Jordan Peele always manages to put a unique twist on well-known sci-fi tropes, and nope is no exception and boasts a most unusual alien.
There have been many memorable UFO designs on the big screen (I refuse to call them UAPs) ranging from arrivals sleek, minimalist egg, the spiky Christmas bauble from ETthe gigantic, grooved plate of independence Dayand the jagged, industrial wedge hanging across the sky district 9.
The UFO of nope is up there with the best of them, an instant big screen icon. Best to watch in my opinion nope with as little information as possible, so be warned if you haven’t seen the film yet:
Big spoilers ahead
Peele teases us throughout the movie, hinting at the appearance of alien creatures piloting the ship and even managing to make a couple of kids really scary in Halloween costumes (frankly, the most terrifying creature in the movie is Gordy, the rampaging chimpanzee).
It’s difficult to incite terror through the concept of an alien invasion – war of the Worlds was released a few years before the airplane was invented, and we had plenty of time to get used to the idea. The question of why aliens colonize worlds, why not just send drones to do the dirty work, or how they could possibly be defeated by a bunch of earth-bound primates makes the concept difficult to take seriously (although, sign successfully managed to play it directly).
But the turn of nope is that the ship itself is the alien creature whose sole motivation seems to be hunger. Although, similar to the entity at the center of destruction, its true nature remains a mystery; it could have the emotional complexity of an amoeba, or maybe something else is going on beneath its rippled surface.
There’s just enough ambiguity to make it interesting, while the creature’s design feels both familiar and otherworldly; Sometimes appearing biomechanical, sometimes as fluid and organic as a jellyfish – it spends most of the film in the form of a typical flying saucer that doubles as a cowboy hat.
Like the repulsive facehugger out extraterrestrial, the creature vaguely resembles a sentient slab of human genitalia, which later morphs into a more abstract, fluid form resembling a ballroom dress or a blooming flower. As it enlarges and expands, it becomes more mysterious, seemingly trying to communicate (or threaten) via bright colors; As nature constantly reminds us, bright colors are a sure sign of a sharp sting or venomous bite.
According to this fantastic thriller interview with the engineering professor who helped design the creature, the beast was largely inspired by sea life, with a mix of other inspirations helping to push it into the realm of the uncanny.
The creature was compared to an angel from the evangelion anime series or even a biblically correct angel; Intriguingly, the film never directly says the creature is actually extraterrestrial – it could very well be an ancient Earthling.
Regardless, the creature still behaves like a UFO, and its big abduction scene is really chilling, since up there with the infamous abduction of fire in the sky. nope sees the creature sucking up a crowd that expected to be entertained; Instead, they are forced into the creature’s…mouth? What disturbingly looks like an anus and could be both – let’s just call it an “orifice”.
The creature’s interior is a claustrophobic nightmare, tattered bodies being squeezed through tubes that have the texture of an inflatable bouncy castle but have a slick, greasy sheen; judging by the screams of its prey, the putrid passages are filled with sour juices.
As the saucer glides through the sky, accompanied by a symphony of desperate screams, it either keeps the crowd alive for an awfully long time or repeats the sound, perhaps to lure others. Either way, it’s like a roller coaster ride from hell.
Like Peele’s earlier work, nope is rich in metaphors; The creature seems to represent the danger of treating nature as a commodity and a source of entertainment. The film is explicitly clear on this – the very first scene sees the aforementioned “trained” chimpanzee Gordy going on a murder spree after being set off by a burst balloon; It’s obvious the showrunners didn’t view the animal with the respect and fear it deserved.
The film’s protagonists (Daniel Kaluuya as OJ and Keke Palmer as Emerald) are horse fighters; Emphasizing the importance of interacting with animals on their own terms, OJ later understands that the UFO creature hates eye contact. In one of the film’s earliest scenes, OJ’s horse thrashes after being stressed by a film crew who don’t care about the animal’s welfare.
It is later revealed that the alien creature was only drawn to this place by Justus (Steven Yeun), who fed her horses to tame her and, of course, monetize her. Jupiter is the only survivor of Gordy’s massacre and apparently hasn’t learned anything.
Like Jupiter, OJ tries to monetize his experience with the creature, but he understands that the beast must be approached with respect; Trying to understand the beast’s behavior, OJ emerges triumphant while his sister snaps the million-dollar photo they need.
But perhaps the creature is more than just an animal; At one point, Jupiter refers to the alien species as a “spectator” – later the creature reveals its eye, which resembles an old-fashioned camera lens. Like the hungry, shuffling zombies of Dawn of the Dead, no Creature seems to be a metaphor for mindless consumption, an all-seeing eye constantly searching for stimuli, an audience starving for content. The creature is as fastidious a eater as Pac-Man and will munch on anything it is offered – which becomes its undoing.
Despite its intimidating bulk and incessant appetite, the creature is as delicate as the gentle sea creatures that inspired it when brought down by a large helium-filled balloon that would otherwise find its way to the bottom of the ocean and likely any creature that happened to take a curious bite.
The Thing’s death or defeat is almost tragic, like watching a shark with razor-sharp teeth be killed by a harpoon; dangerous, yes, but probably one of the last of its kind.