Jordan Peele’s third feature Nope, starring Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, is the movie event of the summer– but what does it all mean?
The movie follows OJ (Kaluuya) and Emerald (Palmer) Haywood, two siblings who have been left in charge of their family’s ranch and horse training business and uncover a UFO in the skies of their long-time home. The film is ambitious and ambiguous, with an ending that leaves the audience with a lot to contemplate.
Below is a spoiler discussion of some of the questions and themes surrounding the ending of Nope:
What happens at the end of 'Nope'?
The ending of the film takes place as OJ and Emerald, with the help of Fry Electronics employee Angel (Brandon Perea) and famed cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott), plan an intricate gambit to capture the UFO creature on camera, attempting to tame it. After the plan goes sideways and we believe OJ has been killed, Emerald lures the UFO to the abandoned theme park run by Steven Yeun’s Jupe, where she takes photos of it with the parks well camera attraction and tricks it into eating a giant inflatable cowboy, which causes it to explode and perish. As the dust settles, Emerald sees her brother on horseback through the dust invoking the image of their great-great-grandfather, who was the image of the first movie ever made.
The film's ending and its themes
Like in his previous films, Peele explored some interesting themes that aren’t easily digestible in a way that is unique to his imagination, even more so in Nope. The film’s ambiguous nature challenges the audience to interrogate what they have seen. The first scene of the movie is one of its most chilling, depicting a trained chimp that went berserk on the set of a 90s sitcom that starred Yeun’s Jupe, ending with the chimp bloodied, looking directly at the audience. The idea of confronting the unknown and the human hubris of thinking we can tame nature into spectacles to be marveled at comes up repeatedly, being interrogated throughout the film setting us up for its eventual climax.
We are shown the consequences of taming what’s untamable, which is why the chimp subplot with Jupe keeps coming up. Its safe to assume that after the death of Otis Sr., the “UFO” (which is actually a big, living being in itself) settled at the Haywood Ranch, but it’s no telling how long it’s been there.
In the months following Otis Sr.’s death, Jupe had been buying the Haywood horses and using them to feed the UFO creature under the nose of OJ and Emerald, who have been busy dealing with the death of their father and the family business being in jeopardy. Jupe puts on a special show meant to show the UFO to the masses only to be consumed by it (along with 40 innocent bystanders) because of his hubris and greed and not understanding what he was truly dealing with.
Throughout the film, OJ tries to keep his late father’s business going. They are at the end of their rope selling horses, their livelihood, to keep the lights on. An extraterrestrial force has decided that their ranch is its territory, and they are faced with the dilemma of leaving or staying and getting the creature on camera which will, in turn, allow them to save the business or cut and run with the money they make. They are positioned as a Black family that has essentially been in Hollywood since the inception of film, but the history has been brushed over and forgotten, relegating them to horse trainers whose business has been struggling with a changing movie landscape.
The Haywoods are a Black family confronting the unknown to keep what they have. The fight to keep their foothold in the world and this idea is hammered home throughout the film through OJ. The desperation and sense of family legacy are justified in the film’s final set piece, with OJ attempting to break the creature as he and his family have done to Horses for generations. The land and business their father left them isn’t just land and a business– it’s a legacy worth fighting for beyond any stake in Hollywood.
Did OJ survive?
Nope ends following Emerald, after luring the UFO creature away via motorcycle, photographs the extraterrestrial. The beast explodes and is left floating in the sky. Emerald sees OJ through the dust on horseback as the police and news reporters descend upon the abandoned western theme park. The image invokes that of classic westerns and the erasure of the Black cowboy in the culture. But was it actually OJ, or did Emerald imagine him? The film used visions before, so it could have been that or it could have been him in real life.
Nope has a lot it leaves up to the imagination, but it never really fakes its audience out. If it was on screen, it’s probably more than safe to assume OJ did survive, and the shot was meant to be a heroic image, indicating that the Haywoods succeeded. Also, with Peele and the themes he has explored in his previous movies, the Haywoods surviving intact makes sense in that the Black characters went through hell, fought, and won. It’s up for debate if a more tragic ending would have made more sense or added a different quality, but the message of the Haywoods surviving and succeeding fits with what Peele strove for.
Nope is in theaters now.