Speaker 1: I tell you my secret. Now I see. Charlotte. Greatest people?
Speaker 2: No, I am the father.
Speaker 1: What’s in the box.
Speaker 2: Yo. My God, you’re blowing up.
Speaker 1: Down here all day. Oh.
Dana Stevens: Hi, I’m Dana Stevens, Slate’s movie critic, and I’m back with another Slate Spoiler special podcast. And this week we’re going to be talking about Nope, the new sci fi horror epic film from director writer Jordan Peele. Joining me to talk about Nope today is Nadir Goff, an editorial assistant at Slate. Also in particular, the production assistant for our show, the Slate Culture Gabfest. So Nadira, we talk about culture almost every week, but very rarely on this side of the microphone.
Speaker 4: Yeah, I’m so excited to be here with you talking about this movie today.
Dana Stevens: This movie gives us a lot to talk about and dig into before we get started spoiling. The thing that I like to do, since this is not a review podcast, is get out of the way up top. Just your general response. Thumbs up, thumbs down. Will you send your friends to see Nope?
Speaker 4: Yeah. Definitely. Two thumbs up. I will send all of my friends to see. No, I don’t think it’s quite to the level as Get Out was, which is my favorite pure film so far. But I definitely enjoyed this one.
Dana Stevens: Yeah, I mean, I feel like I don’t even need to send my friends because all my friends are going to flock to see Nope anyway. I feel like the movie events of the summer, but I certainly would send them to see it because it offers so much to talk about. I will say though, that I find myself both confused and slightly disappointed by this movie, maybe because my expectations were high.
Dana Stevens: I want to hear a little bit before we get into it of what you think of Peele’s big screen directing career so far in general. I mean, I think Get Out, We Can All Agree, was an incredibly splashy debut and kind of one of the most grabby directorial debuts in recent years. Then US was received somewhat with a mixed reception. I think, you know, people thought that it was something of a comedown or that it was too ambitious. It didn’t quite accomplish what it set out to do. I personally am a big fan of us, but I also do see the objections to us that it’s so thematically ambitious that it never quite coheres into a movie. And I’m interested in asking you about that now, because I also feel that way on an even grander scale about this movie. I feel like it sets out to do even more than us did and maybe accomplishes even less.
Speaker 4: Yeah, I think I feel exactly the same way. I 100% was obsessed with Get Out. I think I saw it in the theaters maybe three times and then I also really enjoyed us, but have the same sort of hesitations or reservations that you did about everything that was trying to achieve. And I think with this film it seems to be Nope just seems to be a much more straight forward film, except for the fact that it’s not at all in the sense that there are at least one other major storyline going on throughout the movie that I can’t seem to fully understand how it relates to the sort of bigger story that we’re being told. And so I feel like I don’t think his films are always that straightforward, but this film really made me wonder if I was missing something that the film was explicitly trying to tell me or hit me over the head with.
Dana Stevens: So since something has come up a few times already about movies that have that take on a lot and don’t necessarily solve all of the mysteries that they raise, which can be a great thing in a movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love some of the ambiguities in this movie and in us as well. But since we’re talking ambiguities, let’s start off with the very beginning of this movie, which takes place in a time frame where we don’t spend that much time. I mean, I think you could say roughly that this movie has two tracks. One, that’s a flashback to the late nineties in the entertainment industry and one that is seems to be in the present day on a horse ranch in Southern California. So we’ll spend most of our time on that horse ranch. But can you kick us off? First of all, back in the nineties on the set of a mysterious sitcom starring a chimpanzee.
Speaker 4: Right? So when the film first starts, before you see anything kind of the a cold open and really you hear what sounds like audio from an old late nineties family sitcom, you know, with the laughing track and everything. But instead of actually seeing a sitcom taking place, what you see is you see a chimpanzee on a television set in what appears to be, you know, clothing. So clearly a costume, so clearly a part of the show, but covered in blood and a lifeless body in front of it. And it’s clear or were made to assume at least that the chimpanzee has attacked this body in front of it. But that’s kind of all you see.
Speaker 4: And then you get the title card for the film, I believe, or at least switches to the more recent part. And that small segment was so weird and so unexpected that some people in the theater actually laughed because they didn’t really know what to make of it. But it does surprisingly come back in the future, which I wasn’t even expecting myself.
Dana Stevens: Right? So all we know at the beginning is that at some point in the nineties an ape went crazy on a sitcom and killed one of the other stars of the show. Or at least one is kind of like a some gory spectacle has just taken place on that set. And then, as you say, we cut to the present day and we locate ourselves in another weird setting with an unexplained phenomenon, which is the death of this rancher, Otis Haywood, senior, from these objects that appear to be raining down from the sky. So we see these these two men on horseback, you know, they’re wrangling their animals sort of out in the middle of nowhere. And in what it will later be explained as something falling out of an airplane. The older of these two ranchers, the father is hit by these objects, one of which turns out to be a coin that in another really arresting and gory image goes straight through his eye into his brain. So this is the the act of of grieving in the death that kicks off the narrative in the present day.
Speaker 4: Yeah. This movie seems to play in a little bit more Body Harbor. I was expecting, certainly from a Jordan Peele film, and this is 100% the first instance where you see it. There’s a really gory scene of blood squirting out of the father’s nose, who’s played by Keith David in a very wonderful, very short moment for this film. So I wasn’t expecting that either. And to come off of the gory monkey on set, it was just a very interesting start to this film.
Dana Stevens: Right. So the very structure of the movie implies somehow that these two events are connected, yet it doesn’t become clear until quite a while later how or if they are. I’m not sure I ever understood how or if they were, but there is there is going to be a subplot that relates to to the monkey killing later on. In the meantime, we learn more about this rancher family.
