'Nope' Explained—the Meaning Behind Jordan Peele's Alien Movie

'Nope' explained—what is 'Nope' about?
Daniel Kaluuya and Jordan Peele on the set of 'Nope'Credit: Glen Wilson/Universal Pictures
Did you walk away from Nope wondering what it's all about? 

Jordan Peele is one of the most fun directors working today. He writes and directs original horror thrillers that have so much more to them than just the plot. Peele dissects culture and history and adds thematic elements that bolster the theatrical experience. His latest movie, Nope, was shot on IMAX cameras and has some amazing sound design. It also has so many deeper meanings to the characters and chapters in this movie. 

Today, I want to help explain the meaning of Jordan Peele's Nope. We'll go over the themes, some Easter eggs, and dissect the ending of the movie. We're also going to talk about a few scenes and why they were included in the overall film, like the scenes about Gordy the chimpanzee. 

There are multiple layers of meaning and interpretation to Nope, and while I lay many of them out here, I'm curious to know which ones you saw or didn't... or what else you might have read into it that I missed. 

You can also listen to the editor of Nope break down the process, and his conversations about what it means with writer-director Jordan Peele:

Needless to say, there are many Nope spoilers to follow.  

All right, let's jump in. 

What is Nope About?

In order to unpack the themes and social elements in this story, I think we need to dig into the synopsis of Nope and then take apart what these plot points mean in the overall experience. 

Nope Movie Synopsis

In 1998, a chimpanzee named Gordy tears apart a sitcom set for Gordy's Home, which is about a family that has a chimpanzee as a brother. Gordy looks like he's killed everyone within sight. Then we cut to... a farm. Otis, an older horse wrangler, is talking to his son, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya). Then strange objects begin to fall from the sky. 

Otis is struck by an object, a coin, and bleeds out as OJ drives him to the hospital. We cut to six months later and meet OJ and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer), whose father owned Haywood's Hollywood Horses, a horse-training farm in Agua Dulce, California. They are working on a commercial with some horse-related stunts. Emerald claims that the unnamed man in the famous The Horse in Motion clip was their great-great-grandfather. They are left with a lot of unanswered questions and trauma after their father's death. 

Their ranch is next to Ricky "Jupe" Park's (Steven Yeun) western experience, Jupiter's Claim. Jupe was the child star of the 1998 sitcom Gordy's Home, which was canceled after his chimpanzee co-star went feral and mauled everyone on the set. Jupe was the only one who got out unscathed, and now he runs this tourist attraction. 

After a series of strange occurrences, like horses disappearing and a cloud that doesn't move, OJ and Emerald head to Fry's Electronics, where they meet Angel, a charismatic IT guy who catches on that they are trying to spot an alien and offers to help them. Emerald finds out online that places might pay a few hundred thousand dollars for photographic evidence of the alien. That would help their failing horse company. So they all get to work. 

'Nope' explained—what is 'Nope' about?
'Nope'Credit: Universal Pictures

Capturing the UFO in Nope 

They put up cameras all over the place and attempt to capture what looks like a flying saucer, but when it arrives, its presence knocks out all the lights and electrical equipment. And a bug gets on the one camera that's still working. Still, they are left with the conclusion that there is a UFO on the ranch and that it has been devouring their horses and spitting out the inorganic matter, which caused Otis' death. OJ calls it a "bad miracle."

Meanwhile, Jupe introduces a live show in Jupiter's Claim called the "Star Lasso Experience," where he uses a horse to bait the UFO to come and eat the horse in front of a paying audience. He even invites one of his horribly disfigured cast members from Gordy's Home there to witness the spectacle.

That backfires, and the UFO devours Jupe and the entire audience. The UFO then goes to the ranch after Angel, OJ, and Emerald, but they escape while it spits blood and inorganic material all over. 

'Nope' explained—what is 'Nope' about?
'Nope'Credit: Universal Pictures

The Nope Alien Meaning 

Nope is an alien movie at its core, and this alien is packed with metaphor. 

