Jordan Peele released the first full-length trailer for his upcoming movie, Nope (2022), during Super Bowl LVI and it is testament to his growing stature as a filmmaker that the two-minute teaser spawned a storm of speculation and analysis across the internet.
With his first two feature films, Get Out (2017) and Us (2019), Peele has already made his mark as a major talent in the film industry. As Collider says, “Few are using genre stories as a vehicle for provocative social commentary quite like Peele, who has become a premiere filmmaker within the horror space.”
While the trailer provided enough enticing details and arresting visuals to keep film lovers preoccupied with theories ranging from solid to solidly esoteric, few tangible elements of the plot can be gleaned from it. It does firmly establish Jordan Peele’s intention to give the audience “a new act of terror”, as the initial announcement for Nope promised.
What Do We Know about Nope Now?
The trailer opens with the two seconds of the very first moving picture, showing a horse in motion, with a Black man astride, filmed by Eadweard Muybridge in 1878. Jill Haywood (Keke Palmer) tells the audience that the jockey was her great-great-grandfather and that his descendants run the Haywood Ranch, “the only Black-owned horse trainers in Hollywood”.
Jill is a firecracker, popping with a hustler’s energy. She is accompanied by her monosyllabic brother James (Daniel Kaluuya), who seems less enthusiastic about Hollywood’s glitz and glam. Typical shots of a working, if run-down, ranch are interspersed with quirky details, such as a field full of tube men (the inflated figures that are usually found in front of car dealers, animated by the wind) and a bin full of souvenir alien heads. Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips, Part 2”, recorded from a live performance in 1963, plays in the background.
A subterranean unease in the first scenes becomes more overt when electricity shuts down, and an unknown object at the end of the long dirt road lights up like a small city. James asks “what’s a bad miracle?” near the middle of the trailer. People look at the sky constantly with concern that escalates to fear, as winds increase in intensity, hurling a woman into the sky.
Spot the Movie References…
The Nope trailer conjures up a host of references from films, from Hollywood Westerns to classic science fiction features, such as ET: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (2002).
Several elements also strongly evoke The Wizard of Oz (1939), especially the dusty rural setting, dark clouds looming overhead, and the gathering storm. The tornado in The Wizard of Oz was a natural disaster for Dorothy; bringing it to life in the early 20th century was a landmark in film innovation. The tornado centerpiece was “nothing more than a large tapered cloth sock with lots of wind and dirt thrown at it”, but created indelible images that are eerily similar to some scenes in Nope.
Hollywood horse ranches have come to be associated with an era in decline and a sense of dread, in part due to the days when Charles Manson and his murderous gang resided at the Spahn Ranch near Los Angeles. Quentin Tarantino reinforced those feelings of impending doom in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (2019) when Cliff Booth made his perilous visit to the ranch.
…and A Reference to a Painting?
As the tension builds in the Nope trailer, a horse bolts down the road, towards the lights in the distance. Fans of artist Alex Colville may detect an allusion to Horse and Train, an iconic painting that depicts a horse galloping on a railroad track towards an oncoming train. Colville was inspired by two lines in a poem by the South African/Anglo poet Roy Campbell:
“Against a regiment I oppose a brain/and a dark horse against an armoured train“
One interpretation of Colville’s shocking image is that the horse represents creativity, and the train is a symbol of war and destruction; another is that it symbolizes the collision between industrial mechanization and nature.
Theories of the Fifth Dimension
Rumors were circulating as early as the summer of 2021 that Nope is based on an episode of the original Twilight Zone (1959 – 1964) series, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”. Jordan Peele’s admiration for Rod Serling’s series is well-known; he was involved as host and producer with the recent revival on CBS All Access, and the episode “Mirror Image” inspired his screenplay for Us.
In “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”, the residents of an idyllic American neighborhood see portents of an alien invasion and begin to turn on each other as the fear of the unknown takes root. Peele may be referring to that theme in his carefully chosen description of the film as bringing “a new act of terror” to the screen. Terror is the feeling of dread and apprehension that something awful is about to happen, while horror is the feeling of shock and disgust at seeing the awful thing.
But the trailer doesn’t show the residents of the ranch and area focus on each other as potential threats; their attention is firmly aimed at something above themselves. While aliens seen in the trailer seem to be a major clue supporting the alien invasion theory, they could also be scenes from movies filmed on the ranch.
What’s A Bad Miracle?
An existential threat hangs over the universe of Nope and the source of the threat appears to be a huge cloud-shaped darkness with an object of some type falling from it. It may be an alien invasion, or a threat emerging from the world we know – an ordinary miracle gone wrong. Jordan Peele doesn’t have to reach farther than nuclear energy concerns or an extreme weather event to find contemporary inspiration for a movie that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats.
Whether Nope will explore themes inspired by real or imagined disasters, viewers can count on one thing from Peele, and that’s an entertaining ride. As he said at the Hollywood Reporter’s Writers’ Round Table in 2019, his artistic philosophy is simple: “Follow the fun…if I’m not having fun, I’m doing it wrong.”