NEW YORK — There are few things in contemporary films quite like the arrival of a new Jordan Peele film. They tend to descend in ominous and mysterious ways, much like an unknown object from above casting a shadow that grows and darkens as it gets closer.
“Nope,” the writer-director’s third film, is almost here. After Peele’s singular debut, “Get Out,” about black body possession and the fallacy of post-racial America, and its follow-up, “Us,” a monstrous tale of look-alikes and societal mirrors, the tightly guarded “Nope” sub-wraps bring a whole new set of horrors and unsettling metaphors. For Peele, who writes through filming and considers the conversation a film generates one of its key ingredients, “Nope” is far from a finished project.
“The movie is done,” Peele said in a recent interview. “I’m still writing it.”
It’s Peele’s most ambitious film to date, a flying saucer horror that digs into the nature of the spectacle and the desire to document it – a multi-threaded theme that encompasses Hollywood history and “No”, him. -same. Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer star as brother and sister in a family business of horse wrangling for film productions. Their California ranch is visited by a strange and violent force in the clouds which they strive to film.
“No,” which opens in theaters Friday, also extends Peele’s own self-proclaimed mythology. His films are very loosely related (some fictional establishments appear in several of them) and now even encompass a “Nope” theme park attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood. Peele’s dark world is increasingly ours.
For Peele, as he recently said via Zoom from Los Angeles, “No” is about reaching for some sort of once-unreachable Hollywood movie. He ostensibly opens the film with Eadweard Muybridge’s 1887 photographic study showing a black rider on a horse. It was one of the first animated images. But while the name of the horse and its owner has been recorded, the name of the black jockey is unknown.
“I feel like this is the first time someone would allow me or anyone to do this movie. And so I had to take advantage of it. I had to go as big as possible,” Peele said. “I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”
Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
PA. The Eadweard Muybridge loop hovers over “No”; your characters are said to be descendants of its nameless rider. For you, what does it mean that the erasure of blacks was there at the base of cinema?
Peele: It’s a sad part of this industry. It was something I was learning at a good time for me in this story. I felt like five or ten years ago I would never have been able to sell this movie to anyone. So I’m juxtaposing that origin story of the film at the same time as trying to make a scary, happy, adventurous story and all the things that I love about film. It seemed only fitting that this starting point be recognized and have ancestral implications for our main characters.
AP: Do you consider your film as an antidote to this film?
Peel: Yes. I tried to put this together. It’s a sequel, it’s an antidote, it’s a reboot, it’s a response to how the movies started and continued.
AP: The characters of Kaluuya and Palmer work on film sets and “Nope” focuses on their attempts to capture something on film. For you, does “Nope” relate to the film industry?
Peele: It got very meta very quickly. Making a film is like chasing the impossible, trying to bottle something that doesn’t exist. I was inspired by movies like “King Kong” and “Jurassic Park” that are really about human addiction to spectacle and presenting and monetizing that. The meta part is that you’re commenting on that notion at the same time that you’re trying to use it and trying to create something that people can’t look away from.
AP: Why do you think that by writing “No”, your thoughts went back to the beginning of the film?
Peele: Part of the world of “Nope” flirts with the real Hollywood and the Hollywood that unfolds in my liminal dreams and nightmares. In real life, among the prominent horse trainers in Hollywood, there is not an African American I represent. The Haywoods are a very invented family and notion. It was fun to weave Hollywood fiction with reality and try to do a seamless immersion in what’s real and what’s not.
AP: A poster of Sidney Poitier’s 1972 western “Buck and the Preacher” is seen in the background of several shots. Was it an important film for you?
Peele: It was the first movie I know of that featured black cowboys. The myth that cowboys were just white people running around just isn’t true, but we don’t know that because of Hollywood and the romanticized view of a very brutalized time. The film, it shares a spirit.
AP: Ever since I saw your film, the clouds have taken on a sinister appearance for me. What led you to construct your film around this image of a motionless cloud?
Peele: The beauty of the sky is captivating — early films, sort of. Every once in a while you’ll see a cloud sitting all alone and too low, and it gives me that dizziness and feeling of Presence with a capital P. I can’t describe it, but I knew if I could bottle it up and put it in a horror movie, it might change the way people look at the sky.
AP: How much did you think about “Encounters of the Third Kind”?
Peele: Yeah, “Close Encounters” is something I think about a lot, and so is M. Night Shyamalan’s “Signs.” They are visionary directors who have taken flying saucers and science fiction and brought magic to the way they tell these stories. I wanted to throw my hat in the ring to one of my favorite subgenres, in UFOs, and do it in a way only I can.
AP: When the US government declassified a video of Navy pilots encountering unexplained planes – something your film references – how did you react? Were you touched by these images?
Peele: I was. It made him very real, very present. That’s one of the reasons I guess I can proudly say this movie is based on a true story. But what has me most distressed or scared about all of this is you’d like to think that when actual video evidence of UFOs comes out that something will change in our way of life, it’s not really Like nothing ever happened. It just proves that there is a desensitization to the show. We are addicted and we are in over our heads with this addiction. We have evidence of UFOs or UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena), but the interest of the general public goes so far. It’s very interesting.
AP: You seem to refer to films as performances, but were there also political dimensions to this? You developed this film through very tumultuous moments in American life, in particular the riot of January 6 at the Capitol.
Peele: Attention can be a violent thing and our addiction to spectacle can have negative consequences. I think sometimes if we give too much attention to the wrong show, it can give it too much power. If we’re obsessed with the wrong show, it can distract us from what’s really going on. There really is a human need to see the invisible around which our whole society rests. And in many ways, we see it. Over the past five years, we have the impression of having gone from looking for spectacle to being invaded. And it is in this environment that I wrote the film.
AP: There aren’t many filmmakers with as much freedom as you to make original studio films. You had the chance to join great franchises. How focused are you on creating your own films from the bottom up?
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Peele: Nothing is more rewarding than being able to lead the charge on something that comes from somewhere deep and getting the support of a team on something like that. I feel like if I was working on someone else’s property, I would owe someone else something. Besides that essential source of inspiration, it just doesn’t feel as fun to me.
AP: Were you tempted?
Peele: Yeah, there was the temptation. Sure. And there is temptation. There are so many things that I love. And yet, when faced with my favorite properties, it still doesn’t beat what I haven’t yet written or understood.
AP: Do you often get asked about a sequel to “Get Out”?
Peele: I get asked that often. Never say never. There is certainly a lot to be said on the left. We will see.
AP: After “Get Out”, you offered to embark on a series of genre films grappling with major societal issues. Three films, where do you feel in this project?
Peele: I feel like I’m off to the races. I don’t know if I could limit the number of films I have that are me. I’m starting to lose sight of what I would be doing if I wasn’t making movies like this. So I would say that the project has been extended.