Warning: Major spoilers for Nope (2022)While the real meaning of Nope may be difficult to understand on its first viewing, the movie does give viewers clues to the fate of its protagonist, secretly proving in a twist that OJ does survive the Nope ending. Jordan Peele’s 2022 sci-fi horror movie, seems to conclude with Daniel Kaluuya’s Nope character OJ Haywood, in an act of self-sacrifice, succumbing to the living UFO that has been terrorizing his family’s ranch, but there is good reason to believe that the character survives in the end.
Nope interrogates questions of exploitation, fame, spectacle, and nature in its Spielbergian story of Emerald (Keke Palmer) and OJ’s quest to catch a flying saucer on film. Fittingly, Nope‘s ending is as elusive as the rest of the movie’s story. On the face of it, Nope’s climax seems simple. Kaluuya’s OJ faces off against the UFO, sacrificing himself to distract the alien while his sister, Emerald, captures a photo of the flying saucer and tricks it into eating a massive balloon, thus killing the extraterrestrial. However, OJ reappears in Nope’s final shot, in what could be a fantasy or a hallucination. Or, it could be proof that he survived his encounter with the UFO. While this ending seems intentionally ambiguous, OJ’s fate is confirmed by similarities between Nope’s Gordy subplot and its finale.
Why Nope’s Ending Is Ambiguous
Nope‘s ending concludes with a shot of OJ arriving at Ricky’s abandoned ranch despite him seeming to sacrifice himself to the alien earlier, yet the shot intentionally leaves his fate ambiguous. Only Emerald sees OJ, and only for a moment. One of the best movies of 2022, Nope is all about the subjectivity of perspective and the disloyalty of spectacle, and there is a good chance that its ending sees Emerald hallucinating Daniel Kaluuya’s Nope character, imagining him, or seeing a ghostly apparition that proves he is still present in spirit. However, a deeper analysis of Nope’s story — specifically the Gordy the chimp subplot — clarifies whether OJ does survive in Nope.
How Nope’s Ending Mirrors The Gordy Incident
The Gordy the chimp incident is perhaps the most divisive element of Jordan Peele’s Nope since the horrifying sequence is only tangentially connected to the movie’s main plot. Glimpsed in the movie’s opening scene before being fleshed out later, Nope‘s gruesome Gordy attack sees a trained chimp attack a group of sitcom actors after he becomes upset by balloons popping on the show’s set. The unclear version of the scene that opens Nope’s action is later depicted in more detail as the movie reveals that the young sitcom star Ricky was the only member of the cast left unharmed. Moments before he is shot by security, Gordy the chimp walks over to Ricky. Its rampage apparently at an end, the chimp offers him a fist bump — the gesture that the animal was trained to perform with the child actor. The chimp is trying to forge a connection with the child and, even if the animal hadn’t been killed immediately afterward, seems unlikely to attack him.
Nope’s Alien Is Afraid of OJ
Stephen Yeun’s tragic Nope character, Ricky, learns the wrong lesson from his interaction with Gordy. But OJ, assuming he can tame any animal through force of will, makes a more level-headed judgment about the UFO. Judging only by the evidence provided in Nope, the flying saucer monster of Jordan Peele’s movie appears to be afraid of OJ by the ending because the veteran horse wrangler knows how to approach the alien animal. The fear felt by the alien — helpfully dubbed “Jean Jacket” in Nope’s third act — is understandable. Unlike the rest of Jean Jacket’s prey, OJ has both evaded and injured the UFO repeatedly by the time that Nope’s final act rolls around.
By the time his fateful attempted sacrifice occurs, OJ has wounded Jean Jacket so badly that the UFO even unfolds from its default saucer form into a more elaborate jellyfish-like appearance that resembles a biblical angel. The transformation of Nope‘s alien UFO creature might be caused by the injuries that Jean Jacket sustained from consuming barbed wire and plastic horses, but it might also be a defense mechanism. Like a threatened cat, chimp, or spider, Jean Jacket makes itself appear bigger when OJ finally looks it in the eye, as the extraterrestrial is wounded from eating a lot of non-organic material and now knows that the human on horseback is not afraid of it. OJ’s decision to stand his ground does distract Jean Jacket, but the alien is wise enough not to try attacking him again. After all, the last two attempts that Jean Jacket made on OJ’s life only hurt the alien, meaning the UFO knows better than to challenge him.
Gordy’s Story Proves That OJ Survives
Like Ricky did with Gordy the chimp on the sitcom set, OJ stares down the rampaging Jean Jacket after already establishing a relationship of mutual respect. Like Gordy, the UFO reacts by leaving him alone and accepting his status as an equal, precisely because OJ has not tried to exploit it. Unlike the adult Ricky, OJ keeps his distance from Jean Jacket, avoiding eye contact with the being earlier in Nope’s story and applying common sense strategies to handling the threat — one conversation with Emerald sees OJ compare Jean Jacket to a bear or a bull, noting that he would do his best to avoid confrontation with those animals in the wild, too. Thus, like Ricky as a child, OJ survives his encounter because he approaches a natural threat with respect and due reverence, causing Nope‘s alien threat to recoil away from conflict. Thus, the closing scene of Nope mirrors its opening, as in both cases, the POV character faces down a monstrous force of nature, holds their ground, and successfully wards off the animal until an outside force kills the threat.
Jordan Peele Wrote OJ Specifically For Daniel Kaluyaa
Daniel Kaluuya revealed (via The Hollywood Reporter) that Peele wrote the role of Otis Jr. with him in mind, trusting the actor to embody OJ’s taciturn qualities while still being a compelling lead. This makes sense, as Kaluuya previously starred in Peele’s breakout hit Get Out and the director refers to him as “my all-time favorite actor.” It’s Kaluuya’s portrayal of OJ’s quiet confidence that helps sell his character’s skill at animal wrangling even when confronting an otherworldly horror, and the actor and director clearly work well together.
It’s this performance that helps Get Out‘s ambiguous ending feels satisfying instead of frustrating. As the audience has become familiar with OJ’s passion and skill they trust that the final result, whether he lived or not, is a victory for him. In contrast with Ricky’s fragile fame-seeking, OJ’s strength, as embodied by Kaluuya, means that the Nope‘s movie plot can suggest that he survived without having to directly show it.
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