As seen on social media, many viewers don’t seem to understand the relevance of the Gordy scenes in Nope to its overall story. I’ve seen more than a few tweets expressing confusion, and articles explaining the meaning behind this backstory. These cutaways portray the themes of Nope perfectly, though they might be easier to understand when viewed from the perspective of Ricky “Jupe” Park, played brilliantly by Steven Yuen.
The main takeaway I had from Nope was that Hollywood and show business can create a vicious cycle of exploitation that has become a major part of our culture. As is inherent to show business and capitalism as a whole, money matters more than the people who make it. When people don’t matter as much as money, said people will do anything to get money in order to regain their value and power. In some way, nearly every character from Nope falls victim to this, from the Haywood siblings to Angel. The person who is most affected, however, is Jupe, who becomes the embodiment of this Hollywood mindset.
As a former child star, Jupe was set up from the start. The many difficulties that real-life former child stars face are proof enough of how harsh the Hollywood lifestyle can be on literal children. As an adult, Jupe desperately clings to the small amount of fame he once had, going as far as making an entire park that’s dedicated to the one notable role he had. It’s fair to assume that this value system, which prioritizes relevance and notability above all else, comes from show business, as Jupe’s merch-filled office demonstrates.
Jupiter’s Claim is the result of both this mindset and Jupe’s unresolved trauma from the Gordy incident. Tucked away behind the bluster and memorabilia of his “fame,” Jupe has a sanctuary of Gordy’s Home props in a dark room. He’s more than happy to show people this chamber and even charge for it. It’s part of the park, after all, which is a shining testament to his inherited need for cultural relevance.
Similarly, Jupe clearly does the same thing internally with his trauma from the show, as he calmly describes an SNL skit that lampooned the horrific event as though he wasn’t there. Rather than work through his trauma, Jupe monetizes and exploits the terrible situation because that’s all he knows how to do. That’s the world he grew up in after all. This unresolved trauma prompts Jupe to treat the alien in the film like an entertainment animal, which ends about as well as the Gordy debacle did – only this time around, he had no bond with the creature to buy him time, and no one to kill the alien when it “acted out.”
Though Jupe is the best stand-in for these themes, they’re abundant throughout the entire film. From the get-go, Lucky the horse is mistreated by the staff at the commercial shoot, leading to an incident. Gordy was forced to be a wacky chimp sidekick and was punished for having a suitably animalistic reaction to loud, sudden noises. Emerald and O.J. want the “Oprah shot” of the alien, and only get that when they treat it like the predator it is. Ironically, it’s the inflatable Jupe that kills the creature, just as the culture he represents killed Gordy and the Haywood horses.
Nope excellently shines a light on how Hollywood has contributed to a cyclical culture of exploitation. People and animals both fall prey to it, and said people often go on to perpetuate it. Through Jupe and his journey from a terrified child to a full showman, the themes of Nope are illustrated impeccably. It’s refreshing to see a Hollywood film look inward and critique its industry in a nuanced way, and this presentation cements Nope as Peele’s best film yet.