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Eric Francisco

'Nope' ending explained: The deeper meaning of Jordan Peele’s sci-fi thriller

If you’ve never worked on a movie set, then you probably aren’t familiar with the long hours, exhausting efforts, and the sighs of relief that come when the cameras stop rolling.

Whether it’s a Hollywood blockbuster or an underfunded student film, the goal is always the same: capture the perfect shot. Due to numerous factors like outdoor weather conditions or the quality of indoor lighting, it can actually be really difficult to get the shot a director desires.

It’s this battle of attrition for the sake of art that director Jordan Peele metaphorically explores in his newest sci-fi horror movie, Nope.

Set in the California desert — where Hollywood’s first Westerns were shot thanks to the abundant sunlight early cameras needed to capture images — Nope is about two sibling horse ranchers who team up with a tech store employee and an accomplished cinematographer to capture proof of an all-devouring UFO-shaped monster that resides above their backyard.

Nope is more straightforward than Jordan Peele’s last movie (2019’s cryptic doppelganger thriller Us), but it can still be a headscratcher if you miss even one little detail about the alien, how it works, and how our heroes capitalize on their few advantages. Here’s a breakdown of the ending of Nope and exactly what it’s all about.

Warning: Spoilers for the end of Nope ahead.

Nope ending explained: Looking it in the eye

The alien at the center of Nope is not a spaceship full of green men. Rather, it’s a beastly, otherworldly creature that disguises itself as a cloud in the sky. When it hovers to the ground for feeding, it bears a striking resemblance to a ten-gallon cowboy hat. In its final form, it resembles a giant jellyfish. Fans of the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion might liken it to the series’ “angels” — it just so happens that Peele might be a fan of the anime, too.

The alien, nicknamed “Jean Jacket” by the movie’s characters, doesn’t have any definite origins or even a species name. But what the characters do learn about it is that 1) it has the power to shut down electronics within its radius, 2) it will devour any organic being who dares to look it directly in the eye, and 3) it cannot digest inorganic matter.

That last part is established very early in the movie when stray objects mysteriously fall from the sky, fatally wounding the elder owner of Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, Otis (Keith David). It’s also foreshadowing that Otis is felled by a nickel shot through his brain and out of his eyeball, nodding to the fact that eyesight plays a critical role in falling victim to Jean Jacket.

Throughout the film, the characters’ encounters with Jean Jacket allow them to pick up on its strengths and weaknesses. With all they know at their disposal, OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) team up with electronics store employee Angel (Brandon Perea) and award-winning cameraman Antlers (Michael Wincott) to capture footage of Jean Jacket.

Nope: Getting the shot

In the film’s climax, Antlers breaks from the group’s plan and is sucked up by Jean Jacket while trying to get the perfect shot. Jean Jacket then goes after Angel, who’s become wrapped in barbed wire that both protects him and injures Jean Jacket. In response, the saucer-shaped creature unfurls into an airier, balloon-like state.

Emerald and OJ find themselves on opposite ends of their property, with OJ on horseback and Emerald on an electronic motorcycle left behind by a TMZ photographer. Because the motorcycle is electronic, Emerald can’t escape with Jean Jacket close to her. OJ dares to capture Jean Jacket’s attention so his sister can get away.

Emerald makes it to the nearby Jupiter’s Claim, Jupe’s (Steven Yeun) now-deserted cowboy theme park, where she unleashes a large Jupe-shaped helium balloon for Jean Jacket to devour. Because Jean Jacket cannot feed on inorganic matter, the balloon winds up being the final blow, allowing the movie’s characters to win against Jean Jacket.

Not to let their opportunity go to waste, however, Emerald makes use of a novelty analog camera at the theme park, allowing her to get one good shot at the alien — the proof of its existence they were looking for — before Jean Jacket explodes.

Before Nope ends, however, Emerald sees her brother on horseback, learning that he survived his decoy efforts. It’s an homage to the old movie Westerns where the (usually white) hero is depicted heroically on horseback, signaling a happy ending.

Nope’s ending explained: A deeper meaning

Nope is an overall commentary on the erasure of Black people from Hollywood’s very beginnings, which is made clear by the movie’s verbal allusions to Eadweard Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion. OJ sitting on horseback in the style of Hollywood’s classic Westerns is a symbolic act of reclamation for Black contributions to Hollywood as an industry.

As for the characters in Nope, getting the shot of Jean Jacket was no easy feat. But with OJ and Emerald taking on the roles of directors and leading a team of trusted allies, they manage to do the impossible. Ask anyone who has been on set after a long day, and they might feel the same way.

Nope is now playing in theaters.

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