The Warning Behind Jordan Peele's Spectacle in NOPE | Nerdy Sermon
Upon watching Jordan Peele’s summer monster movie Nope, I was… unhappy. After obsessing over Get Out and enjoying Us for years, I had high expectations for this movie to… *mean* something. But when I rolled credits on it, I felt like I had watched a summer monster movie.
Where was the scathing critique on race, government, capitalism, or whiteness? It wasn’t there. All I could think about was the haunting first five minutes of the film over and over.
And so, I took to studying; I’ve written about five different nerdy sermons on this movie. One was about flipping the optics from the watched to the watchers; the other was about owning a historical inclusion and manipulation of racial relationships and the actual presentation of the monster itself.
But, in the end, I’ve scrapped all of them. And come back to this: Jordan Peele stated from the beginning that this film was supposed to be a spectacle. And it was. The word that comes to mind for this nerdy pastor when I consider the spectacle is: miracle. Maybe it’s a bad miracle like OJ mentions in the film, but maybe not. Let’s talk about it.
Welcome to Checkpoint Church - where nerds, geeks, and gamers come together to talk about faith, games, and the most haunting image of a horror movie starring Chris Katan living rent-free in my head from this movie. I’m your Nerd Pastor Nate. If you like these weekly deep-dives, be sure to sub and hit that bell to find out when our next one drops.
Nahum 3:1-7 (NRSVue)
3 1 Woe, city of bloodshed,
utterly deceitful, full of plunder—
no end to the prey!
2 The crack of whip and rumble of wheel,
galloping horse and bounding chariot!
3 Horsemen charging,
flashing sword and glittering spear,
piles of dead,
heaps of corpses,
dead bodies without end—
they stumble over the bodies!
4 Because of the countless debaucheries of the prostitute,
gracefully alluring, mistress of sorcery,
who enslaves nations through her debaucheries
and peoples through her sorcery,
5 I am against you,
says the Lord of hosts,
and will lift up your skirts over your face,
and I will let nations look on your nakedness
and kingdoms on your shame.
6 I will throw filth at you
and treat you with contempt
and make you a spectacle.
7 Then all who see you will shrink from you and say,
“Nineveh is devastated; who will bemoan her?”
Where shall I seek comforters for you?
Well, after a cute passage of scripture like that, let’s talk about the cute monster horror movie Nope. By the way, this movie was kept super hush-hush by Jordan Peele himself, so even though I don’t plan to get too spoiler-y, let’s have a leel spoiler warning to respect his intentions behind the experience of Nope.
The first spoiler is the actual title of the film, which is not Nope, but is instead N.O.P.E. as in Not Of Planet Earth, because the monster in this movie is, of course, an extraterrestrial
Specifically, it’s a UFO of some sort.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves.
Nope is the third feature film from Jordan Peele.
The film is set outside of Hollywood and centers around the successors of an animal-training business for cinema in the area, the Haywood family.
In fact, these are the great-great-great-great grandchildren of the black jockey featured in the first animated footage ever made.
Where we pick up on the film is with the youngest boy OJ who has inherited the family business after his father dies unexpectedly.
His sister, Emerald, is an upstart over-achiever at everything other than the family business but loves her brother.
As the two of them wrestle with what exactly to do with the family business, something… weird… starts happening to the horses. They keep getting, uh, well, abducted by a UFO.
Now, usually, this would evoke what? Fear. A desire to leave. Idk, a military phone call?
No. For OJ and his sister, they see this as their moment to get the money shot, or as OJ calls it, the Oprah shot. All of the UFO footage until this moment has been fuzzy and falsifiable, but they have a resident UFO right on their property; why on earth wouldn’t they try to get the best shot of it possible?
The two busy themselves to work, setting up high-quality surveillance cams, even accidentally enlisting the help of Nerd Herd worker Angel. No matter what, these two are determined to capture the image that will serve as a spectacle
This is the A-Plot of the movie, following the family trying their best to get the best possible shot of this monster, but there’s also a B-plot and arguably C-plot that serve as warnings against these efforts.
The film opens with a gruesome and haunting scene of a chimp named Gordy that gores a young girl during the taping of a television show.
This seems to serve as an underlying sentiment that wild animals should not be used for television production - i.e., for the spectacle that television brings because they are wild animals at the end of the day.
Skip forward, and Jupe, who was on the television show where the chimp went wild, is now the proprietor of a theme park near the residence of the Haywood family. We learn that Jupe also knows about the UFO and plans to use it as a part of his act, feeding it horses for the public to… you guessed it - make a spectacle
And all three of these plots are prepped by the literal first frame of the film being - none other than SCRIPTURE!
Believe me, I wrote that down as soon as it appeared on the screen. Jordan Peele quoting a minor prophet at the start of a monster blockbuster? Count me in.
The scripture was one of the verses we just read, specifically Nahum 3:6
I will throw filth at you
and treat you with contempt
and make you a spectacle.
