There’s no other movie right now that has elicited multiple re-watches like Jordan Peele’s Nope. It’s the kind of film where you leave the theater with a lingering buzz about what you just saw, questions about some of the reveals, and curiosity for anything you might have missed—the meaning of the shoe, for instance, has gone viral.
io9 recently got a chance to discuss the making of Nope with its editor, Nicholas Monsour, a key collaborator of Jordan Peele’s going back to his Key & Peele comedy days. He also worked with him on Us and The Twilight Zone. We break down the most talked-about scenes in the film, discussing the meaning of the shoe and the “Oprah shots”—and how he sees Peele’s evolution as a filmmaker through their working relationship.
So yes, major spoilers ahead.
The film opens on a centered shot of a shoe, seemingly standing upright and marked by a splatter of blood. Jupe (Jacob Kim), a child actor, listens to the massacre around him on the set of TV show Gordy’s Home—a massacre doled out by the show’s resident chimpanzee as it attacks his co-stars. It’s a scene that functions as a framing device for the whole film, appearing in multiple flashbacks during key moments in each act, with unsettling visuals that mirror the horror of the alien in the film.
Curious if this specific sitcom moment gone deeply wrong was always on the page, we asked Monsour if Nope’s original plan was to cut back to it throughout, or if that was a discovery in post. “Everything goes through so many phases. I don’t want to speak for Jordan, but my experience of watching him work is that the page is always kind of a living document. It’s never set in stone,” the editor explained. “So that was from the first version of the script I read—that really interesting and really masterful thing he did, which is in the final film, of introducing the idea of Gordy’s Home—you not really knowing if you’re going to get to see more and if so, how it’s going to relate [to everything else]. We continued to experiment with it the whole time. Jordan really cracked the idea during the edit of starting the film with flashes of that [incident]; you don’t know what to do with when you first see. But they really plant some seeds that became crucial to the experience of the film as it was finalized.”
When we meet adult Jupe (Steven Yuen), he’s running Jupiter’s Claim, a themed attraction based on the show he was in before Gordy’s Home. Yuen’s performance is understated, but taken together his and Kim’s portrayals really give a sense of Jupe’s journey from trauma to disenchantment—and then to a desperate chase to reclaim a semblance of glory no matter the cost. “You go through this sort of ordeal of seeing what happened and then immediately pulling back the curtain of the time jump, and you feel it in Steven Yuen’s character and face immediately,” Monsour said.
At one point, Jupe gives Em (Keke Palmer) and O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) a grim tour of the remnants of the Gordy’s Home tragedy, tucked behind a wall in his Jupiter’s Claim office. Yuen cranks up the showmanship when Jupe regals them with the story of what happened through its Saturday Night Live satire (starring Chris Kattan as Gordy), while completely disassociating from the events that are cut in from his true memory.
“Jordan is very astute at finding that balance and dialing in if something is more graphic and jarring in a visceral way, or some ways more psychologically needling and disturbing in another way,” Monsour explained, referring to seeing the traumatic scene contrasted between Adult Jupe’s version and Kid Jupe’s reality. The disturbing tone it evokes comes from Peele choosing to not just display the gratuitous violence of the moment, but rather “more basing it on things that feel true about how we remember traumatic experiences or how we can tune out psychologically during these traumatic experiences.”
“The Gordy sequence had a kind of scrutiny on it from the beginning. It calls so much attention to itself, because it’s such an unusual and kind of daring gesture that if you can pull it off and make sense of it, it’s really rewarding because your brain has to kind of remap in order to make that work,” he said. “So he [Peele] was very particular about how many times Gordy pounds the ground, or what kind of utterances the chimp references that were pulled from biological libraries to really study how chimps express certain things. And then the amazing performance of Terry Notary, who is there behind Gordy, that they were basing the visual effects on. All of that was incredibly dialed in and specific to hopefully speak to something true about Jupe’s experience and how we view him remembering it.”
The Spectacle of Jordan Peele
Why is it so unsettling to see a sitcom gone wrong? It’s in the way that you’re lulled into the nostalgia of the era of primetime television—something that’s since been replaced by streaming and YouTube. It truly lays the groundwork for what Peele is saying about the entertainment industry. “The thing that was scary a year ago in a movie just isn’t scary [today],” Monsour said. “If you see it done the same way, you might nail the technique in terms of building the tension. But audiences are so literate and fluent in all the techniques, you can’t really pull a fast one on them. So there can be fun in giving them a recognized pattern where they go ‘Oh, I know it’s coming’ that if you can tweak it or elevate it in some way, it’s a really fun collaborative thing you’re doing with the audience.”
Monsour cites the start of his and Peele’s collaboration from their Key & Peele days. “We talk a lot about that. One reason we might get along is I’ve always found horror really funny and some comedy really kind of disturbing. So I think with the right kind of open mind, I’m really on a journey with a filmmaker. The line might disappear between the two quite often.”
Horror and comedy are both genres that depend on timing and the perfect set up. I mention that a lot of the best Key & Peele sketches are the ones where you’re uncomfortably laughing but are creeped out—like “Baby Forest,”“Haunted Roomate Meeting,” White Zombies,” and “Make-a-Wish.”
Monsour knows exactly which ones. “The line between some Key & Peele sketches and [David] Cronenberg is very thin,” he said, and explained how that’s in the DNA of a making a scene like the Gordy’s Home sequence effective. “So much about what makes something horrific or makes something funny is an audience trying to establish a reaction to different social situations, and if they’re acceptable or unacceptable, if they break a social code or not. Where the laugh is can kind of tell you if the filmmaker is endorsing something or criticizing it or satirizing it or leaving it really open-ended for the audience to to interpret themselves. And that can be really uncomfortable.”