On the one hand, it seems clear that the alien and its relationship to attempts to capture it via surveillance are an allegory for law enforcement and police brutality. The at times absurd challenges of simply proving that this 'predator' is terrorizing people of color feel eerily familiar with the way law enforcement has continually abused its power and taken advantage of the Black community with little to no repercussions in the United States. Once you 'see' Nope's Alien this way it's hard to see it as much else. We cover this more later... 

Jordan Peele movies often come with layers. And there are other interesting interpretations for the Nope alien available. 

The movie Nope itself has a lot of focus on the business and fringes of Hollywood and the entertainment industry. 

And it gets more granular and symbolic... 

Fore example, the alien functions a bit like... a camera... the way its maw resembles one, the way the opening shots juxtapose the alien's cavernous sucking mechanism with the original "The Horse in Motion" footage from Muybridge.

Gordy and the TV set incident is of course an industry tale, a clear commentary of the nation of childhood stardom... and it's often catastrophic results for said child stars. 

But Peele plants clues throughout the film as to his aliens' industry allegory. The first time we meet Keke Palmer's lead character Emerald she is pitching herself as a multi-hyphenate talent. Her objective is fame and fortune, Hollywood style. This is in sharp contrast to her brother OJ who values completely different things.

Remember on telling line uttered by cinematographer Antlers Holst later on when speaking to Emerald? 

"That dream your chasing... where you end up at the top of the mountain... it's the one you never wake up from."

Holst is talking about fame and the industry machine. The one that shines a bright spotlight on someone and it is under that light that so many souls wither and die. Or worse. 

That spotlight is almost like the light coming down from... 

Yeah, you guesed it. 

The Nope alien. The one that literally chews you up and spits you out. 

The predator people are mistakenly trying to tame in Nope is fame. It's once again embodied by a last minute interloper into the crews grand plan to finally capture the alien on film.

Who is that masked man? 

A TMZ videographer of course. One of the most egregiously destrcutive arms and aspects of the fame monster/machine.

Jordan Peele's Nope has a clear character arc for Emerald. She starts off looking for fame and fortune in the industry down the road... she ends up finding and valuing something else... something she overtly ignored in her very first scene of the movie when he begged for her help... her brother OJ. 

Explaining the Ending of Nope

OJ deduces that this thing is a predator, and predators need to assert dominance when they find their territory. That means they should treat it like they do wild horses and not look it in the eyes. Just bow to it and avoid looking.

They formulate a new plan, reaching out to Holst, the cinematographer for the commercial they were working on in the opening. The idea is to lure the alien in and get footage using a hand-cranked camera run by Holst—that way, the electrical field that shuts things down won't matter. 

When they spring their plan into action, a TMZ reporter shows up on a motorcycle and tries to steal their footage. As the UFO flies around, it morphs into what looks a little like a giant moth, with huge wings spread out. OJ attempts to save the TMZ reporter, who gets a few shots and then tries to race away, but the UFO disables his bike and then eats him. 

Then the UFO heads back toward Angel and Holst, who are on a ridge. Holst gets a few great shots but is so enamored with the glory of capturing the beast at golden hour that he ignores protocol, looks it in the eyes, and tries to film it. It eats him and destroys the footage. Angel runs, wrapping himself in barbed wire so the best cannot eat him. 

The UFO then goes after Emerald, and to save his sister, OJ rides his horse away, saving Em. She then uses the motorcycle, which is now out of the UFO's range, to ride to Jupiter's claim, where there is a large, inflatable Jupe cartoon tethered to the roof, like a parade float. She unties the inflatable and sends it into the air. The UFO sees it and thinks it is challenging him, so it attacks it. 

While this happens, Em uses a coin-operated camera in the town to take picture after picture of the UFO. They all come out blurry or are obscured by clouds until the last one, which captures the beast in all its glory—right before it eats the balloon and explodes—finally conquered. 

