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Trauma Profiteering in Jordan Peele's 'Nope'

Nope succeeds tremendously in dealing with higher concepts in an engaging and highly entertaining manner without sacrificing theme or personality.

Nope (2022)

5 / 5
4.5 / 5

The highly anticipated next film by Jordan Peele, Nope, starring Keke Palmer, Daniel Kaluuya, Brandon Perea, and Steven Yuen, is finally here and is simultaneously precisely what you might expect from his films and a new, fresh take on the first contact narrative while possessing an identity of its own. The horror elements of Peele’s previous films are still present but are significantly toned down and instead focus on spectacle and visuals. While this isn’t to say that Nope is devoid of substance, of which there is plenty, it is his most straightforward work to date narratively speaking. Peele takes us on a journey through the exploration of human instinct and the consequences that can arise from taking advantage of said instinct – morbid curiosity. More specifically, profiteering off the trauma of others or yourself and capitalizing on people’s natural curiosity and gravitation toward tragedy.

The Deeper Meaning

There is an incredibly traumatic moment in Ricky’s (Steven Yuen) life when on the set of a ’90s sitcom he was starring in as a child, Gordy’s Home, centering around a chimpanzee named Gordy, he witnessed the chimpanzee become crazed, brutally killing nearly the entire cast of the show apart from Ricky. Ricky and Gordy would eventually begin to share a tender moment only to be interrupted by Gordy getting gunned down just before they embrace. But we don’t get this entire story right away. The film revisits this day a multitude of times throughout, uncovering more information each time and it can be quite jarring the first couple of times we’re shown this incident. But as the film goes on, it’s shown that Ricky has been actually charging people to visit a museum he created featuring memorabilia from the show as it has become incredibly popular due to this tragedy. 


Steven Yuen in 'Nope' (2022)
Steven Yuen in ‘Nope’ (2022)


But this museum of his own experience isn’t the only traumatic opportunism Ricky seeks to exploit. He has since created a theme park based on a UFO that has also recently been discovered by Oj (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) Haywood after a series of inexplicable events take place at their horse ranch, even killing their father in an attack months prior. Ricky has seemingly been aware of this mysterious object for some time and had been purchasing horses from the Haywoods to offer it as a sacrifice for the main spectacle at the park, only to finally agitate the object and cause not only himself but the entirety of the audience to be abducted and ultimately killed, bringing Ricky full circle and receiving a self-fulfilling fate that he just narrowly escaped as a child. But Ricky’s insistence on combining spectacle and trauma isn’t exclusive to him, the sentiment is even shared to a degree with Oj and Emerald. Their main goal throughout the film is to capture indisputable evidence of the UFO to sell for an enormous sum of money, while less shady, they are not innocent of this impulse. Having all three of these characters related to the media industry is no coincidence. It’s to personify our trauma-profiteering obsessed culture and the media that perpetuates it. Peele taps into and explores our twisted sense of curiosity and offers a critique of human behavior.


Peele’s Blockbuster

Nope succeeds tremendously in dealing with higher concepts in an engaging and highly entertaining manner without sacrificing theme or personality. The film is mostly straightforward with some slight deviance during the Gordy flashbacks but ultimately, it isn’t too difficult to connect the pieces. But where Peele succeeds most of all, is the spectacle. The irony is not lost on me, given the thematic nature of the film, but Nope’s spectacle is grandiose as it is chilling. The early visuals of the UFO peeking through the clouds assessing the happenings of the ranch, to the reveal that it veils itself as an immoveable cloud sitting idle against the flow of the rest of the sky, to the reveal of its impossible to describe, otherworldly, true form before the being itself is thwarted by its own ambition.

Daniel Kaluuya in 'Nope' (2022)
Daniel Kaluuya in ‘Nope’ (2022)


While spectacle might be at the center of this film, it is the characters whose eyes we get to witness the events through. Daniel Kaluuya delivers a much more subdued, subtle character than we’ve seen before but is just as nuanced as he has ever been, saying even more with a facial expression than spoken words. But it’s Keke Palmer who is the bonafide star of the show, delivering a hilarious and energetic performance that steals the scene every single time. Peele has never struggled to get exceptional performances out of his actors and Nope is no exception, featuring stellar work across the board.

Nope may be Peele’s most blockbuster-like film yet, but it still has a tremendous amount of care poured into every aspect of it. Jordan Peele has yet to falter from his brilliant balance of horror, comedy, and theme, which each of his last two films has focused on. Where 2017’s Get Out is heavily concentrated on theme and 2019’s Us is more horror-centric, Nope seems to be the more balance of the three. And while I believe it sits right between Get Out and Us in terms of overall package (Get Out still remaining his greatest work thus far), Nope is undoubtedly his most accessible and most entertaining.