The night before it officially released in theaters, I attended a “midnight” (8 p.m.) screening of Jordan Peele’s Nope. In the thick heat of a New York summer, I bustled into midtown (first offense) to the AMC’s 34th St. location (second offense) where, in a cruel twist of irony, nearly all of the Icee machines were broken (third offense).
Several functioning, neon Icee machines taunted me around the halfway point of the film at Steven Yeun’s ranch-themed theme park. The only available selection at AMC was Coke, but on a hot day, any Icee will do. Especially when watching Nope, a blockbuster that will have you clenching your massive AMC cup so hard that the Icee oozes over the top. Call that Icee a stress ball. You’ll be so fixated on the film, the mess won’t matter.
Part of the fun of Nope is not knowing the premise—my best friend leaned over to me at the very beginning and asked, “Um, what’s this movie about?” and all I could do was shrug—so I won’t offer much of a plot to tease you. All you need to know is that OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) own a horse ranch, and there’s some bizarre, alien-esque shit flying around.
When reading reviews for Nope, you’re going to read a lot of “See this one on the biggest screen possible!” and “This reminds me of Jaws.” These critics, though they may sound like a bunch of parrots squawking at you to shell out $50 on one night to the movies, are right. They are good at their job. Trust them.
Trust me when I say you need to go to a theater to see Nope. You need to cough up as much money as you’re willing and able to buy popcorn, a large Icee, and some Sour Patch Kids to make your viewing of Nope the best night of your life.
Okay, maybe a bit of a stretch. Pardon by enthusiasm, I’m still coming down from the high of seeing Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer take down a mega monstrosity with a little lad from Fry’s. Seeing the gorgeousness of Peele’s mind and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s daring cinematography come to life in larger-than-life IMAX size is one reason to see it in theaters. The other is community.
The first time three little aliens appeared on screen, hopping around Daniel Kaluuya in his little horse pen, my heart sped up. Another woman in the audience—as if she were one of those teens of yore seeing Elvis shake his hips for the first time—was inclined to yelp.
“Oh, hell no!” she cried from Row F. After a mix of shocked gasps and, now, laughter, my little IMAX in midtown became a family. We spent the next hour and a half whooping and hollering together, cheering on Emerald, OJ, Angel, and Lucky the horse. By the end of the showing, we were on our feet, our own little Cannes Film Festival standing ovation in the grime of sticky soda and popcorn grease.
In the past few years, I’ve only seen a select handful of films that have elicited such raucous reactions. Sure, Spider-Man: No Way Home played into nostalgia by bringing back those other arachnid men. Maybe the rowdy screenings of Cats were similar. But neither had quite the power of Nope, which elicited so much reaction by just being a real-good thrill.
Since a handful of Nope deals with the history of cinema in relation to Eadweard Muybridge, I’d like to project another parallel on the big screen. Ever heard of a little film called The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station? (L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat?) I’m a big fan. I love this movie because when all 50 seconds of it premiered in 1896, the audience reportedly jumped from their seats, so frightened by the realistic nature of the train heading towards them.
I wasn’t at the premiere of The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station—shocker—but I was at the midnight (again, 8 p.m.) showing of Nope on its opening day, and I would like to say that the two are similar. The former is the basis of almost all exhibition of film: Watching movies in a big room, together with strangers, unknowing of what’s to come, and ready to react as terrifying new shots fly from the projector.
There are references aplenty for cinephiles (sorry) like myself, but you don’t need to be caught up on Gunning’s cinema of attractions theory to understand the joyousness of Nope. It is a film for all kinds of movie lovers. That is why, hopefully, when you see the blockbuster in a theater, you’ll be able to clap, guffaw, shout, and be entertained with a handful of strangers.
So, what are you waiting for? Clear your weekend plans. Secure your mask and a ticket—it’ll come with free AC, at the very least!