With the UFO dead and the picture as proof of its existence, Em sees OJ on his horse outside the park. He's survived, and they know their legacy will survive as well. 

'Nope' explained—what is 'Nope' about?
'Nope'Credit: Universal Pictures

What Is the Theme of Nope

This was an incredibly deep movie with a lot going on behind the scenes. Nope's themes are clear if you look hard enough for them and analyze them through the lens of Hollywood.

Peele has said, "I wrote it in a time when we were a little bit worried about the future of cinema. So the first thing I knew I wanted to create a spectacle… the great American UFO story."

To that end, when you dissect the story, Hollywood comes in two layers. The most obvious one is that Nope is about the power of cinema. This movie was shot on IMAX and used large-scale storytelling to showcase a UFO-turned-beast in a story that greatly resembles both Spielberg's Jaws and Close Encounters

At the center of this movie are siblings who agree on the existence of the UFO, but both know that it might as well not exist unless they capture it on film, which will make it "real." This pining to make their own mark on this world while also claiming what's rightfully theirs and upholding the legacy of their father is a powerful driving force for the characters. 

This central metaphor of the power of cinema and spectacle is one of the driving forces behind all the visuals in this movie—if it happens on film, it is real, and it is undeniable. But what happens when people deny what happened? Or when people change history and erase marginalized groups at its center?

Nope acronym

Yep, as it turns out even the title itself is a spoiler. NOPE, or N.O.P.E. is an acronym for Not on Planet Earth. It may not be a common way of referring to extraterrestrial life, but it is one nonetheless. 

Race at the Center of Nope

Along with the idea that the spectacle will save the day and save Hollywood, Peele makes sure this is a story about a Black family that has already experienced erasure as many minorities have throughout Hollywood history. They come from a long line of horse wranglers that descend all the way back to the jockey on the horse in the first moving picture. 

As Keke Palmer's character says, they've got skin in the game. From their lineage to the way their house is decorated, with Sidney Poitier westerns that people have forgotten to other artifacts of Black people in movies marginalized by Hollywood and erased in time, their mission is clear—they want to capture the spectacle of the beast, but they also want no erasure of their hard work by other people. People like TMZ, which comes late to the party. And people like the cinematographer, whose lust for getting the shot and becoming a star gets him eaten. 

"I'm most proud of how we addressed this acknowledgment of the first actor, right?" Peele recently told EW. "The jockey that was in the clip that no one knows. In a lot of ways, this film is the sequel to that, the sequel that was needed, the reboot of that original film in which we acknowledge the erasure, we acknowledge the exploitation. We let it lie there, and then we go make the best fucking crazy adventure alien movie with Black people and Black voices."

Jordan Peele on the set of 'Nope'Credit: Universal Pictures

What About Nope and the Police? 

Another reading of the movie Nope is closely tied to the way people are surveilled as a society, specifically Black people. For far too long, we've seen Black people brutalized without anyone watching. Then we saw a revolution as people with smartphones began recording violence perpetrated by the police and others. This brought violence to the forefront. It became undeniable as visual evidence was provided over and over again. 

We know that this movie is rooted in providing photographic evidence of a predator that is perpetuating violence in what should be a safe place for this Black family. There's a strong connection here between the tactics and territoriality of the UFO in this movie and the police who stake out neighborhoods and think they "clean them up" via violence. 

Of course, these tragedies in the movie and in real life become spectacles, moving people with images of a reality they have denied for far too long. 

What Was the Point of Gordy the Monkey? 

One of the hottest topics online was the idea of the flashbacks in the movie to Gordy's Home, the sitcom where the chimpanzee flipped out and killed/maimed everyone but Jupe. Many people have asked what the point of the monkey was inside of Nope

Well, as OJ says at the beginning of the movie, you cannot tame a predator. And even in a sitcom where a family thinks the money is on their side, it can revert to nature with the slightest provocation, creating havoc. 

