Nope ★★★★

Jordan Peele was probably right to bring TMZ into it in the 9th inning. After two hours in this churning, elliptical ecosystem of filming, consuming, and purging, why not make too fine a point of it and bring in the horseman/scooterman of our video-mediated apocalypse. I was driving down Sunset recently and stopped at a light next to the TMZ tourbus and I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard the woman on the PA system bleat out something unintelligible about the Chateau Marmont or whatever we were passing. I thought it sounded like someone having an argument, or screaming for help. Imagine going somewhere just to look at things.

What's going on here? Questions of who's invading who, seeing and unseeing, the act of filming, the economy of filming -- all of these fly around NOPE in a dizzying blur. Horses. Muybridge? Flags and clouds. Mirror. Father. Mirror. On his third feature I'm pulling out a pattern with Peele, which is that he likes to throw a lot in the cauldron and see what binds together. I didn't really think much of it did in US, while appreciating the individual components, the stuff that was on Peele's mind. It felt not quite there yet.

NOPE isn't terribly more cohered on the surface, but maybe Peele is just asking questions I'm more interested in here. Or maybe these characters feel like they have more road behind them. The dynamic between siblings OJ and Emerald (Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer respectively) is instantly established in that first on set scene, in all its humor and sadness and knowing. Their lives are so specific, and it's easy to just get absorbed in the incredibly niche world of Hollywood horse training. Steven Yeun's adult child star is a haunted void, some kind of cheery inversion of his character in BURNING, living in a self-created hell of his own mythology. It's all a western, and this isn't an accident.

By the way, Peele has correctly identified the John Wayne note in Daniel Kaluuya, who continues to have some of the most inimitable energy of any actor working today.

I got through about 80% of NOPE feeling really engaged, synapses firing, taking in all that Peele was throwing at us, which all goes down so easily with three leads that I enjoy watching very much. (Good god I want that UFO nudie suit Yeun's rocking at the Star Lasso Experience. Star Lasso Experience!) All the while I was thinking, this is quite clever, I can't imagine anyone who would use horses as a conveyance for all this metaphor, I want to talk about all this stuff, but when is it gonna get my heart, or at least my guts?

And then, something came together for me. Something between flashbacks of young Jupe terrified under the table, witnessing the trauma that would become the punchline of the rest of his life, and Emerald's face, exhausted and elated as her brother appears, in the hero shot, framed by a banner demarcating him as "OUT YONDER." She got her shot, the long sought-after perfect image of the impossible. But what could it possibly mean to anyone who wasn't there to see it?

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