Dana Stevens: So the son who is there when his father is hit by this flying coin from the sky, played by Daniel Kaluuya is is Otis Heywood Jr who goes by the name OJ. I have to say that this is something I found somewhat confusing, like obviously naming a black protagonist in a movie. O.J. is a very strong and bold move on this writer’s part. And outside of one sort of odd joke near the beginning, where some some other characters are sort of nonplussed by this name, I’m not really sure what point it serves that this character is named O.J.. But name aside, after O.J., the son has begun to process the death of his father for that from this mysterious freak accident, or so he thinks we see him on the set of a commercial, right? Isn’t it a commercial that shooting it? That’s a commercial than a feature film.
Dana Stevens: Right. With one of the horses from the ranch marked up with, you know, CGI style sort of greenscreen tape. And he’s getting ready to pose this horse to act in a commercial. And that’s when we learn the purpose of this horse ranch. It’s a it’s an animal wranglers ranch. So this is part of a sort of shadow industry of Hollywood. The Heywood family is this long time, as we learned, going back many generations, family of animal wranglers for Hollywood productions. So that’s when our major characters get introduced. O.J. is handling the animal on set. His sister, who appears late to this filming scene, is a is a much bigger personality than him. Right. Her name is Emerald and four short, played by Keke Palmer really wonderfully. And and she then launches into this speech about the Heywood family. I wonder if you could resume that speech for us. What what did she have to say to the folks on set?
Speaker 4: I can try as best as I can. There was a lot of history packed into what seemed like two sentences, but basically Emerald draws this sort of correlation or connection between the very first motion picture, which was a two second clip of a black man on a horse. And she explains that the black man on the horse, even though most people pay attention to whoever it was that put those frames together to make the motion picture, the black man and the horse is actually her great, great, great grandfather. And ever since then, her family, the Heywood family, has been involved in Hollywood on their ranch by training horses. And so they are the only black horse trainers in Hollywood. And I think she has this really catchy catchphrase, as it were. That’s something about like ever since Hollywood started, we’ve been able to say we have skin in the game or something like that. So she comes in with this really big intro, this great explanation of the sort of family history. But you can also tell that she’s the show person. You know, she’s the showman of the family business.
Dana Stevens: Right. And with her story, too, about this early film. Right, the famous photographs by Edward Bridge of the Running Horse. We also get a visual motif that’s going to come in much, much later in the movie of a bunch of still images. Right. Those famous still images strung together of a running horse. And I think a kind of a beautiful way Jordan Peele, I think is is incorporating all the film history, right? I mean, this is in some ways a love letter, but a very ambivalent love letter to the history of the entertainment industry and also the place of, you know, black people within that industry. Right. Because there may have been a black man on that original horse filmed by Edward Burbridge back in the 1870s, I believe it was. But it was a long time after that, before we had black cowboys on horses again. And that’s exactly what this movie gives us a lot of as we get toward the action. Climax is, you know, a black man this time, Daniel Kaluuya, on a horse.
Speaker 4: Right. Absolutely.
Dana Stevens: All right. So now that we’ve set up our basic couple plot lines and characters, I’m going to take a break before we dig into the quite substantial middle portion of the movie forward for the sponsor. All right. So turning back to the main story of Nope, after O.J. Senior exits the plot, we learn that the ranch is in some financial trouble. And this obviously has to do, although the movie never comes out and spells it out. But I feel like this has to do with the current state of the entertainment industry.
Dana Stevens: Right. I mean, that that the coming of CGI and in fact, is worth noting that Gordy, the chimp who we saw up top in the movie, is a completely CGI creation. Sources are not as necessary as they were before. The ranch seems to have fallen on hard times and as a result, the Daniel Kaluuya character, OJ Jr goes to try to buy some horses back from his character, played by Steven Ewing, who is for the first time now going to start sowing the eight plot back in together with the horse plot. So let’s talk about this crazy set, which Jordan Peele must have had a great time building and supervising the production design of where Steve Steven Ewing is out in the desert. He runs this kind of concession. Right. It’s called Jupiter’s claim. And it’s a kind of. Try to describe, please, for me this nutty theme park.
Speaker 4: Yeah, it’s like a very slapdash, western themed amusement park. That seems like it would be something you start up on on your way, you know, down Route 66 or something. It doesn’t seem like an ideal destination, but it’s ideal enough for this film in the sense that it’s also entirely creepy. It’s always half empty. Half not empty. Everything seems to be working but old. It’s. It’s very weird, very unsettling.
Dana Stevens: Right. And it seems like the who Steven Yeun is takes us a while to figure out. In fact, it’s Kiki Palmer’s character and figures it out during this visit. The siblings pay to him, but he is both like a faux cowboy who runs this concession. And also it seems he was able to open it in the first place because of his childhood celebrity. So he is the kid or one of the kids who is on the set of that 90 sitcom the day that Gordy the Ape went bananas and started killing people.
Dana Stevens: Right. Quick flashback. We see that he’s there spattered in blood as a kid, observing in horror the ape massacre. And now a back in the present day. He’s just famous enough. I feel like he’s almost like a Scott Baio figure or something. Like he’s somebody who had some childhood stardom and is just famous enough to be kind of milked as an adult. You know, where he runs this this Western style, little miniature theme park. So this theme park and this is all set up very quickly. And that early sequence has bought some horses in the past from the ranchers. And the reason the Heywood siblings have gone to this crazy theme park in the middle of nowhere is to sell one of their horses because the business is in trouble. And in the process of talking to Stephen, you and they are allowed into this secret room, this closed off room where the story of Gordy, the killer ape, has been preserved and a lot of artifacts from that moment have been preserved.
