Jordan Peele has released another thrilling, breathtaking, fan theory-generating film. Nope, the Oscar winner’s third film, is a genre-bending sci-fi Western buddy comedy, which takes in a stretch of California desert under alien surveillance. After the death of their horse-trainer father Otis Sr. (Keith David), siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) Haywood realize that a mysterious UFO has been hiding in the clouds above their horse ranch. They decide to save their ranch by capturing the alien on film, a plan that’s shared by former child actor and theme park owner Ricky “Jupe” Park (opens in new tab) (Steven Yeun).
That simple explanation barely sums up a meticulous film, which includes numerous references to Hollywood’s UFO and Western genres, as well as a thought-provoking theme about our spectacle-obsessed culture. It’s the type of film that has moviegoers looking up everything they can read about the film they just saw. For anyone in this camp, here’s a breakdown of the film’s epic, ambiguous ending.
OJ and Emerald come up with a plan to get the Oprah shot.
The Haywood siblings learn about the mysterious UFO at the same rate as the audience, and we still had several questions about the alien after the film ended. What we do know about the monstrous being, which OJ nicknames Jean Jacket, is that it’s not a spaceship carrying aliens (as most of us thought from its classic UFO look) but one giant monstrous creature that sucks animals and humans up to be eaten. It can’t digest non-organic material, instead shooting out things like wood, plastic, and metal (including the falling coin that killed Otis Sr.). It has an electromagnetic field that shuts off all electricity near it, and it won’t suck up people who don’t look at it. As OJ says, “It’s alive, it’s territorial, and it wants to eat us.”
Basically, the alien has laid claim to Agua Dulce (the Haywoods’ stretch of desert). We don’t know how long it’s been there, but since Otis Sr.’s death, there’s been one unmoving cloud in the sky. It turns out Jean Jacket has been hiding in plain sight for months, eating horses that Jupe has been sacrificing to the alien. The showman thought he could tame the alien (which we explain in depth here (opens in new tab)), but he and Jupiter’s Claim park goers all get eaten by Jean Jacket. The alien even marks its territory, expelling all the inorganic matter and a rainfall of blood over the Haywoods’ house.
Despite the reasonable urge to get the hell out of dodge (OJ, Emerald, and Fry’s employee Angel (Brandon Perea) even flee their home after the blood rain), the siblings know that getting the “Oprah shot,” the first undeniable image of alien life, can bring them the fame and fortune that will save their ranch. So they come up with a plan to get the shot, with the help of Angel and nature cinematographer Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott).
The plan is ingenious in its setup. The group litters the desert valley with sky dancers (the inflatable tube men seen at used car dealerships) that will shut off when Jean Jacket gets close. OJ, wearing a The Scorpion King hoodie with fake eyes, will ride his horse Lucky out and lure the alien out, getting it in range for Antlers. The filmmaker will be hiding on a hill with Angel, all set up to get the shot on his non-electric film camera. Angel assists Antlers, and Emerald provides a second set of eyes through the security camera setup Angel put up earlier in the film.
Antlers gets eaten by Jean Jacket.
The plan hits an immediate snag with the arrival of a stranger with a camera. Emerald assumes is from TMZ (it’s not a wild guess, as news has been circling since the disappearance at Jupiter’s Claim). She warns him to go away, but the man rides his motorcycle out into the valley…and immediately gets thrown off his bike when Jean Jacket cuts the power. OJ tries to save him, but he knows he has to get away quick since the cameraman is wearing an orbital reflective helmet (as he leans over him, OJ’s reflection is looking up at Jean Jacket). The man is sucked up, and Jean Jacket rounds to chase down OJ.
Luckily, the trainer knows how to keep the alien away. Earlier in the film, Emerald had set up a fake horse statue draped in rainbow flags, to see if Jean Jacket would suck it up. The statue got stuck in JJ’s throat for days (as it’s made of inorganic matter), leaving a trail of flags coming out of the camouflage cloud (see the film’s first cryptic poster (opens in new tab)). Now, OJ releases a rainbow flag-parachute behind him, which keeps Jean Jacket from getting too close.
