Jordan Peele’s Nope is every bit of a story that pays homage to larger-than-life tales fantasizing about how otherworldly entities would interact with our own. On the one hand, you could have keyboard synchronicity of Close Encounters and bicycle rides alongside the moon in E.T. In more extreme cases, War of the Worlds showed us how insignificant we would be in the grand scheme of things. While Nope mostly captures a story of a brother-sister duo striving for their big break, the film begins on an entirely different note.
On the sound stage of the fictional sitcom Gordy’s Home, young Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun/Jacob Kim) is frightened under the table as his primate co-star goes on a rampage like no other — literally maiming people. You would think such an experience would make someone decide the profession is not for them. Maybe they’ll be an accountant — anything away from television sets or live animals. However, once you get the taste of fame, it becomes a part of an insatiable appetite you have to keep feeding. Jupe’s experience embedded his psyche with trauma needs to contextualize the experience differently.
In his last moments, Gordy makes his trademark “fist bump” gesture to Jupe before getting taken out — providing him with the false expectation he was exempted from an animal’s fury. The “Star Lasso Experience” is Jupe’s way of pushing that perceived immunity too far. Why would a man keep memorabilia and sell experiences to “fans” surrounding the tragic incident for profit? When Jupe recalls the experience with O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer), he talks about the Saturday Night Live reenactment where Chris Kattan “owns” the part of Gordy — as if they had softened the incident with comedic strokes.
Peele uses Jupe’s character to illustrate humans (sometimes) weird infatuation with surviving traumatic experiences. Honesty, we get a little lucky, but our need to understand every ancillary detail sometimes leads us to the point of no return. O.J. understands the unpredictability of animals in the relationships he builds with his horses. He knows every name in the barn and says, “you have to build an agreement with a predator.” Jupe takes his lessons in a completely different direction. Ironically, he uses the horses to feed the UFO to fuel his business with a six-month headwind. Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott) mentions Siegfried & Roy, who had a Las Vegas variety show with white tigers and lions until Roy was unfortunately attacked in 2003.
Is it the promise that Jupe will become a big star that may have been thwarted in his early acting days? Well, maybe and maybe not. The “Star Lasso Experience” practice course had been presumably happening for six months in the middle of the desert. Thus, Jupe sees “Jean Jacket” as his new “Gordy,” ignoring the fact you can’t control what happens once the show goes live. This show becomes Jupe’s new obsession while he tries to overcome the single instance of fear he’s felt in his life. Fear is a tool that can keep us alive. Peele later uses this as a story device when O.J. realizes not to look “Jean Jacket” directly in the eyes.
Blinded by his false sense of faith, Jupe fails to recognize this is the same reason Gordy didn’t attack him that day. His last moments are looking directly up at the UFO, first in awe and then horror. Nope is Jordan Peele’s exploration to show us our primitive hunter instincts have never left — just altered. Instead of living in caves, lighting campfires, and feeding on animals for survival — it’s the bright lights and promise of power feeling those spaces now.
At the film’s tail end of the second act, the audience sees the entire sequence of what happened during the “Gordy’s Home” episode. It immediately cuts back to a grown-up Ricky staring off into the distance — then he snaps out of it to get in character for the show. The “Star Lasso Experience” is his coping mechanism, but there’s the danger in it all. A former child actor left to his own devices isolated in this theme park under a microscope of paying patrons and reality shows — when there’s something more disturbing underneath the surface. Not only does Nope show we need a new band-aid for attention, but how spectacle is the wishes on the monkey paw we should be more cautious about using.
Photo Credit: Universal Pictures