Dana Stevens: There’s one artifact I want to note, because it comes up later in the movie and I do not understand it. And that’s one of the points that actually annoyed me in the movie, because it is important to understand this, and it’s a sneaker with a spot of blood on it, right? That one of the characters actors who was killed by the ape was wearing at the time. And as we’ll see later on when there’s a flashback to that scene, there seems to be something kind of supernatural or enchanted about the sneaker.
Speaker 4: Yeah, it’s standing upright in perfect position and also seems to have a sort of halo type glow around it. And I did not understand why we do that with.
Dana Stevens: Gravity defying sneakers. So you can keep that in your notes for a future conversation.
Dana Stevens: All right. So that’s what’s going to weave these two stories together, not completely satisfyingly, but we now know that, Stephen, you and has is set up also in a quasi entertainment business, you know, close to the ranch where the two siblings are operating. And here we are. We’re a good, I don’t know, ten, 15 minutes into talking about this movie. And we haven’t gotten to the UFO yet.
Speaker 4: No, we haven’t.
Dana Stevens: So how does a UFO enter the proceedings in the first place?
Speaker 4: So after this fiction, the film is then split up into other sections, or at least it has title cards before different parts of the film. The next section is called Ghost, or that’s the title card that we see. The siblings go back to the ranch, both of them. And while they’re home catching up, we get one sort of throwback story where Palmer’s character, Emerald, talks about a horse called Jean Jacket, which was supposed to be the first horse that her or their dad was supposed to let her train. But instead, technically, his character, O.J., got to train the horse. So we get that back story really quickly.
Speaker 4: But then O.J. goes out to check on their remaining horse, Ghost and ghost runs away. There’s weird wind that comes in the sky. Ghost starts screaming a sound I never want to hear a horse ever make ever. And then we get our first sighting of the UFO, which is a cooler. It’s quick, it’s behind clouds, but it looks like I don’t even know. How would you describe the date night when we first see it?
Dana Stevens: I mean, it’s what’s great is that it is the changes that it undergoes. But the first time we see it and this becomes one of the countless, you know, old Hollywood references throughout this movie, it looks like a flying saucer. You know, it looks like the way that movies thought of of aliens looking back in the days of, I don’t know, Invasion of the Body Snatchers type movies from the 1950s. And yeah, for the first, I don’t know, probably hour and a half of the movie, that’s the.
Speaker 4: Form that we.
Dana Stevens: Suspect that it takes on. Right. But as we learn it, sort of it can unfold into into something completely different and I think really imaginative. I love the way that it’s imagined late in the movie, even though there’s other stuff late in the movie that makes no sense at all. I really did love the development of the look of the of the UFO. So. Almost immediately, O.J. gets this idea that he’s going to save the ranch by being the first to identify and identify flying object, basically. Right. First, he’s going to use technology to tape it.
Speaker 4: Right. But first, I actually want to point out one of my absolute favorite things about this film, which is after O.J. sees the UFO for the first time, he’s talking to emeralds. And there’s not a moment’s hesitation where Emerald doesn’t believe him. The movie wastes no time with the well. Prove that you saw a UFO. The lights flicker out. Emeralds like that was weird. O.J. is like, I saw a UFO, and she’s like, That’s crazy. We should try and make money off of.
Dana Stevens: Them, right? Right.
Speaker 4: She completely believes them.
Dana Stevens: Yeah, it’s true. And that is a nice character touch, actually, in a movie that in general, I think could have used a little bit more character development, a little more downtime between the siblings. That is a nice touch that establishes that they know each other and trust each other. They’re very different types, right? I mean, the Daniel Kaluuya character is extremely I mean, I would say melancholic. Right. He’s still really brought down and depressed by his dad’s death. He’s kind of obsessed with keeping the ranch going. She, on the other hand, has a million irons in the fire, is kind of entrepreneurial, is much more upbeat. But the two of them do seem to have this this deep connection that involves the ranch, you know, the horses, their dad. And also, once they discover it, you know, this this new entrepreneurial plan they have that they’re going to become the first people on earth to ever identify an alien invader.
Speaker 4: Yeah. So in that pursuit, both siblings go to a video store to try and get all of the materials that they’ll need to capture this UFO. And the clearest picture that we can ever see it. That’s where we meet Angel, who works at the video store. He sells them the equipment. Angel also then helps them set set it up. So Angel goes back to the ranch with them, helps them set up the equipment, kind of lingers around. Definitely hints that he’s interested in what they might be filming and that he’s aware that they’re trying to film UFOs or the presence of aliens.
Dana Stevens: Yes. Played by Brandon PEREIRA. I really love this character. He’s this kind of I mean, I feel like he’s he’s somebody who often shows up in this kind of sci fi movie. Right. Who’s the slightly dumb white guy who’s helping them get it going? I mean, he offers to help them set up the camera. He almost immediately starts talking about UFOs, but in a much more kind of a conspiracy theory mindset. At first, I afraid that he was somebody who was going to out them, you know, that they were. And they were understandably nervous about the same thing that he was going to be somebody who was going to scoop them on the UFO and try to get out the information before they did. But as it turns out, he’s quite a useful helpmate for them in this in this process of trying to capture images of the UFO. So he comes over, sets up security cameras along with O.J. Jr. And sort of starts to join them in this task of keeping a nightly watch for the alien.
Speaker 4: Right.
Speaker 4: And I think right before we move on to the next section, after they meet Angel, I think that’s when Emerald steals the decoy, of course, from Jupiter’s claim, which also comes back later.
Dana Stevens: Oh, yeah, because that is important to start talking about. Another ongoing visual image along with those stop motion images of a horse that are going to come up over and over again from film history. There’s and you’ll notice if you’ve seen the trailer for Nope at All, there’s this ongoing theme of the I don’t know what you call them, but the fluttering triangular flags I see at at a used car lot or something like that. Right. Later to be joined by and I don’t have a word for these either the waving tube guys that you also.