Oh. No. Not my favorite idea for non-Christians to see of the Bible, but here we are. Maybe Peele just Command-F’ed the word spectacle to make it fit his MO, but it’s worth considering and talking through nonetheless.
So let’s wrestle this scripture a bit, huh?
A helpful thing to understand about the Prophets is that they served an important role amongst the Israelites - and they weren’t super popular, but they were sent back and forth on this spectrum, not unlike the actual people of Israel.
Essentially, the Old Testament stories of the Israelites go through a series of cycles of really the same story again: Israelites are blessed by God, Israelites forget about God, Israelites betray God, Israelites are enslaved by a stronger nation, Israelites are saved from the strong nation by God, Israelites are blessed by God, rinse and repeat.
The Prophets typically find themselves in two places - they warn the Israelites that they are headed down the wrong path when they forget God and then they warn the stronger nation of what God is about to do to them to free the Israelites.
Nahum is the latter.
The nation of Israel is in captivity by the Assyrian Army and is being oppressed.
Nahum sees a vision of the crumbling of the Assyrians, with particular focus on the area of Ninevah - yeah like Jonah’s Ninevah, but at a different time (Ninevah had it rough, huh?)
So this passage is Nahum basically delivering Yahweh’s smack talk toward the Assyrian Army and it’s confidants.
And Yahweh has no chill. It’s brutal. There are no punches pulled for enslaving the Israelites.
When the Prophets write or speak from God’s perspective, it’s normally putting Yahweh in the shoes of the Judge of people. Very rarely do we see the Bruce Almighty smite me, almight smiter moments. For the most part, God forewarns (and threatens) of an eventual downfall at the hands of another nation. Sometimes it’s the Israelites themselves that over throw with the assistance of one of the judges.
Other times it’s other armies that come to assistance, some other times, they just become salt pillars. So it’s really anybody’s guess tbh.
Of course, historically, we do know that these things come to some kind of fruition, and the Israelites continue to go through that cycle for many many centuries.
But I think it’s interesting here that Peele chose this particular moment where the vision of Nahum uses the word spectacle, specifically the Hebrew רֳאִי (roi), which is only used a handful of times in that form in the whole Bible - most notably being the name that Hagar gives to God when she runs away from Abram and Job when he feels like he will be unrecognizable after the punishment from the Enemy is done to him.
This is a heavy term.
The root verb is to see, but this specific use means to be gawked at, to be drawn attention to negatively, to be made a spectacle.
So - I think this is Jordan Peele’s response to OJ’s question in the film - what do you call a bad miracle? A spectacle.
When the Nation of Assyria enslaves the Kingdom of God, a miracle will be done, and it’s not pretty. All eyes will be on Assyria because they will be made a spectacle.
In the same way, when our human propensity is to take the raw uncontainable power of a wild animal or, worse, an extraterrestrial vehicle and try to capture it for our clout - yeah, that’s going to be a spectacle. All eyes will be on us - in a bad way.
I don’t want to spoil the film or the end of it, but the story ultimately leaves the viewer with more questions than answers. There are many things we don’t get to know at the end of the film. Did the Haywoods get their miracle? I don’t know.
I do know that most of the characters don’t get a pretty ending. Seeking out the spectacle is exactly what leads to the demise or near demise of nearly every member of this cast. Peele argues that the spectacle is terrible. It’s dangerous.
And yet, maybe it’s also a self-commentary because this movie is, of course, a spectacle. He wrote this script intending to bring a crowd to the movie theater since the industry has suffered since the pandemic started.
But some, myself included, might argue that Peele jumped the shark and sought out that spectacle to his detriment in his craft. So maybe he fell victim to the exact thing that his characters did.
But what does this esoteric movie analysis possibly mean for us today? How can we use these ideas and concepts to live better lives, do no harm, do good, and strive to grow?
Well, a spectacle is a tool. It’s a thing capable of being used but also a dangerous temptation.
It may be tempting to want to embrace the spectacle for ourselves in our daily lives. Who wouldn’t want to pop off on Twitch, TikTok, or Instagram? Why not try to get the most possible attention for something - consequences be damned?
While this is in our nature, it’s a path that leads to ultimate ruin. The truth of the tech generation is that we all hold a spectacle box in our hands most of the day.
It’s easier for us to make a spectacle than ever, but we also need to be more aware of that power than ever.
Maybe the best decision is not to poke the bear - don’t jump after each new spectacle ahead of you. Fame and power are just other gods to worship… and no one can serve two masters.
As Christians, we already have the spectacle figured out. Christ was crucified. That was our bad miracle. But then the story continued and the true miracle of a risen savior. We can’t top that spectacle and subsequent miracle. So we keep telling the story and living the life of a grace-filled miraculous Lord and Savior in Jesus Christ.
So, it would probably be best to let everything we do point towards something other than ourselves... To God be the glory.
So whether you’re making ends meet (OJ), trying to make it big (Em), or just dealing with a bad breakup (Angel), know you’re always welcome here at Checkpoint Church.
God loves you.
We love you.