The relationship between camera and object is complicated. In the movie <Nope>, this relationship seems to be about consumption of ideas and images. The movie starts with a dark square-shaped tunnel that shows a Black jockey on a galloping horse. Later in the movie, this tunnel turned out some sort of an organ of a UFO-like alien creature that abducts humans and animals and devours them. The fact that this organ looks like a flashing rectangular cylinder, aka a camera, might not be a coincidence.
In the beginning of the movie, when Em talks about the galloping image, she asks a group of white filmmakers whether they know of the name of the jockey. Nope. Nobody remembers the person in the image. The alien’s abduction of humans and animals isn’t any different. It kills them after consuming them. They are gone and the alien is satiated. And when it becomes hungry again, it hunts for its next prey. This for me felt like the insatiable hunger of media and us consuming images and ideas in this day and age. At one point, they even called the alien, “viewer.”
There were some other interesting motifs that resembled the relationship between camera and objects such as a direct eye-contact provoking the alien. This is similar to TV or film actors usually being told not to look at the camera directly, which is also very similar to that we are not supposed to look at horses’ or chimpanzees’ eyes directly because it freaks or provokes them.
What was interesting though was that even though OJ, Em, and Angel were terrified by the alien, they kept pursuing capturing the image of the alien. In the end, Em triumphantly captures it in an image. It felt very meta because the movie tries to portray and capture the story of media/viewers and their objects and the objects’ agency, which was very similar to the gang’s effort.
Finally, when the alien transforms and truly reveals itself, we see that it is essentially a shell and its inside is empty and hollow. This also made me think of the anonymity of media/camera, where it can hind behind the lens (or a cloud in the alien’s case), and exploits and consumes living objects. Probably that is why it died easily when it was trying to engulf a giant mascot balloon that is also hollow itself and “false” because it is not alive.
<Nope> seems to be a study about cinema and media consumption. In a sense, it is also about cultural appropriation, stereotyping, and exploitation of labor. While making interesting metaphors and analogies, Peele made it entertaining and gave characters interesting story arcs (e.g., I was happy to see that it was Em who captured the image, not OJ). I would love to watch it again to find interesting breadcrumbs I might have missed.
I am still trying to understand the title. The characters use the word here and there and it has many meanings. It’s about absence but also about one’s agency as in their refusal to go along with something.