Speaker 4: Like, the inflatable men that you would see outside of car dealerships.
Dana Stevens: Right. So because those things become important in the alien subplot, it’s worth noting that the horse that she steals, the decoy horse that she steals from, Steven Yeun’s theme park has one of those attached to it. It’s got, you know, a big a big trailing.
Speaker 4: Yeah. I also.
Dana Stevens: Think.
Speaker 4: One important motif and motif that they hint at but isn’t as important as the other two you just mentioned is reflective surfaces. So the decoy horse has these reflective eyes that then come back up later in a really cool costume aspect. But there’s also the repeated motif of whatever reflective surface they use to test light on sets. That’s actually what spooked the original horse. Lucky when we first meet O.J. and Emerald when they’re trying to shoot that commercial.
Dana Stevens: Right.
Dana Stevens: Well, did you notice that comes up as well? The motif of looking something in the eye comes up in the old killer ape subplot because of the idea that the reason this ape was going on the rampage is because people were looking it in the eye. And, you know, it is in fact, true. I think that animals tend to perceive eye to eye contact as being aggressive. And so that’s something I think that if I had to say thematically, what ties the two plots together? And here we’re getting into bigger ideas, but we might as well do it as we go along because there’s a lot to come. But I think the idea of interfering with nature. Right, or somehow kind of hubristic or challenging an alien or. Other kind of species in a way that’s.
Speaker 4: A predator.
Dana Stevens: In some way it’s selfhood. Yeah. Is something that’s that’s dangerous and something that O.J. as a horse wrangler and somebody who’s good with animals knows not to do. And very early on in that scene on the on the commercial set that we talked about, he says, don’t look the horse in the eye. You know, somebody gets kicked because they’re standing in the wrong place. And and there’s a sense that he has a sense of of boundaries around how to treat creatures that are alien and that will serve him well when he starts duking it out with a UFO at the end.
Speaker 4: I love the image of someone duking it out with a UFO, but that’s actually exactly what happened.
Dana Stevens: It’s a Western, and I think it becomes more and more of a Western as as the movie goes on.
Speaker 4: Absolutely. So as the movie does go on, the next sort of section of the film is called Clover. And so as it stands. Emerald in Ojai or at the ranch, they’ve got the camera set up. They’re waiting for the UFO to come again. The lights flicker, the power goes out, as it tends to do when the UFO approaches and O.J. goes into what I believe are the stables. I don’t know, of course, terminology, but he goes into a secluded dark area.
Speaker 4: And then we get one of my absolute favorite scenes of the film, which scared the living daylights out of me. It’s a wonderful decoy. So basically, as O.J. is in this room alone, you start to see these really, really creepy looking, alien ish figures. They start popping up around and tormenting him. There’s jump scares galore. It’s terrifying. And it turns out that they’re just Jupiters kids from Jupiters claim they’re just his kids who are basically retaliating for Emerald having stolen the decoy horse.
Dana Stevens: Yeah. And the way the aliens look actually becomes important later on. You notice they look like apes, right? I mean, they’re sort of half alien. Their masks look a bit like the classic image of an alien with a sort of skull shaped face and big eyes. But they have these very ape like bodies and are sort of moving in an ape like way, once again, bringing together, you know, the story from the past and the story from the present. Yeah, that’s that’s a good fakeout scene. I agree. You know, every good horror movie has to have at least one scene where it’s something horrifying yet completely banal happens. I noticed that that happened also in a scene in the electronic store when Angel has a scene, suddenly sees a dark figure looming behind him, and it turns out it’s his coworker eating hot Cheetos.
Speaker 4: Yeah, I love that moment, too, which is a surprise cameo by Barbie Ferrera, who’s in Euphoria, which I found really entertaining.
Dana Stevens: I don’t watch Euphoria, so I never would have gotten that one.
Speaker 4: Yeah.
Dana Stevens: So after the appearance of the children dressed as aliens, there’s something important that we learn about the UFO from this. This second big appearance of the UFO. The siblings discover that the UFO has attempted to eat, and this is not quite clear yet in the movie, but we might as well spoil the spoiler special that what we’re talking about here is not just a single spaceship with, you know, some sort of occupants in it, but it is the actual being, right. This saucer like thing we’ve been seeing that later takes on a different form is actually one unitary creature that is hungry for stuff and is sucking in things from the area all around the siblings branch and it seems like it only eats the organic material. This is also never said, but we just sort of figure it out and it spits out the things that are inedible, right? Which then accounts for how O.J. Senior died. It’s because the things that were falling were not falling out of an airplane, but were being essentially kind of belched out by this creature who couldn’t digest them. Isn’t that kind of how you saw it?
Speaker 4: Yeah, in a very disturbing way. That’s definitely how it.
Dana Stevens: And so the siblings really learn that fact the same night that they see the alien or the kids dressed up as aliens because the floating UFO decides that it wants to suck up the decoy horse thinking I guess that it’s a real horse but spits the horse back out because precisely of those flags, the triangular fluttering flags, which it doesn’t seem to like. They also know this, I guess, because afterwards the flags are stuck in the alien. Right? It has a line of flags coming out of it. So slowly they start to put together that the alien is a single being, that it is looking to eat everything in sight and that it spits out the organic objects that it can’t digest. They end up using all of this in their ultimate set up to try to trap and photograph the alien.
Speaker 4: Right. And in a very quick plot point, they actually don’t capture the money shot of the alien at this point because there’s a praying mantis that covers the camera. So they’re still in the hunt for the perfect shot of the UFO slash alien.
Dana Stevens: Yeah, that was another good Fakeout. I love that. The praying mantis covering the camera. I love Kiki Palmer’s line about you better pray I.
Speaker 4: Don’t get you right. But I don’t catch the spring mantis. Yeah, it was great.
