Nope ★★

The puzzle film, especially its agenda set down by the Church of Nolan, has been so detrimental to how Hollywood films now are made and consumed, it's not even funny (just like all of Jordan Peele's work in this post-semiotics era of his). At the AMC in New York where I watched the film, the big pre-show highlight, framed as such, was Nolan's Daddy A-Bomb film Oppenheimer, which came on after all of the trailers (including an upcoming Hollywood film on the lynching of Emmett Till, which looks like it will live up to its gratuitous, miserabilist, obscene premise), and the silence-your-cellphones PTAs, and Nicole Kidman. Nolan's film will show in spangling 35mm, 70mm, and IMAX formats: he's still crazy after all these years, still salivating over loud, busy Events shot on genyooine Film (no casual mass iPhones here, thank ye!), "immersive" "story worlds" where there is never an organic movement allowed to blossom in any kind of unmannered spontaneity. Peele, too, salivates over such big Events — but at least Peele's images are trying to reckon with knotty complicated histories that aren't just regurgitated Kubrick. His low-key-comic ability to allow a rotting wound to fester with a light, light prick remains unmatched. The major problem: Peele's so damn literal-minded and frenzied about his images — Nope's themes, ready-made for Stanford media studies seminars on the oeuvre of Jordan Peele: cinema's waning, the uncapturable image, the collapse of the analog, Muybridge, the unheralded and censored mythology of the black cowboy, the machine becoming embodied — that the resulting film ends up nearly cancelling out its pulp fiction good parts and its semiotics-y fine parts into an exceedingly brainy muddle. It's everything, everywhere, all at once.

Back to the modern puzzle film: Hollywood shit like Inception and Pulp Fiction and Usual Suspects, and the myriad YouTube film essays given to unpacking and demystifying and analyzing them, gave prestige to the soul-killing notion that an object, a person, a place, a composition must never allowed to indulge in any sort of weirdness or existence by itself or herself: there should always be a hardening significance attached to the thing, it must go somewhere, Steven Yeun's cowboy must always be allegorized, he must represent, he must mean. Morbid, romantic, delicate, unhurried poetry loses out in this equation. Of course, nothing and nobody exists in its own vacuum; we are politicized bodies, and the wretched formalists who cry art for art's sake, a line is sometimes only a line, are just as annoying and useless. What I mean is that, now, when people conceive of and shoot and release and discuss a movie, we're encouraged to treat the movie as if it were a code to be cracked (especially if it's advertised as "Not Your Average Hollywood Whatever"). The goal: once you unravel the plot, once you put the monkey and the cowboy hat and the name "Jean Jacket" together, you Win. You totally understand the film. Result: Nothing lingers. This leads to profound dehumanizations like the kind peddled by the neat, misanthropic ball of loathing that was Get Out (the fate of Yeun's character here is particularly cruel in its arbitrariness), sappings of the world's mystery: a Weird (TM) plot is left on cruise control to whirl around in UFOs, digestions, Fordian landscapes, Korean-American child stars' trauma, etc., etc., until it peters out, and I'm left exhausted, and not caring much about any of the 17 allegories that Peele crashes into each other, hoping to capture all of the chaos of today's image regime. Here's an image, not like it matters, since it gets lost in the muddle anyway: a shoe, improbably teetering on its nose on an abandoned sitcom set, whilst a chimp eats a woman's face off next to it: surely this outsized tableau is a symbol of another Clue, which will reveal another Clue, and another. We can't just look at shoes that defy the rules of physics as Shoes That Defy The Rules of Physics: that's too poetic, we need answers, dammit. Enter the woman and the chimp. I prefer ambiguity. I have no use in answers. I like to constantly question.

Cast Keke Palmer and Steven Yeun in everything.

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