Cowboys, extraterrestrials and spectacle: the symbolism in “No”
Director Jordan Peele can’t be stopped. Released in July 2022, “Nope” captured audiences as Peele’s third directorial film. The film shines as a new addition to the “space western” genre, which marries spaghetti westerns with a thrilling sci-fi alien adventure. Peele implements his signature style of adapting old horror tropes to comment on contemporary issues. It’s a movie that can be watched over and over again, where you can find new inner nods that Peele leaves for his audience.
“No” also demonstrates Peele’s growth and flexibility as a director. The film is more aesthetically focused than his previous efforts. With scenic shots and long tracking shots of California, some scenes are more suitable for a documentary than a sci-fi horror movie. He structures “Nope” as an ode to the art of cinema and includes many other cinematic references to demonstrate his vast knowledge.
In the theme of Peele’s ode to cinema, the film emphasizes the allure of spectacle. The sprinkling of references and Easter eggs from various pieces of film history shows his appreciation for cinema, which has delivered the spectacle through life-changing moments, incredible events and special scenes that people may never forget. “No” touches on many aspects of film history, such as film structure, cutting with title cards, and mirroring silent film styles where title cards replaced actor dialogue. Peele also points to the erasure of black contributors to cinematic innovation such as Bass Reeves, the original inspiration for The Lone Ranger. He recovers the image of the cowboy as a triumph of blacks and natives. “Nope” also makes numerous references to classic anime such as “Neon Genesis Evangelion” (1995-1996), which questions the motivations of mythical religious figures, and “Akira” (1988), a film reflecting the anxieties of the Japan after World War II. , which makes the film span the full range of cinematic influence.
However, even though he idolizes cinema, he questions whether cinema and the media have changed us for the worse. As the TMZ reporter walks into the ranch, his face is completely obscured by a mirrored helmet, reflecting only what he is trying to film, and he dies anonymously. Filmmaker Antlers Holst dreams of the perfect shot, for which he pays the ultimate price. Much of the plot is driven by the prospect of winning big and capitalizing on natural phenomena. It calls into question how much humanity we’ve lost chasing the next big thing, the show.
In a film about aliens and references, “War of the Worlds” (2005) must be mentioned, one of the most iconic abduction stories. From the flying abductions in the terrifying beast tube to the downpour of blood, there are nods to HG Wells’ terrifying classic. Other famous sci-fi alien films are also subtly referenced, such as Ridley Scott’s iconic “Alien” (1979). The ethereal alien antagonist in “Nope,” as in “Alien,” is distinctly feminine. “Alien” served as the basis for Barbara Creed’s quintessential feminist essay, “The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis” (1983), where Creed assumes that the idea of woman being confined to the role of the monster grotesque in horror movies is a limited patriarchal view. Instead, consider the power and fear that women strike into the deepest subconscious of the men who inspired these iterations. The woman is not the victim, she is the castratrix — the one who controls. Essentially, that pussy bites back.
To hammer home the monstrous female analogy, the alien, Jean Jacket, blossoms into a Georgia O’Keeffe-approved flower, drawing inspiration from the artist known for her yonic imagery. He spits blood on a house, reminiscent of “Carrie” (1976), another film explored in Creed’s essay on female domination. Its victims are sucked into a swollen tube resembling flesh. This proposition of the female reproductive system as indomitable and fearsome is timely in a post-Roe v. Wade. The sheer potential of the alien, consuming hordes of people, is under control, and people must build convoluted plans to stop it.
Additionally, “Nope” explores humanity’s ongoing battle between nature and domestication. The film cuts between flashbacks to a bizarre accident on the set of “Gordy’s Home,” a nerdy 90s fictional sitcom, resulting in a trained chimp having a violent outburst. These scenes parallel the Haywood siblings’ attempts to better control their horses, and Jupe’s attempt to capture the alien. “Nope” strikes at the twisted and intertwined nature of capitalism and domestication. In every instance where nature is brought into subjugation, there is an underlying capitalist incentive that demands disregard of the law of nature. He comments on how for-profit incentives cruelly reject birthrights. The film leaves an ambiguous message about the ethics of these practices. In the case of Jupe, Gordy and the horses, there is a permanent resistance of nature. Nature swears its inevitable revenge for the pride of human actions. But this message is confused in the case of the extraterrestrial. Instead, the siblings triumph, beating nature and supposedly profiting from their discovery. Likewise, in the case of the allegorical female nature of the alien, the ending seems regressive, perhaps preferring a conventional happy ending instead of an anticlimactic defeat.
In the case of “No,” further viewings may bring different iterations of the meaning of the story, perhaps debunking these theories entirely. But one thing is certain: director Jordan Peele knows how to get audiences talking and moviegoers happy.