Dana Stevens: All right. I’m going to take another break here for another word from our sponsor. And we’ll come back to talk about the two, not one, but two big action climaxes of Nope. All right, Nadia, I hope the listener is still with us, because this is a lot of plot that we’ve already plowed through. And I feel like we’re probably not explaining it that clearly because I’m still not totally sure I understand it. In fact, in the midst of writing my review, which I’m still doing, I’m trying to puzzle out what some of this stuff means and how it all fits together. But I think the next big thing that we need to talk about, and it is pretty spectacular, just I mean, it could stand alone. I think it’s just a good action sequence in itself is the encounter with the alien that happens at Jupiter’s claim at that crazy theme park run by Steven Ewan’s ex child star character. It’s the first time that we see those two parts of the story come together, the UFO plotline and the ex child star running a fun ranch plotline. Can you help me set up the insanity that takes place at Jupiter’s claim?
Speaker 4: Right. So after the failed attempt to capture the shot of the alien, OJ decides that he wants to go back to Jupiter’s claim to buy back Lucky the horse. As he’s doing that, we see Jupe, who’s played by Steven Yeun, perform his new, as he calls it, family show. But it turns out that that family show is just selling tickets to see the alien in person, which he has dubbed the viewers. So he’s selling tickets to see the alien. He’s selling Alien merch. And as he’s trying to show these audience members, the alien alien shows up early and consumes them all.
Dana Stevens: Now, this scene is really horrifying because at the climax of it, as this UFO is hovering above this little yellow theater, little stadium full of spectators sucking them in, we actually see what’s inside the alien for the first time, right? We essentially get a kind of point of view shot of what it would be like to be in the gullet of the alien being digested. And it’s really, really horrifying.
Speaker 4: Yeah, it really plays on claustrophobia. There’s like billowing tent sides kind of or cloth sides that come in and just seem like those around you. It is very chilling. Very, very chilling.
Dana Stevens: And that’s the moment that we really know for the first time what I think the siblings are already suspecting, which is that this is not a craft but an individual being up in the sky, you know, that that’s looking to eat people. But this is also the part of the movie, I have to say, where the first big plot hole comes along. And it’s something that I asked multiple critics about on my way out of a press screening yesterday, and nobody understood it. Maybe you did, but how on earth is Steven Yeun getting this alien, which, you know, as we’ve seen, the siblings have no control over and no understanding of, how is he getting it to show up at the same time every day for some kind of, you know, light and sound show at his theme park? I just don’t understand what’s I don’t understand what he expected to happen then or what the movie is positing has been happening on a regular basis between the UFO and the Jupiter’s claimed theme park. Do you?
Speaker 4: Yeah. I wasn’t sure about the timeline of the entire thing. Generally, there’s a moment earlier in the film where they discover that there’s a cloud that hasn’t moved and then OJ remarks that he’s probably been looking at the same cloud for six months, which means that the aliens might have been there, alien, singular might have been there for six months. I’m not sure how that ties into the Jupiter Claim show. I wasn’t sure entirely how long the Jupiter Claim show had been running. It seemed like it might have been new ish, but not entirely new. They had already sort of figured out some of the things that they had sort of worked through in order to make the show work. So I was a little confused about the timeline as a whole.
Dana Stevens: I was confused about the timeline and also just about what the show would have consisted of it almost.
Speaker 4: Right.
Dana Stevens: The movie was positing that the reason he wants all these horses, that Jupiter wants all these horses, is because he’s. Sacrificing a horse a day in the show. But it seems like that would be something the ranchers would know about. Just it just seems like if there was literally a guy sacrificing horses to a big God in the sky as part of a theme park show, that it would be bigger news that is in this movie.
Speaker 4: It also seems like a four to go by the rules of the film, which is if you look at it in the valuable eat era that everyone would have been eaten on opening night when they first ran the show.
Dana Stevens: Yeah, I agree. And that same, that same plot hole that if you look at in the I will eat you comes up in the in the climax at the ranch that we’ll get to in a minute because that seems to be an inconsistent rule there as well. So I think this is a moment to actually say, I mean, how is the movie working for you at this point? I think it was around the time of the Steven Yeun Show, as spectacular as that sequence is in itself as a piece of craft and filmmaking. And as scary as it is that I started to have questions about how the movie was cohering and staying together that I didn’t feel were ever completely answered.
Speaker 4: Yeah, it’s worth noting, and I think we will probably talk about this quickly on the back end because it’s just easier to do it that way. But it’s worth noting that right before this entire scene at Jupiters claim, where there is a massacre is when we get the actual visual of what happened on Gaudi’s home, the late nineties television show. So this is all happening really after we get the very gory scene of Gaudi, the monkey. Killing people, and I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of that. And then it jumped sort of right into this. So I think I was just being taken on for the ride. I was sort of reserving all of my judgment for the end.
Dana Stevens: Oh yeah, me too. I was thinking, okay, now these things are going to come together. And maybe that’s why I clock that moment in the movie as a moment that I started to be disappointed. It was only in retrospect because they didn’t really come together. Right? Right. I suppose that the reason that that flashback would be dropped in right there, the gaudy murder flashback, would be because it’s about the Steven Yeun character’s psychology, right? That he’s almost trying to master the trauma of his past by recreating the spectacle night after night, which is a fascinating idea, but we don’t really know that character at all. We only see him in a few scenes in which he’s basically the butt of the joke in this kind of ridiculous, vain, self impressed faux cowboy. And so I’m not sure how revisiting a trauma from his past and then, you know, having him get sucked up into an alien never be seen again. How that resolves that story.