As OJ gets away unscathed, Antlers gets the Oprah shot. The group gets a resound victory, and by the laws of storytelling, it’s time for something to go wrong. That turn comes from Antlers, who says a cryptic phrase about the group not deserving the impossible, before emerging from his camouflage and going out into the open to film Jean Jacket with a handheld film camera. It’s hard to know what the cinematographer is thinking, but he seems almost hypnotized, determined to get a closer shot. And he gets it—Jean Jacket eats him, as he looks through the camera all the way up.
OJ distracts Jean Jacket so Emerald can get away.
After Antlers’ death, the rest of the group become vulnerable in different ways. Angel gets swept up by the wind rustled by Jean Jacket (the whole hideout gets blown away, with the film holding Antlers’ Oprah shot rolling away in the sun). Before he can become a meal, the techie quickly wraps himself in fallen barbed-wire fencing. The wire makes Jean Jacket expel Angel as soon as he’s sucked up, and it even maybe injures the alien. After it releases the wire, Jean Jacket unfurls to full form, which looks like a jellyfish flower made of ballooning fabric, with a square mouth surrounded by pulsing green streamers. (Trust me, it’s creepier than this attempted description.)
As Jean Jacket unfurls, Emerald is running away from the house trying to escape. She grabs the TMZ guy’s motorcycle, but JJ’s too close and it has no electricity. When he sees that she can’t get away, OJ faces off Jean Jacket from its other side, luring the alien toward him and giving his sister a chance to escape.
The emotional sacrifice hits hard because OJ does an “eyes on me” gesture that calls back to the siblings’ childhood. When Emerald was nine or 10, she was supposed to train her first horse for her birthday, a horse that she’d named Jean Jacket. Unfortunately, Otis Sr. got a training job on The Scorpion King around then, and he needed to train Jean Jacket for the gig. He and OJ ended up training the horse, as Emerald looked on, and the incident was a seed of resentment that grew as the sister got older. In a way, the face off with the alien is Emerald’s second chance to tame an animal for the first time, with OJ even giving it the Jean Jacket nickname (as well as wearing the hoodie from the film, which was his first on-set gig).
Emerald gets the shot.
After getting away from Jean Jacket, Emerald heads straight toward Jupiter’s Claim. The Wild West theme park has been abandoned since Jupe’s ill-fated show, but it still has an important attraction going: the Winkin’ Well (opens in new tab). As Emerald learned through an accidental photobomb earlier in the film, the wishing well has been outfitted with a classic film camera, which takes pictures of tourists as they look down into the well. To get her Oprah shot, Emerald releases the giant Kid Sheriff balloon at the park, to lure in Jean Jacket with its fake eyes. As JJ lines up over the well, Emerald collects coins strewn on the ground and takes pictures with the well over and over.
There are three important beats to Nope‘s final scene. First, we see what happens to Jean Jacket as it sucks up the giant balloon. It straight up pops, deflating into floating pieces and assumedly dying. Second, as Emerald looks out into the distance, there’s a figure under the park’s “Out Yonder” sign. It’s a man on a horse wearing an orange hoodie: OJ. The final thing we see is that Emerald succeeded. The picture that was spit out of the Winkin’ Well develops, and we see her Oprah shot.
That’s how the film ends, with several unanswered questions. We don’t see the siblings’ reunion, or their press tour and fame after the public (hopefully) believes their impossible shot. We don’t even see if Angel’s okay and still alive after getting spit out. These unanswered questions, as well as the lack of details towards Jean Jacket’s origins, are part of what makes Nope so terrifying. Viewers can heap on as much or as little meaning as they want. We can believe that OJ got out alive, or theorize that the man on a horse could just be Emerald’s vision. We can build up an entire government conspiracy around the TMZ guy’s statement that Agua Dulce came up blurry on Google Maps.
Knowing Peele, we probably won’t get any definitive answers, because the flurry of response to this spectacle of a movie is the point. Like Get Out, the filmmaker has written a story that holds up a mirror to society, and what we get out of the film says a lot about how we see the world. (Just ask Logan Paul (opens in new tab).) All we can do is take what we learned and let our minds run wild.