Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Representation and Survival

Nope (2022) - Peele Nope With his third feature, adroitly titled genre mashup, Nope, Jordan Peele is fast becoming the new original voice in American cinema dominated by sequels and franchises. And using the power of cinema - visual (under)represenation in more ways than one, he incapsulates historical, institutional injustices. It also counters the industry which preaches the most liberal tendencies, but seldom practices, especially in casting. With wit and humor, Peele is obliterating the notion that a message film, a Black message film to be precise, has to be always literal. The 90's Spike Lees of the world don't have the same appeal to the tik tok, BLM generation of now.

The Haywoods owns a California horse ranch, which has been supplying horses for Hollywood productions and commercial shoots for decades. After the old Otis Haywood (Keith David) dies in a freak accident (hit by random debris raining down from the sky - happens to be an old Indian Head penny), the less sociable Jr, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) reluctantly takes over the business with his small time LA schmoozer sister Emerald (Keke Palmer). It would be hard to give up and sell all the beautiful horses and move on. There is a pride involved as a black owned business which is woven into the birth of cinema - the unnamed black jockey in Eadweard Muybridge's short moving picture of Man Riding a Horse in the early days of cinema was a fictional Haywood, an ancestor to OJ and Emerald.

There is another thread that Peele starts the movie with: Gordy's Home, a cheesy 90s sitcom featuring a chimp named Gordy. Things went horribly wrong when Gordy went on a killing spree on set and young Asian American co-star Ricky 'Jupe' Park (Steven Yeun) was spared. It was the friendly gesture, a fist bump, that saved the young Ricky. Now Ricky runs a UFO themed Western show near the Haywood ranch which supplies it with horses.

After some weird happenings - electronics, phones and power cutting on and off randomly around their ranch, OJ and Emerald suspect that there is an alien entity hiding in the static cloud nearby mountain range. They enroll the help of a nerdy CCTV installer, Angel (Brandon Perea) and a grizzled cinematographer (Michael Wincott) who's armed with a handcranked camera (to be immune to electrical storms), to record the Alien sighting and go 'Oprah' with it.

Nope is actually very much like a Spike Lee joint, packed to the brim with ideas and messages, but in a simple, breatheable, cinematic symbolist way. It has little to do with character development or backstory or the classic structure. Things go haywire with unexpected twists and turns. Its references range from Roy Rogers, Close Encounters, Phenomena, 90s TV sitcoms, reality TV, tabloids, even to Akira, not to mention all the other clever pop culture references. It speaks volumes about the notions of the untamed west, nostalgia, colonization, captivity and spectacle. And the gaze: one of the many brilliant moments comes in when OJ understands not to look at the predator in the eye, like many traffic stops POC faces everyday. Loved the unconventional design of the entity as well as hilarious use of the air balloon modeled on Steven Yeun as a weapon. There are many more details I am forgetting to mention here. Engaging, playful and original, Nope is one of the best films of 2022.

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