It’s definitely what has made Peele a master of both genres. “Jordan has sort of created and earned this place in Hollywood to get to marshal more resources and get more attention to his films and work with the exact people he wants to work with,” Monsour said. “He didn’t just go bigger on Nope, he went a lot deeper into the world building to be able to have created with Ruth De Jong, the production designer, and with [cinematographer] Hoyte van Hoytema, research exactly what kind of film would they shoot a sitcom like that on. To have that material to work with is really unique as an editor.”
What Does the Shoe in Nope mean?
Right before the last act, we’re once again transported to Gordy’s Home—this time told in multiple angles to reveal its true events. “It’s a very interesting sequence because you, the viewer, are three different characters in that sequence,” the editor said. “In a manner of speaking, you’re the camera operators or you’re in the booth of the sitcom, and you’re looking at this construct of a sitcom from the late ‘90s from the point of view of the people making it. Like, ‘So I’m a little bit behind the scenes and maybe even complicit in it in a way.’”
Specifically: that disembodied POV long take, which really crawls beneath the skin in a way where you feel just wrong and frightened, “You could, by the end of it, kind of understand who or what that might be,” Monsour teased. “Again, you don’t have the context yet, but it’s maybe familiar in a horror trope kind of way, so you kind of sink into it on another level. Hopefully you’re never expecting the next thing that happens throughout that sequence. It keeps upping the ante in a way that it may not be the most incredible set piece—it’s a slightly mundane world on the surface—but I think [Peele] just proves time and time again that you can turn the most mundane things into some of the most unexpected and exciting cinema.”
And it once again focuses on the shoe, which you could argue is Jupe’s “bad miracle”—the reason he doesn’t look the violent chimp in the eyes when he hyper-fixates on it. Is it really standing up or is that just part of how he wants to remember the event? Monsour tip-toes around a straight answer over what Peele wanted it to mean. “He knows his audience and knows his own predilections as a viewer and filmmaker that any detail will be scrutinized. And the fact that he still uses that to ask questions—it isn’t just a connect the dots. You can keep thinking about it. It keeps giving you more reads the more you look at it,” Monsour said. “That shoe thing also, just whether whether you figure out any specific cultural or plot reference of it, I feel says something really true and relatable about trauma that doesn’t really need explaining.”
Jean Jacket and Gordy
The Gordy’s Home scene ultimately reveals that Jupe felt he was safe from his chimp friend’s predator attack when he goes for the fist bump. That foreshadows his thinking that he can befriend the alien creature in Nope’s present-day storyline. Jupe’s folly, as it were, leads right into the film’s last act where Jean Jacket, the name O.J. gives the alien, lets loose and viciously inhales all the gathered spectators into its gullet in the most jarring and gruesome way. It’s definitely a scene that pays homage to greats like Jaws and Close Encounters, while at the same time being completely of its own creation.
“As much as you might want to close your eyes, you kind of can’t because you want to know—you care about the stakes of the characters and also the stakes of what this filmmaker is trying to say. You’ve got to lean in as much as you might want to run. So it’s a balancing act for sure,” Monsour elaborated. “A lot of the early ‘80s films ostensibly for children had a lot of more disturbing elements that I think still live in our heads. I think that that’s definitely a hallmark of some of the Amblin films or Spielberg films or Ridley Scott or Robert Zemeckis—you got to give them props for that kind of respect for a child’s imagination. Nope isn’t a kid’s movie, but I know Jordan was interested in the wonder and the awe that maybe renders us all a little childlike when we encounter something unexplainable, spectacular—all powerful.”
“You have these these characters who have learned the hard way: ‘Maybe I shouldn’t look at that.’ ‘Maybe I got to be careful about what I look at right now and what I see.’ And the film is also kind of respecting that, and staying with those characters and what they’re trying to do and accomplish—and what they’re going through happens to be sort of unavoidably spectacular.”
Jupe’s folly of thinking he can control the unpredictable nature of a predator backfires spectacularly indeed by placing him and his audience as sacrifices on the altar of entertainment that he built—literally showing that the acclaim you’re chasing can eat you up and swallow you whole. “Why do we want to capture certain images and why do we want to be involved and get into that the arena of spectacle? And why is that like such a dominating feeling in our culture right now?” The moment ups the stakes for the audience, Monsour explained, by making them hope that O.J. and Em don’t meet the same fate in their quest for an “Oprah shot” proving aliens exist.
Nope really begs the question of who has what it takes to conquer the beast and whatever it represents. Is it luck? Or does it take being gifted and having the knack, even with the most rudimentary of tools? Behind the scenes, Peele was able to use the best in technology, including IMAX cameras, for a full film feast.
And as for that finale? “Kind of the goal there was to stay true to that until it felt really intentionally exciting,” Monsour recalled about creating the final edit, where we see Jean Jacket’s glorious reveal in the chase to its transcendent final form as Em mounts the beast. Her victory is that powerful in how it plays out, and for that Monsour gave credit to Peele’s vision. “Maybe you thought you weren’t going to see this, but we’re going there—and [we’re going to] make sure the whole film fires on all cylinders when it does that.” And it does; even after multiple viewings, Nope elicits that indescribable feeling of wonder only movie magic can provide. It’s pure cinema. Em and O.J.’s victory is Peele’s victory.
Nope is in theaters now.
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