Speaker 4: It seemed very weird. I was also talking to some other critic friends about this and we all just decided that it seemed like Steven Yeun’s character, even though he’s played extremely well by Stephen himself, it seems like the character just serves a purpose to attempt to tie the the lessons we’re supposed to learn from the gordie story to the lessons we’re supposed to learn or the way we’re supposed to apply them to the sort of present day story. But I wasn’t sure about that connection, so I wasn’t entirely sure about Stephen’s character or why Q was so underutilized or so under explained. I agree. I was confused. Yeah.
Dana Stevens: It’s not even clear whether he’s a villain. You know, he’s he’s a protagonist. He is a very flawed protagonist who’s somewhat ridiculed. He’s not exactly the villain. I guess that would be the big thing in this guy eating everyone. But just what exactly what place he holds in the narrative was somewhat confusing to me, and it was a moment that I could have done with a few more minutes of movie to spin out some time with that person in their story. All right. Yeah, but we still have another, even bigger action climax to get to. And this is where you see in the movie’s last 20 minutes or so, you really see that Peel is making his first blockbuster, right? I mean, he really has a huge budget this time and huge special effects and his imagination, which I think is his greatest gift as a filmmaker, you know, but more so than I think his storytelling craft at this point, he just has an absolutely wild and generous imagination. And I do love that about all of his movies.
Dana Stevens: But that is on full display in this final showdown among the folks at the ranch, the two siblings and Angel, the electronic store employee who’s become their ally and trying to capture the image. And also speaking of capturing the image, this filmmaker who gets brought into the story in the last half hour or so, his name is Antlers Holst. He appears to be a documentarian of a very dour kind of sort. I almost thought of Werner Herzog when they they introduce his character and he’s watching some some footage that he’s editing together. He seems to be a documentarian who specializes in kind of grim spectacles about nature. And you see him watching some footage that apparently he has filmed of. I don’t think I think a tiger being eaten by a snake or something really, really gnarly.
Speaker 4: It’s worth noting that, if I’m not mistaken, that this is the director of the commercial that the whole film starts off with. And so earlier in the film they call him, they say that they’re trying to get an impossible shot. He declines. But once on the news, he sees that 40 people have died in a mysterious accident or have disappeared, rather, in a mysterious incident. Then he contacts O.J. and Emerald again, and he teams up with them to try and capture the shot of this alien again. Not once in this movie does anyone disbelieve them for a second, which I find to just be absolutely incredible. So they set up this whole plan to attempt to draw out the alien, which they have aptly named, Jean Jacket, and they try and make it happen.
Dana Stevens: Yeah. So here’s where I get confused about their plan. I love some elements of their plan, especially how their plan really thematically starts tying together things that we’ve that have been dropped into the movie much, much earlier. So those Edward Me Bridge, you know, famous photographs, the sequential photographs of the horse come back in in that as we’ve learned, everything electronic tends to die down when the alien appears, right. If radios go off, you know, there’s nice, spooky special effects of various, you know, pop songs being kind of distorted, you know, as the alien appears, everybody’s lights go out, etc..
Dana Stevens: So Antlers. Holst has this idea played by Michael Winnicott, by the way. Very well, very funny character antlers. Holst decides that he’s going to use an old school crank, you know, hand-cranked film camera to capture the image, since you don’t need any electricity for it. And then here’s a moment when I really could have used more of a walk through of the plan, but using little monopoly pieces right to represent yourselves and a map with pushpins, they proceed to map out this kind of geographic formation that they’re going to assume in order to capture.
Dana Stevens: Sure. The image of the alien and I got really confused about this plan. I guess we don’t need to explain every element of it, but I’m not quite sure except for how visually stunning the the results are, why they had to lay out the territory in this way. But what they do is they get a bunch of the waving tube guys. Previously mentioned the use lot markers in various rainbow colors because those remind the alien of this fluttering flag that it didn’t like to eat and couldn’t digest. And they set them up as almost sort of in a runway formation, which I assume what that is for is that when you’re in that runway, you’re more or less safe from the alien because it doesn’t want to get near the tube. Guys, is that the idea?
Speaker 4: I think that’s part of the idea. I think the other part of the idea is that they are powered by electricity. And so, you know, when the alien is coming or when he’s leaving, if they’re fluttering like they’re supposed to or if they’re just kind of lying down flat. And so it tells them both that alien is approaching and where it’s kind of positioned. But then also, I guess would remind them of flags or bright colors and so would kind of keep the alien away.
Dana Stevens: Right. So they’re trying to both lure the alien in with bait, which will be them and the horses and to to some degree, kind of staved off with these waving tube guys. So they set up this whole this whole area to do that. The filmmaker is up on the hill with a camera, along with the electronic store dude as his assistant. And then I think this is maybe the part I really didn’t get. So, but, but it’s the part that invokes the kind of spaghetti western that makes this ending, even if you don’t know what’s going on. Really exhilarating to watch is that we have the cowboy. We have Daniel Kaluuya on horseback who’s getting ready to run through the runway, waving to guys. The idea being that he’s he’s luring the alien, right?
Speaker 4: Yes. That he would lure the alien to a spot that would be apt for filming, I believe.
Dana Stevens: But the siblings plans are foiled by several things. The first of those things being that somebody appears in a completely mirrored helmet. Going back to the theme of mirrors and reflectivity that that’s been going throughout the movie, who at first, you know, you thought he might be an alien himself or maybe he’s a cop or he’s some kind of spy. But as it turns out, like so much in this movie, he is another hanger on to the entertainment industry. It turns out to be a TMZ reporter on an e-bike who has heard about the strange goings on near this town, near this theme park. And he’s come to check out the situation himself.
