If the gaze is the reason for cinema, what does it mean to see it and, above all, to do it in a storm of images? We film and photograph pets, mutilations and cakes on a daily basis in a civilization that married democratic rhetoric with the indulgence of consumerism. If a fascist society is made up of soldiers and priests, or a socialist one of comrades and hypocrites, ours is one of clients whose freedom to access a camera and social networks is due to the sole function of trading. Watching something and then showing it—fundamental actions of cinema—is taking advantage of it in the economy of the show: selling the extraordinary or the trivial in order to achieve fame and approval for a while and, meanwhile, help some brand spread its unnecessary products.
However, in the history of capitalism there was a time when the look was defined as heroic. In Rear Window (1954) Alfred Hitchcock implied that a voyeur could do justice by spying on a femicide and thus acquiring evidence of his crime to arrest him, although perhaps that was not a matter of a certain time but of conviction: Hitchcock seemed to speak from and for cinephilia by idealizing the gaze. Just a few years later, Michael Powell understood the same act as violence. The protagonist of him in Peeping Tom (1960) was not a good-natured photographer, like Hitchcock’s, but a psychopathic cameraman who enjoyed filming those he killed and watching the footage later. Then Stephen Dwoskin challenged the public, in his film Dyn I love (1972), to understand voyeurism as a form of oppression: looking at strippers becomes an increasingly degrading act, until it reaches sadism, which should take us out of the room in horror.
Who knows if Jordan Peele knows the pessimistic tradition of Powell and Dwoskin, although Hitchcock probably does. His first films share a certain poetry with him, a certain humor —I can think of the scene where Daniel Kaluuya drowns in his own consciousness, hypnotized by his mother-in-law in get-out (2017), or the satire of a white family that ignores the impending revolution in Us (2019)—, but in his most recent film, nope (2022), the African-American director seems fed up with the way filmmakers and their audiences look at the world today and therefore, consciously or not, confronts Hitchcock’s themes.
nope tell the story of some strangers in Hollywood. Brothers OJ (Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) have just lost their father in unexplained circumstances and have to take over his business of renting domesticated horses for the movies. The Haywoods are of African descent in a white setting and validate themselves by assuming the offspring of a black horseman who appeared in one of the first moving stills by 19th-century pioneer Eadweard Muybridge. Although, according to Emerald’s speech, these images link the Haywoods and the black community with the very origin of cinema, Peele demonstrates the irrelevance of symbols when his business begins to collapse due to lack of new contracts. Although the main cause is the death of the patriarch who knew how to deal with the people of Hollywood, perhaps Peele is trying to tell us that the narrative of inclusion in the industry is just a gesture that in fact has not changed anything. The protagonists, as actors and directors traditionally marginalized in reality, end up participating in a strictly mercantile idea of images in order to survive.
When the Haywoods notice strange happenings on their ranch, Emerald becomes convinced she’s being visited by aliens and decides, along with OJ, to film their ships to sell the videos online. The company inevitably gets complicated and her brother wonders if there is a word to describe this evil miracle, that is, an amazing phenomenon but fraught with misfortune. nope It is a film about watching and making movies, but not in the noble way of fans and moviegoers who form communities to dream together, but with the intention of exploiting the miracle, which ends up taking revenge.
Peele constantly alludes to the film industry to build his aggressive allegory of it: in the first scene the father of the protagonists speaks with the hope of being hired for a Hollywood sequel, and in a climactic moment OJ wears a sweatshirt that identifies him as a member of the film industry. of crew; a character hoping to capture the UFO on his camera speaks of “getting the star out of his dressing room.” The greed of the big studios finds its personification in Jupe Park (Steve Yeun), the Haywoods’ neighbor, who operates an amusement park based on the old westerns. There he hides a room in which he exhibits, for a price, the objects linked to a violent trauma from his career as a child actor. His indifference to mystery and his obsession with satisfying the audience describe the commodification of images in the capitalist world and find an antonym in OJ when he understands that the only way to save himself is not to watch the spectacle that haunts the audience. ranch of him; hence the title: the characters exclaim “nope” to deny her curiosity and ward off her before she kills them.
It’s hard to delve into a film dominated by riveting surprises, but I’d like to stress that Peele seems to have Hitchcock in mind for such details as a character referring to aliens as a race called “the bystanders”; at the beginning of Rear Window Stella (Thelma Ritter) speaks of “a race of voyeurs”. On the other hand, the suspense nope it is divided into two halves: the mystery, expressed from the invisible, and the resolution, which prefers more intense emotions and explicit images, something similar to the behavior of the great Anglo-American author, although Peele manages to shake off his didacticism. His many twists and abundance of ideas make for a challenging and therefore admirable incoherence.
If the point of nope it is colliding with the industry, the spectators-client and their capitalist notions of the gaze, the dramatic form of the film adds to the director’s aggressions denying us clarity, perverting the conventional idea of what cinema is. However, although Peele denies Hitchcock’s optimism, his gaze ends up being heroic like that of one of his characters. In the times of Rear Window justice was achieved by seeing, spying, but nopea contemporary of Instagram and YouTube, invites us to close our eyes to rest from hypermediatization and to look at the world again not with opportunism but with humility.