This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Songbird Swordlily’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
"Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.” - Ozymandias, Percy Bythe Shelley.
I never grew up loving cinema. I didn't like most movies. I was too impatient for them. I didn't see the point in them, to be honest. By and large, I was utterly preoccupied with the interactive medium, not for its artistry but because I didn't see any point in anything without an element of interactivity; what purely spectacle could ever hope to compete with one of a microcosmic variety? The explosive interface between the press of a button and onscreen action; why would I ever have any interest in anything else when I could instead feed my stimulation to its heart's content? OF course, I did not think on these terms at the time, but I recall that it was how I felt.
Lately, in the midst of a severe depression, I've found myself lured back into this thirst for this unending massage of stimulation, this craving for the groan of a demon at the end of a firing gun in Doom or the impact of sword against flesh in Oblivion, some feedback over everything I was seeing. I've been wanting more; I think we always end up wanting more, more to see and more to interact with without the risk of any actual consequence; a desperate narrativization without the possibility that it might come with any sort of repercussion for our bodies or our minds.
This manifests in so many ways; through my own return to the interactive medium, through food or through true crime, through television and film and, above all in this modern day, through content. This age we live through now, this wretched festival of sound and fury signifying bloated spectacle and grotesque excess, then becomes our king; the content era.
A fever dream of want without need, a cacophony of light and song and dance and promises of control, as much of an illusion as that of movement on a screen, that awesome and terrible lie which has been used to bring such joys and horrors, such wonders and terrors which have helped save lives and take them just the same. If the screen is the looking glass through which we make sense of the world, what happens when that lens has taken on only a clarity of obscurity, what happens when we presume the kaleidoscope as a telescope, a sight fabricated seen as a truth unfiltered?
Nope tackles such things pointedly and quite unsubtly; it screams its points in such unsubtle times like the screams of those abducted within the film, those stolen and devoured by not only this great beast, this machine, but by their own willingness to surrender their guard to the absolute need to not see but look. One of the earlier shots in the film - -the opening credits --carries this near statement that Jean Jacket, the UFO who grinds up and spits out the masses is, on some level, the image of modern cinema.
Jean Jacket's mouth, quite notably, looks exactly like the sensor of a digital camera, the conduit through which the content era is propagated, kept fed and healthy and always wanting more. It is not only that Jean Jacket consumes its victims, it seems to spit them back out without much real rhyme or reason as to why it's devouring them in the first place. It is simply the void that stares back, which captures such beauty and such horror and packages it up all the same, a nihilistic consumption without thought, the reflection of those who meet their doom for beholding it. It is a sensor that consumes all surrounding power (digital cameras are known to consume more electricity than film cameras) and is utilized to consume all attention within its great range.
Meanwhile, it is the analog which serves as the counterpoint to this terrible entity's impassive consumption; a horse must be taken care of and respected and in some way film itself--celluloid and handcranks and physical record. This is not meant to indicate the attitude of a luddite but an aspiration toward a slower pace, one which interestingly stands at odds with the evocation of the western, a genre most associated with not only an endless barrage of filmed content but with the modern glut of the superhero film in the modern day by those who seek to deny the factory like nature of the work in favor of the supposed superiority and versatility of a limited genre which has come to represent the worst tendencies of said content era.
Such physical record comes a major player of the film's narrative payoff, the analog camera which captures Jean Jacket's image serving as solid proof that could not be tampered with or edited, taken with a camera which takes its time to develop, but the other factor of this payoff, that which saves the day, is the consumption of a balloon in the cartoon likeness of Jupe, he who survived the Gordy Incident unscathed, who transforms his trauma into content for fairgoers in the form of a theme park by the name of Jupiter's Claim, which replaced Gold Rush, a park that once stood where the newer park now stands, it's only remainder a well with the aforementioned camera at the bottom. Only that which was left behind, that which creates physical record, is what can gaze upon Jean Jacket, nestled deep below the horrors of the circus of Jupiter's Claim, a tribute to suffering.
And it is through the combination of Jean Jacket's mindless consumption of the spectacle of suffering through its own all-consuming lens and the refutation of making content of pain, of gazing up toward the horror and recognizing it as such and refusing to make any sort of attempt to master it that some form of ethical artistry is found, not built upon suffering but upon victory over an inhuman gaze that seeks to devour without thought.
I never grew up loving cinema. I grew to love it. I grew to think on what the image meant and the ethics of image making and its meanings, both intentional and inadvertent, and what it means for us to not truly witness what is coming at us. We mustn't avert our eyes so long as there is truth to be found within the horror. But when we have learned to desensitize ourselves to the pain, when we have learned to commoditize our suffering and the suffering of others, at the end of the day...
Well, sometimes it's best to just say "nope."