Speaker 4: Yeah, it sort of plays into the film’s whole deal with its commentary on the entertainment industry. Specifically, what was really chilling about this TMZ reporter is that even as he was lying down on the ground with most of his bones broken, he was still begging them to get the shot on camera or to use their camera or why aren’t they filming this? And so it seemed to be at that point maybe hitting us a little over the head with, I guess, the entertainment industry’s need to devour everything for content or turn everything into content, especially for profitability. But that’s a quick moment. And then it swiftly moves on.
Dana Stevens: Right as he as he deserves. The TMZ guy is soon sucked up by the alien himself, although there is a moment when and this seems, it seems telling that the Daniel Kaluuya character, I think, risks his life in order to try to help the the TMZ reporter. Right.
Speaker 4: Yeah.
Dana Stevens: And at this point now, the plan is really messed up because instead of just being bait, who’s who’s out of the way, Daniel Kaluuya and his horse are just exposed to to the alien that’s attempting to eat them.
Dana Stevens: And here’s where the alien, I believe, around this time is when the alien starts to change form. And I want to talk a little bit about how it looks when it changes form, because that was a really cool and surprising moment to have late in the movie. And again, I think spoke to Jordan Peele’s directorial imagination.
Speaker 4: Yeah, so the alien changes form from a flying saucer to I don’t even know how to describe it, a sort of animal built from billowing fabric. It’s flying through the air. It looks like it could actually be a pretty insect, except it’s terrifying and huge and is just billowing in the air, consuming everything underneath it.
Dana Stevens: Right. It has this this floral or mushroom like kind of quality. It’s kind of organic around the edges. It’s that part is really beautifully done. And then in the center, sort of where the mouth or the eye or the face of the alien would be, is this is this great creation that is kind of a screen, you know, which again, I guess goes back to how this movie wants to to be a critique of watching, you know, a viewing. In fact, at one point I think Angel says, let’s call this creature, the viewer, you know. Right. He’s sort of hypothetically naming it the viewer. And at that moment, it kind of turns into this series of screens that keep kind of renewing themselves. And it seems like what these screens are doing and they’re surrounded by actually sort of little other fluttering bits that look like flags. And it seems as if the screen is almost inviting you to look at it, which, of course, is exactly what you shouldn’t do, because then it will suck you up and eat you.
Dana Stevens: And there is the. This kind of contest between the the person down on the ground and, you know, these series of screens that are opening and opening up in the sky is really sensational looking. Once again, I’m not entirely sure what it means. I mean, it’s but it’s a beautiful climax of just visually. And then there’s a bunch of stuff happening on the ground that I again just found completely confusing. But there’s a kind of a standoff, right? I would say that the kind of emotional and maybe action climax of the movie, too, is the standoff that occurs after the alien starts to reveal its true form. Because Emerald Keke Palmer has decided to to disobey the plan, she was supposed to be, you know, essentially operating walkie talkies and staying out of the fray. But because her brother is in danger, she goes down there, grabs the TMZ guy’s bike where she can’t get to start it first.
Dana Stevens: And there’s this very Western standoff moment. It’s like something from a Sergio Leone movie. I think even the music on the soundtrack evokes that kind of, you know, that that kind of old spaghetti western music and the two siblings are some distance apart on the road, you know, lined by the waiting tube guys. The in between them is this huge hovering, insane alien, like revealing the screens, etc.. And I didn’t quite understand what that standoff was, was that both of the siblings wait, hoping to sacrifice themself for the other sibling. And why did the standoff ended the moment it did a you know, the moment I’m talking about it. Where were you equally confused?
Speaker 4: Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s worth noting very quickly that at this point, Angel is up on some hill, entangled in barbed wire and the director antlers in pursuit of the perfect shot. They actually did successfully get some film earlier, but in pursuit of the perfect shot, he thinks the light would be better elsewhere. And so he tries to get more footage but then just gets sucked up by the alien and taken with.
Dana Stevens: This pure iris. And that’s a perfect ending for his character, right? Because he is absolutely. He’s so egotistically obsessed with being the person who films the alien and that he winds up sacrificing himself to the alien and sacrificing all the footage that he shot as well.
Speaker 4: Exactly. So this brings the alien back in full form and it’s kind of upset now. And so, as you say, Emerald’s an OJ attempt to get away from it, but they do have this sort of standoff moment and I just assumed that it was O.J., you know, standing firm in his decision to sacrifice himself for his sister. But Emerald sort of still in the moment, trying to make peace with that. That’s kind of how I read it as her saying a sort of goodbye and a look, but I wasn’t entirely sure either. It’s definitely up to interpretation.
Dana Stevens: Right? And that moment is emotionally, really powerful. But logically, I’m not sure it makes complete sense because both of them could have escaped more easily at that moment, and nobody would have had to sacrifice themselves if they had not spent so long staring at each other in the standoff. Secondly, it seems like the rule that you can’t look at the alien is kind of broken in this scene because Daniel is looking straight at the alien. He’s backing up on his horse and that’s beautifully filmed. Actually, I love those close ups of the hooves as the horse is moving backward. Right. Because he’s this expert horseman, but he’s not sucked up, as far as I can tell, unless the very last shot of the movie and we’ll get there in a second is Emerald’s fantasy. But when he makes it right here, he makes it through.
Speaker 4: I mean, I choose to believe that that last shot was reality. And then he makes it because I’m soft and I like when things end happily, but it’s definitely up for interpretation. But I think the way we’re supposed to read that small note is that he looks up at the alien to definitely bait it towards him so Emerald can get away. But then all of the tricks that we saw him use earlier in their previous successful attempts, he used to get away again, you know, the flags, the his hood, which has the reflective horse eyes on it and all of that stuff, but it’s not shown. And so I’m not entirely sure.
Dana Stevens: Yeah, we never quite see his ending or not ending the moment he gets away because the action shifts to Emerald, who now has gotten the ebike of the TMZ guy working and she tires off to the Jupiters claim theme park. Right. Which is now even more creepy because it’s been the site of the massacre and it’s completely abandoned. And there’s a there’s an announcement running on a loop saying that the park is closing. Very, very creepy stuff. I mean, it actually reminded me of some of the theme park stuff in us.
