Max’s review published on Letterboxd:
from my substack page
Jordan Peele’s latest film Nope was met with general confusion amongst viewers. Some whipped up fan theories in a desperate attempt to make sense of the film’s ‘meaning’; others stormed on Twitter, blaming Peele for the ‘sloppy’ and ‘nonsensical’ nature of the film. However, over anything else, the reaction to Nope emphasizes not Peele’s supposed lackluster writing skills, but rather, the problem that people take things way too literally.
So what do I mean by this? I mean that such people suppose that what is literally and explicitly stated in the film is all there is to it. Of course, there are many films (great ones at that) which rely on literal storytelling with clearly-defined meanings: take Elephant or All That Jazz, for instance - two of my favorite movies ever, yet ones that very directly state their purposes, moviations, and meanings. But the thing is, in certain films, this can lead to misunderstanding: take Nope or Inland Empire, for instance, where I believe that attempting to take the film’s narrative as strictly literal will undoubtedly lead to misunderstanding. That being said - a film doesn’t necessarily have to clearly spell out what it ‘means’; not everything has to be explained.
Instead, what needs to be realized is that, in the vast majority of works in the narrative arts, narrative is the vehicle of meaning. What I mean by this is that a work’s narrative or storyline is, while important in and of itself, a device from which the work’s meaning or purpose can be revealed. And sometimes, a narrative doesn’t have to be clear-cut to do so: there is, after all, artistic meaning in the untold or confusing. But in the case of Nope (and other films with confusing, semi-structureless, slightly bizarre narratives where things just happen without explanation, like Safe or The Tin Drum), the broader, overarching, abstract meaning supersedes the narrative wherein, again, the narrative is used as a tool to give meaning. It’s all about the symbolism, ultimately, and how things combine to create a sort of ‘mood’. That’s where the futility of creating these literal, narrative ‘explanations’ for the film’s events comes in: those who try to create these wacky, left-field (albeit - ‘within the film’s universe’, as in, literal, realistic explanations as opposed to letting go and taking the symbolism as it is) theories to make sense of the film will generally fail and miss the film’s purpose entirely.
For this, I refer to Hemingway’s narrative craft. He was revolutionary for pioneering what is known as ‘parataxis’ - which is, in layman’s terms, describing things simply with short sentences that, in regard to the narrative, indicate what is going on instead of describing what is going on. In regards to narratives, it’s basically subtlety in order to invocate meaning instead of spell out meaning. An example of parataxis is in Hemingway’s short story ‘Hills Like White Elephants’1, where two characters very vaguely - and with short, punctual, non-complicated dialogue - discuss, well, an “operation” (that’s as direct as it gets) which many literary critics agree is an abortion, which is never mentioned or even hinted at in the story. This is a key example of using the narrative - that is, the conversation - as a vehicle to evoke meaning - societal norms, taboo subjects, dreams, and so on. Trying to take the story as having sole, literal meaning defeats the purpose; if one were to do so, then they would surely miss Hemingway’s intent.
Alas, in an age where mainstream films are drifting away from having some semblance of emotional or humanistic value (The Godfather, The Matrix, Gone With The Wind, etc.) and instead towards cheap entertainment-for-entertainment’s-sake, the prevalence of this issue - of taking things too literally - is to be expected. Where the general populace watch less and less ‘stretch’ films - films that ‘stretch’ your mind by making you think - and, instead, more and more ‘relax’ films - films that exist solely as entertainment and where any meaning whatsoever is contrived at best. So I don’t necessarily blame people for this - it’s the market.