Yep, Nope

I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a movie that starts with a quote from Nahum.  I also honestly admit that Nope left me scratching my head, but very glad to have seen it.  I trust Jordan Peele implicitly as both a screenwriter and a director, and I know I need to see Nope again to make it all fit (if that’s possible).  His movies are the most Twilight Zoneish things out there, and despite Peele’s reported reason for naming the film Nope, I’m going to keep watching the skies.  It’s clear he had done his ufological homework.  Even the idea that—SPOILER ALERT—have you seen it yet?  Are you going to?  You might want to finish this later, if you haven’t—they are biological entities has been widely discussed.  

Although classified as horror, Nope has mercifully few jump startles.  In fact I noticed (there were maybe only 10 of us in the theater) that one couple had brought their kids.  I can imagine they had some interesting discussions on the car ride home.  For me, driving home alone, I felt like I’d watched Close Encounters, Twister, Signs, and Arrival simultaneously.  Peele set out to film a spectacle and he did indeed.  Horror has become more intelligent of late, and there’s so much going on here that I’ll need some time to sort it out.  The online nattering suggests the Nahum quote (“I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile and make you a spectacle”) reflects Peele’s thoughts on the Bible.  A more literal take might see the evacuation of waste creating a spectacle, which it does.  How to explain the angel form of the creature?

Alien horror works.  Alien sees them deep in apace, but many films, such as Fourth Kind, see them closer to home. Fourth Kind, also by an Africa American director (Olatunde Osunsanmi) never received critical acclaim, but I thought the first half was impossibly scary.  It’s natural enough to fear those we don’t understand.  Perhaps that’s one reason we tend to deny their existence.  If we deal with them in fiction we can call it horror and go home happy.  Nope asks us to consider whether our differences matter so much in the face of a non-discriminate predator that eats any human that enters its territory.  Even if they were there first.  I still have a lot of questions about the movie.  Some of them will likely never be answered.  One that will is “Do you plan on seeing it again?”  The answer is yep.

Nope, Not Yet

It’s perhaps this summer’s most hotly anticipated movie, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to see it.  Jordan Peele’s Nope opened in theaters this weekend but I’ve been busy.  For many Peele may have seemed to come out of left field with his 2017 directorial debut, Get Out (it took me a couple years to see that one), but he’d been working in films prior to that.  Then Us appeared in 2019 and instantly established him as the auteur of black horror films.  Like many in horror, Peele has a strong element of humor as well.  His films feature black actors falling into circumstances that whites have tended to claim for themselves—being the victims of monsters (often human).  I unfortunately missed Peele’s attempted reboot of The Twilight Zone in 2019-20.  Nevertheless, I know he’s a kindred spirit.

I try not to watch trailers before seeing a movie.  They give away too much.  I don’t need any enticement to see a Peele movie.  Even as I await a free weekend, I think about how horror has been a field accepting of auteurial diversity.  Women have directed horror since at least the eighties.  James Wan has been a major player in the genre since the early new millennium.  M. Night Shyamalan had his start shortly before that.  Good horror is good horror.  Often such films are quite smart as well.  Get Out drew attention for its social commentary—something for which Rod Serling was famous, and thus the naturalness of The Twilight Zone.  But when will I have time to get out and see Nope?  Perhaps I need to cash in a personal day so I can take in a matinee.

The trick will be, of course, to be on the internet without reading about it before that can happen.  Taking time off work is punished with skyscrapers of emails when you return.  But when I start having dreams about my boss coming to my messy house and helping me do necessary repairs, I think maybe I’ve been working too hard.  Movies, in such a life, seem like superfluous luxuries.  Of course, I’ve long accepted the thesis that films are our modern mythology.  They are our cultural referents, and not infrequently the source of meaning.  They explain our world.  And they require taking at least an hour-and-a-half out of the mowing, painting, hammering, and hauling that never seem to end.  Nope, I won’t have time to see the movie this weekend.  Yep, I’ll be looking forward to the first opportunity to do so.

Just Like Us

Jordan Peele has been noted for his intellectual, black horror films.  His work is good at making clear that African-American experience is different than white experience in America.  That was especially on view in Get Out, a haunting treatment of being “the other.”  His more recent Us, two years old already, takes a somewhat different angle but still comes to a similar point.  Since the movie has a notorious twist ending that I’d rather not spoil for anyone slower than I am, I’ll try to focus on the film’s use of Jeremiah 11:11—“Therefore thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon them, which they shall not be able to escape; and though they shall cry unto me, I will not hearken unto them.”  This message of the prophet was a warning that Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians, but clearly it has wider applications.

It’s safe to say, I suppose, that the movie is about substitute people.  Each person has a doppelgänger that shares her or his soul, but is a puppet—it’s not too far to stretch to say “slave”—that must do whatever it is we have it do.  When those doubles, or shadows, arise and organize, things start to get real scary real fast.  Although the metaphors run deep, the biblical citation comes near the start of the movie, setting the tone of what follows.  This is divine judgment for the mistreatment of others.  While it isn’t ostensibly about race, at least not obviously so, the story follows the black Wilson family as the uprising begins.

Jeremiah’s message, although delivered to a specific situation at a particular time in history, could well apply whenever one people threatens another.  Like most prophecy, it’s less about prediction than it is about changing behavior.  Jeremiah presents a good warning tone because he was a prophet who loved his people but also saw that they had to fall in order to be redeemed.  His is a strong message for a country at a crossroads.  Peele has a lot going on in this movie and I suspect more than one viewing will be necessary to pick up on some of the points.  Not all parables have a single message.  Not all prophets are heeded in their time.  Jeremiah 11:11 provides context, and it rewards the biblically literate who know the context it which it originally applied.  Fitting it into the world of black horror is an example of how prophecy continues to be relevant.