Dana Stevens: It seems like Jordan Peele loves himself a creepy theme park, and then the photographic plot finds its climax in a way that’s very satisfying, I think, which is that this thing is like Jupiter’s claim theme park that we saw earlier, sort of hand-cranked machine for capturing tourist photographs where you can look into a well. And then inside the wishing well is a machine that takes your picture. She manages to position herself there and wait for the alien to fly right overhead where she can photograph it. And then the way she dispatches, the alien, which is another critic pointed out, is sort of a quote from Jaws in a crazy way, is very satisfying. Do you want to describe how she finally does? The Alien is.
Speaker 4: Right. So when she’s at Jupiter’s claim, there’s a. Big cartoon inflatable of Jupiter himself that has a whole bunch of flags attached to it. So she releases that big inflatable Jupiter with the flags attached to it. The the alien sees it, it tries to eat it. But of course, the inflatable man pops in the air and thus explodes the alien. But it drifts over the well camera so precisely that she can get that last photo right.
Dana Stevens: And that last photo comes out on a plate that looks almost like a tintype or something, an old fashioned photograph bringing back in the very first images of the movie of that, you know, that running horse from the 19th century. So thematically and visually, it all comes together really beautifully, plot wise. I’m not sure that it ever completely coheres, but there’s still a real satisfaction, of course, to the moment when she explodes the alien.
Dana Stevens: And then, as we said, there’s this from a Western again, image of a man on horseback that appears right as the cops are arriving and the paparazzi are arriving to cover this, you know, whatever crazy alien event has just happened. She also sees perfectly framed in the gate of the Jupiters claim park, her brother on horseback. And again, I was talking with people coming out after the screening about whether this image, which you see in a kind of a misty, hazy light, is something that she really sees or just her memory and imagination of her brother’s heroism. And I, like you, want to believe that he made it, although the ends up leaving a lot of holes in rules that the movie itself has established.
Speaker 4: Right. I was surprised it even showed us that last scene. I thought the last shot was going to just be Keke Palmer smiling to the camera and us not necessarily knowing what she’s looking at. But I choose to believe that he’s definitely survived.
Dana Stevens: They were so ingenious. Their plot was so well thought out, even if not entirely sensical, that of course I want him to make it. But I feel like this is a movie that I walked out in a way, kind of fist pumping and then in a way just head scratching, like fist pumping with one hand and head scratching with the other, which is not the most satisfying posture to end a movie in.
Speaker 4: Yeah, unfortunately, it seems like we’re running out of time to even get into the whole gaudy alternate plot or additional plot. But I definitely left the theater with my head scratching, but also fist pumping. I think I might have come out enjoying it a little bit more than you did, if at all, just because I think it was visually stunning. The sound design was incredibly effective. I was creeped out so many times successfully, but I agree. I mean, I think the plot definitely had some holes and definitely left me a little confused.
Speaker 4: But I do think that for the most part, it seemed to be the sort of most straightforward thing that Jordan Peele has done in terms of there’s a monster, people make a plan, they try and kill the monster or whatever it is, whereas before his films are a lot more convoluted. But I definitely came away enjoying it. I was confused and I’ll probably be talking about it a lot, but I think that I overall enjoyed it more than I was confused.
Dana Stevens: I mean, it seemed like the kind of movie that would definitely benefit from a second viewing. I’m not sure that would close up all these holes, but it might help see how the two stories tie together. I also think it’s it’s really born for the Internet and generating fan theories. And I think there’s going to.
Speaker 4: Be.
Dana Stevens: A lot of conversation about this movie, even though it may not be his most popular or successful movie, it’s not as nowhere near as kind of compact and audience pleasing as Get Out was. And I actually think it’s his his least, I don’t know, understandable movie. And I know people thought that US had a very hefty plot structure, that it wasn’t always well incorporated in terms of making sense. I think this movie goes even further down that road and I at once really respect him for making such an unusual and original and strange movie that so thoroughly itself. But also just just wish there had been a little bit more scaffolding for us to hold on to. And it’s rare that I say this as a film person, resident TV person, but I almost feel like this felt more like a ten episode season of television compacted into slightly over 2 hours.
Speaker 4: Yeah, I would definitely agree with that. I think it’s a lot easier to stomach or understand or digest if you sort of treat parts of the film as separate. But the moment that I remember that they were actually part of the same film and tried to make sense of that, it sort of all unravels. So I 100% agree. But I do think that I really appreciated the commentary on the entertainment industry as overt as it could have been at times during the film. I also was a little bit confused about what the film is trying to say about human relationship to predators and animals and animal cruelty and just how predators react and act. I wasn’t sure what exactly it was trying to say about that, but I’ll probably just keep. Thinking about it and see if I can come up with something. But overall, I still really enjoyed it.
Dana Stevens: Yeah, I mean, I appreciated the big ideas and I definitely, definitely want to see it again and would send people to see it, especially if they’re just Jordan Peele fans and curious to see what he’s up to next. It doesn’t have to dot every I and cross every T to be worth watching and worth talking about. All right. Well, Nadiya, thanks for helping me puzzle this through. I actually may incorporate some of this into the review that I’m still writing because you’re helping me understand this, this big monster of a movie that requires a lot of grappling. So thanks a lot for coming in.
Speaker 4: Of course. Thanks for having me.
Dana Stevens: Our producer today was Kristie Taiwo Mack. Angela, the vice president of Slate Audio is Lisa montgomery for Dear Golf. I’m Dana Stevens. Thanks so much for joining us for the Slate Spoiler special and we’ll talk to you again soon.