capture their nightmares and show it, I have to think and hope that it provides some catharsis for some people.”
So what’s horror to Peele, the kind of stuff that captures his nightmares and is just begging to be worked through? The classic “flying saucer” UFO shape.
“There’s something about the flying saucer that’s always scared me because it’s this minimal shape that kind of shouldn’t exist, shouldn’t be able to move,” he said. “It’s a blank slate of sorts. Part of the idea of a flying saucer, or a UFO, especially one that resembles the traditional one people have been trying to photograph for a long time, [is that] it’s kind of a mask. People want to know what’s inside, and once you have that, you have an engine for a scary movie.”
And, yes, if you’re hoping to see what’s inside Peele’s flying saucer, “Nope” provides that, in such terrifying fashion that even the filmmaker calls it “fucked up.” We’ll just leave it at that for now.
Universal Pictures will release “Nope” in theaters on Friday, July 22.