Note: This article contains spoilers for “Nope.”
Jordan Peele’s latest film, “Nope,” has accidentally stumbled into becoming a hallmark of the End Times conundrum in the church. The Revelation of John — step aside! There’s a new kid in town.
A career of subverted expectations
When I first saw filmmaker Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, “Get Out,” I left the theater a different person. In the film, he explored deep-rooted violence and power in race and relationships. Peele has a way of telling a horror story in a way that subverts expectations and beckons realistic terror to viewers of any background. His second film, “Us,” was similarly haunting and evocative — a film that strove to explore the darkness within each person.
In “Nope,” viewers were totally kept in the dark about any underlying message — to the point that Peele didn’t even reveal the genre of the villain until the very final trailer, which was released only a few weeks before the feature film hit the silver screen.
Even still, the people who showed up to the theater on opening day had no idea what would await them when they walked through those doors and sat in those auditorium chairs.
Whose nope is it anyway?
Jordan Peele seems to be a fanatic of film itself. His stated goal with this particular film was to create a spectacle that would draw audiences back to the theater after a bizarre post-pandemic shift in entertainment. He wanted a film that would draw a feeling that spooked audiences similar to Stephen Spielberg's “Jaws.” With this in mind, Peele created a film centered on a central chaotic villain — an unidentified flying object, better known as a UFO.
This revealed the true meaning of the title card. “Nope,” it would seem, is actually an acronym: Not of Planet Earth. The movie’s leading antagonist is a giant, mysterious saucer haunting a horse farm in Hollywood.
However, there is more to this story than meets the eye. But unlike Peele’s other films, it doesn’t take any time to realize this.
For whom the shoe tolls
For instance, the very first frame of the film is actually Scripture. I dive deeper into this in my sermon on the film, but the excerpt is from the Old Testament Prophet Nahum, Chapter 3, Verse 6. In the background, we hear grotesque squelching and the familiar sounds of a daytime television show uncomfortably mixed together.
The Scripture then cuts to an image of a shoe that is standing perfectly straight in the air on its heel. It’s disturbing and uncomfortable, to say the least. Why is the shoe standing? How is the shoe standing? Why won’t it fall?
We slowly zoom out, anticipating the shoe to topple over, all the while hearing the continued squelching. Then, through a television set, we see disturbing imagery of gore and blood splattered on the furniture. The TV studio is empty and was clearly emptied in a rush.
Finally, we hear the squelching cease and see the source. It is a chimpanzee, dressed adorably for a birthday. His hands are covered in blood. Suddenly, it all becomes clear what has transpired. Unknowingly, we’ve been listening to a member of this television show cast being gored by a wild animal.
The stomach turns. The mind races. And all the while — Why won’t the shoe drop?
It’s brilliant filmography. It’s haunting storytelling. It’s Jordan Peele.
The now and the not yet
Eschatology is the theological study of the final part of the story of humankind. Some call it "End Times" and others call it revelatory. Some believe it is a prophetic word, whereas others believe it is predestined truth. Sometimes we write fiction about it and put Nicolas Cage in the starring role.
Regardless of the subjective take on the matter, it is undeniably something that has not happened just yet. But it could be in process of happening. Theologically, we like to refer to this incomplete nature as the "now and not yet."
It is the conundrum of the words in Isaiah, “See — I am doing a new thing!” This new thing was, of course, even further than 2,000 years ago. And, yet, it is also something still being done today. Jesus marked an important shift, but the work is still being done.
The kingdom of God is being formed right now, as I write this. And, yet, it was also formed so very long ago. This is a paradox that theologians have wrestled with and continue to wrestle with today. Surely, none have been tasked so boldly with the command to "wait for the other shoe to drop" as the followers of Christ.
I’ve been unable to find much information on Peele’s intention for using Scripture as the first frame of the film. While there are some unsubstantiated claims that Peele has stated a belief in a higher power, it’s unclear what theological implications might have been behind this film. Nevertheless, he has managed to perfectly portray the continuing nature of eschatology in “Nope.”
Throughout the film, the audience is waiting for the ending. We wait to see the truth behind the UFO in the sky. We wait to learn how Nahum ties into the film. We wait to see how the chimpanzee relates to the film. We wait on that blasted shoe to topple over! It’s awful and delightful all at once. Peele successfully recreated that Spielbergian feeling of waiting to see that shark for the first time.
But, by the end, we learn the truth of eschatology: There isn’t always an answer on the other side of a single revelation. Peele keeps much of the information to himself. We learn more about the one UFO we get to see. We understand how the chimpanzee ties into the story. But we don’t learn how the main characters will move forward. We don’t learn about the ramifications of the events depicted in the film.
We don’t learn what we don’t know — the future is still ahead. Even at the end of the film, there is still "now" and there is still "not yet." And that awful shoe is still standing straight up.
What can we take away from this film, then? As Christians, there is no need to worry for tomorrow — as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “your Heavenly Father clothes the lilies of the field and feeds the birds of the air.”
Our hope is not in the now or the not yet but in the promise of a risen savior who resides in both.
Nathan Webb is a major nerd in just about every way. He loves video games, anime, cartoons, comic books, tech and his fellow nerds. Hoping to provide a spiritual community for people with similar interests, he founded Checkpoint Church — "the church for nerds, geeks and gamers." Nathan can be found lurking on some visual novel subreddit, reading the latest shōnen entry, or playing the newest Farm Sim. Nathan is an ordained provisional elder in the United Methodist Church in the Western North Carolina Conference. He hosts a weekly newsletter podcast: To The Point.