That wild animal was used for entertainment, and it backfired. Just like when Jupe grew up, he used the UFO for entertainment, feeding it horses, and then that backfired and got everyone killed, as well. Jupe succumbed to capitalism even when he knew it caused the most violent event of his youth. 

I think this is here to encourage us to understand that even when confronted with the unthinkable, if we use it to make money or profit off a predator, we are asking to be swallowed up by the demons we let loose.

It's also worth mentioning that Peele was likely inspired by a real-life chimp mauling for this part of the movie. You can look into the case of Travis the chimp and Charla Nash to see how the story is similar, and how a character in Nope wears a veil similar to Nash's in the film.

Why Did the Shoe Float? 

Another thing that everyone asks about is a moment from the Gordy's Home flashback. When Gordy kills everyone on the set, there is a shoe that appears to float behind him. That show can be classified as another "bad miracle," something that happens that has some beauty but is the result of something awful. It ties into the bad miracle OJ experiences when those inorganic objects fall from the sky and kill his father. 

The show is also a spectacle—something young Jupe looks at while hiding under the table, hiding from Gordy. As he takes in this spectacle, he lets Gordy calm down. So by the time he makes eye contact with Gordy, he is passive again and, therefore, safe. 

Nope and the Bible. 

Summing Up the Explanation of Nope 

I saw Nope twice this weekend, and I hope I was able to glean enough information for you to understand the themes, synopsis, and even some of the other intricacies of the movie. As Peele does the rounds with interviews and talks more and more about the plot points, we'll try to keep you updated with all the new theories and explanations. 

If you disagree with me or with any of these readings, I'd love to know your take on the movie. Let's use the comments section of this article to unpack it all together. 

I can't wait to hear your thoughts.      

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Your Comment

5 Comments

Welp, thanks for spoiling it Jason lmao

I guess I did see some UFO in a trailer and coulda guessed, but was still gonna go in blind

July 28, 2022 at 8:02AM

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Tim
29

What part of "many Nope spoilers to follow" did you miss?

July 28, 2022 at 9:22AM

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Here's a thought... "Fore example," "dream your chasing," "destrcution," "so the best cannot," "family thinks the money is on their side," "that show can," and "The show is"... where's a god-damn editor when you need one?

August 3, 2022 at 3:04PM

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Thomas Prill
Producer / Writer
125

Interesting analysis and I can agree with everything but the "alien as police brutality" metaphor. There was nothing said, alluded to or even hinted at of this interpretation inside the movie. I mean, would the Black characters NOT give some sort of nod to this somewhere along the lines. Peele has yet to mention anything like this either. He stated he wanted to make a movie that explored quintessentially "American" themes around spectacle and fame, especially ones relating to Hollywood. Those aspects are nodded at multiple times throughout for sure. Certainly he acknowledges the fact of many Black contributions to Hollywood having been willfully forgotten, downplayed or outright taken. The other thing is this: a predator is not evil, or corrupt, it is merely alive, like any other creature. We may say Police act "predatory" but that's a misplaced way of looking such behavior. Wolves, bears, hawks, flamingos, blue whales spiders... They are all predators. Larger predators require larger (or more) food sources in the form of prey. They can't live any other way; it's inherent in their DNA. Put a wolf in a field of green grass and other plants and it will die. There's no moral aspect to the way a predator kills; in fact it's a necessity.

Obviously police brutality is the opposite of this: their purpose is Protect. To prevent violence, not be the cause of it. I see nothing about the Nope alien that indicates it's acting against its nature.

Easter Egg: The Us scissors in Jupe's office.

August 4, 2022 at 12:24PM

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Douglas Bowker
Animation, Video, Motion-Graphics
563

I would say that many feel that the police do act like predators, and it is in many of their natures to provoke. Especially given the videos we've seen the last few years.

August 6, 2022 at 8:47AM

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Jason Hellerman
Copywriter
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