This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Timothy Lawrence’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
This week, I have concluded that I like Jordan Peele very much.
I really appreciate how much negative space there is in this film – not just visually, in the compositions, but in the structure of the story. In terms of theme and character, the viewer has to fill in a lot of blanks. Some will find this frustrating; I was unsure at first, but found it rewarding.
Daniel Kaluuya’s character in Get Out is a photographer. The flash of his camera frees hypnosis victims from their brainwashing, and so the camera becomes a tool to render invisible evil visible and thus rob it of its power. This seems like a thesis of sorts for Peele’s film, if not his whole body of work, but Nope complicates it immensely. In Nope, the camera becomes a devourer. Instead of healing tragedy, it commodifies it, turning it into a “spectacle.” Jupe is doomed to relive his spectacular trauma for "the Viewers" until it consumes him. The film, then, becomes a commentary on different ways of seeing.
O.J., like the animals he works with, does not like to be seen. When he is trying to address the crew on set at the beginning, he is barely able to make eye contact. He is paralyzed by the way they are all staring at him.
Emerald, in contrast, yearns to be seen. Everything she does screams, “Look at me!” Antlers is quick to perceive this; as he tells it, her dream is to be on the mountaintop with “all eyes” on her.
Emerald’s craving to be seen likely stems from the fact that Otis, Sr. did not see her. When telling the Jean Jacket story, her chief complaint is that he didn’t even look up at her. The horse was supposed to be hers, but then they landed a big western (in Emerald’s version) or Scorpion King (in O.J.’s version). Money supersedes family for Otis, Sr.; he does not look at his daughter, but is killed when a coin enters his eye.
O.J. does not repeat Otis Sr.’s sins. Naming the alien Jean Jacket is his way of telling Emerald, “This is for you.” He wears the Scorpion King hoodie and repeats the fingers-to-eyes gesture that means, “I see you.” (In my first review, I said that the characters were the film’s weak spot; on a second viewing, this gesture moved me to tears.)
O.J. begins the film avoiding eye contact and ends the film looking Jean Jacket in the eye. Emerald begins the film distancing herself from her family and ends the film identifying herself with her family: “Nobody fucks with Haywood!” Family supersedes money: in her last shot, she opens her eyes to stare at O.J., not at the photograph of Jean Jacket that they worked so hard to get.
The film opens with the morally compromised cowboy Otis, Sr. falling off his horse and ends with the righteous cowboy O.J. astride his horse, though I am not sure how literally we are meant to take this image. O.J. is shrouded in a cloud and framed beneath the sign that says “Out Yonder," as if he is a ghost who has passed on and Emerald is seeing him through a veil – a new kind of vision that seems to bring her peace.