The following contains light spoilers for Nope, now available to rent on Amazon Prime Video
I may have been one of just a handful of people going into the theatres to watch Nope without any kind of visual exposure to Get Out or Us. Exposure of other kinds has been unavoidable—the conversation surrounding Jordan Peele’s short filmography has been expansive and unending, penetrating into academia, art criticism, Oscar recognition, and the general consciousness. My deep love for horror, my disdain for most of the genre’s modern interpretation, and Peele’s apparent rebirthing of it meant Nope had to be an unmissable first serving of his delicious directorial appetite.
Nope is many things—it constantly swivels in and out of electricity-devouring monsters, aerially-lurking extraterrestrials, colorful dancing inflatables, weather-shifting forces, and unhinged horses during its 130-minute runtime. But at the core of it all, Nope is about unhinged humans. While real and surreal colors splash and merge to create a warm yet brooding atmosphere for Peele to paint on, with lush and hush brushstrokes on surveillance culture, capitalism, exploitation, humanity, inhumanity, and the reinvention of Black history documentation, what truly unsettled my blood flow is the chimp scene. Now, violence doesn’t always have to be bloody. But boy is it the case in this instance.
Blinding lights! Camera! Creepy crowd cheer! It’s a typical studio taping day for a late 90s sitcom titled Gordy’s Home. The family that “adopted” Gordy, the titular chimpanzee character that is played by a real animal, is sitting in their living room, merrily showing each other their birthday gifts for the chimp. The moment Gordy enters the scene, Mary Jo Eliot (Sophia Coto), the older of the siblings, hands over her gift swiftly. A huge gift box reveals colorful balloons and inflatables that float above delicately, much to everyone’s jubilance.
A pop of a balloon transitions seamlessly into gunshot sounds. The camera pans across bloodied actors lying on the floor, some dead, some knocking on the doors of death. Wails of mercy ensues, but one after another, Gordy mauls all of his human co-stars with grotesque mercilessness.
A solitary red-text “applause” sign flickers in the aftermath of the bloodbath, as if mocking humanity’s celebration of animal sacrifice. The younger of the siblings, Ricky “Jupe” Park (Steven Yeun), is the lone survivor till this moment. In the dead silence, hiding under a table, delicately dangling between death and lifelong trauma, the anticipation of his outcome feels unnerving. The chimp finally locates Jupe and walks up to him, not peeking under the table. As my heartbeat escalates along with Jupe’s, the chimp extends his fist—so bloodied he could fill up a blood bank singlehandedly. In this rare moment of harmony, as if harkening to the fact that predators are designed to prey by nature, Jupe forwards his hand too. Mere inches away from the most weirdly placed fist bump in the history of cinema, the chimp is shot dead from behind.
No other scene captures the deliciously dark, throbbing, unpredictable heartbeat of Nope quite as gloriously as this one. Perhaps the most chilling of scenes in the entirety of the movie, what is even more chilling is the fact that this scene isn’t Peele’s deranged bloodshed animal revenge fantasy come true—it is, in fact, a less than subtle nod to a real life incident.
Travis, a chimp born in the mid-90s who gained celebrity status by appearing in several TV shows, programs, and commercials, mauled 55-year-old Charla Nash on the 16th of February 2009. The attack deformed Charla’s face, eyes, lips, limbs, and hands in as gory a fashion as Gordy’s bloody murder show. Drawing parallels is my guilty pleasure, so I was fascinated to unearth more details that enabled me to keep drawing longer and longer connections.
One, Travis’ “owners”, Sandra and Jerome Herold, bought him from a breeder for $50,000, the exact amount theme park owner Ricky (who played Jupe in Gordy’s Home and has named the park Jupiter’s Claim) is offered by a morbidly curious couple to spend a night at the secret Gordy’s Home-filled memorabilia room. Second, in Charla’s first public appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, nine months after the brutal, life-altering attack, she wears a veil covering her newly-surgerized face, which bears uncanny resemblance to the veil an adult Mary Jo wears at the Star Lasso Experience event in Nope. Thirdly and most notably, the recurring reference to ‘the Oprah shot’ by OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Em (Keke Palmer) throughout the movie can be interpreted as a direct reference to the aforementioned Oprah interview. Just like OJ and Em were attempting to film evidence of UFOs and exploit it for notoriety and fame, Oprah’s show, among a lot of other TV and talks shows, are deeply rooted in exploitation, manipulation, and borderline humiliation of human beings.
When we take advantage of predatory animals and make a spectacle out of them, it’s entertainment. But when predators charge back at us, it’s assault. Like any other movie, especially one as outrageously ambitious as Nope, it comes with its fair share of misses. But a systematic dissection of a rather perplexingly paced movie is beyond the scope of this article. Nope is a movie where the anticipation is the result. Much like the unfinished fist bump between Gordy and Jupe, Nope lingers on my cheeks like an undelivered slap.