‘Nope’ Ending Explained: It’s Not What You Think

Jordan Peele’s latest film has a lot hiding under the surface

Nope UFO
Universal Pictures

Jordan Peele loves a good twist.

The writer/director behind “Get Out” and “Us” is used to pulling the rug out from under audiences and his latest genre-bending experiment, “Nope,” is no different. While Peele’s new movie isn’t as reliant on twists, it still has a few big reveals and plenty more to discuss.

“Nope” follows Otis Jr. (or “OJ”) Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya) and his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer), who take over their family ranch and stunt business following the untimely and mysterious death of their father (genre legend Keith David). While attempting to sort out the business in the months following his passing, they begin being menaced by something sinister in the sky above the farm. Eventually they enlist the help of a local electronics store employee (Brandon Perea) and a grizzled cinematographer (Michael Wincott) to try to catch the phenomena on camera, while the neighboring old west theme park next door to the ranch (owned by Steven Yeun) has their own plans for the aerial oddity.

But what is actually menacing them? And how does everything end? Read on to find out.

Major spoilers for “Nope” follow.

Strange Things Afoot at the Haywood Ranch

OJ starts to notice things happening at the ranch. The electricity goes out. The horses are spooked. He spots a large, disc-shaped object hiding in a cloud. And could Emerald and OJ’s father’s death be somehow linked to the saucer? (The authorities claimed that it was debris from a prop plane that killed him; a quarter was lodged in his skull. OJ is not so sure.)

When he tells Emerald about it, she is both terrified and sees an opportunity; they could capture it on camera unequivocally (they want “the Oprah shot”), they could make a lot of money. They could turn their fortunes around and save the ranch. (Little by little OJ has been selling off horses to Jupiter’s Claim, the theme park next door run by former child actor Ricky “Jupe” Park.”) Of course, getting footage of their visitor proves to be increasingly difficult and, given the saucer’s propensity for grabbing the ranch’s horses in a dusty whirlwind, very dangerous.

Even with the new security cameras they put up around the ranch, courtesy of Angel’s (Perea) technical expertise, their visitor remains just out of reach. They even try to bait the saucer with a horse statue that they steal from Jupiter’s Claim. (Also, in a hilarious/terrifying scene, Jupe’s kids wear alien costumes and frighten OJ, in retaliation for the stolen horse.) The saucer takes the bait, with a long flag dangling out of it (this image calls to mind the flying DeLorean from “Back to the Future, Part II”). But what if it’s not a UFO visiting them? What if it’s something else?

Jupiter’s Claim, Claimed

Let us briefly take a moment to go back, to the 1990s, when Jupe was still a kid and starring in a sitcom called “Gordy’s Home.” It was a high concept, brightly lit primetime trifle, about a family and their pet chimpanzee named Gordy. One day on set they were filming a scene involving Gordy’s birthday party; a balloon pops and sends Gordy into a frenzy. He beats some of the cast members to death and chews off another cast member’s face. And it scars Jupe for life, even though, when asked about it, he refers Emerald to the “Saturday Night Live” sketch that was made about the incident (“Chris goddamn Kattan” played Gordy). In a secret room in his office, Jupe has a treasure trove of “Gordy’s Home” memorabilia, including the bloody shoe of one of his cast members’, which during the attack sat perfectly upright.

All of this led Jupe to a life of seeking fame and attention based on the tragedy he witnessed, which includes him presiding over Jupiter’s Claim, which seems to be connected to his breakout role, in a movie called “Kid Sheriff.” (In the park there’s a well that takes a photograph that emulates the poster for “Kid Sheriff.”) There’s a poster on the wall of his office advertising a reality show filmed at Jupiter’s Claim about Jupe and his family. It’s unclear if it’s aired or not. But it doesn’t matter, because Jupe has his next big thing – the Star Lasso Experience.

It turns out that Jupe has had his own experience with the sinister force in their valley. And that Jupe has sent horses out (the horses he bought from OJ), as a sacrifice to the saucer. It’s become so regular that he’s decided to build an entire show out of it. But on its inaugural performance, the saucer shows up early and instead of taking the horse, the saucer hoovers up Jupe, his family and everybody in the hastily built arena, including one of Jupe’s old costars, her face now mangled from the chimpanzee attack. 40 people in all. Gone in a flash.

The Final Showdown

OJ posits a theory, proven right during a particularly terrifying encounter: what if it’s not a saucer at all? What if the UFO is actually an alien? A giant, hovering monster? We see the victims of Jupiter’s Claim inside the “saucer;” they aren’t being held captive. They’re being digested. (It’s pretty gross and scary.) After the reveal, every time the saucer swings around you can hear screaming mixed with other saucer sounds, as victims and animals are getting chewed up.

With the idea that the UFO is alive, they come up with a new plan to capture it on camera. It involves those wavy-armed inflatable men from a local used car dealership, a kite and a non-electronic camera system designed and operated by a recluse cinematographer named Antlers Holst (Michael Wincott). Of course, nothing goes to plan, first when Antlers decides that he needs to get the really-for-real “Oprah shot” and gets sucked up into the alien/saucer (it’s implied that he might be chronically ill; some promotional materials suggest that he had a much larger backstory at one point) and then by the arrival, on motorbike, of a mysterious man in a mirrored motorcycle helmet that is revealed to be a TMZ paparazzo. (He doesn’t last long either.)

The monster, now fully enraged, goes after OJ, unfurling itself like some giant, beautiful undersea creature. (While some have complained about the creature design, it’s some of the most creative, outside-the-box design work in recent memory.) Fearing that the saucer creature has killed her brother, Emerald makes a desperate escape. She goes to Jupiter’s Claim and unties the massive balloon version of Kid Sheriff that sits, hovering over the park. Recalling the balloon that popped and set off Gordy on the set of the sitcom, the saucer monster ingests the giant balloon. And all the while Emerald is still trying to get her Oprah shot, this time using the hand-cranked photo op at the Jupiter’s Claim well. Finally, the saucer monster absorbs the balloon and the balloon pops, destroying the monster. It had been hiding in the cloud and now it looks like a cloud as it disintegrates and falls towards earth.

And what’s more – Emerald got her photographic evidence and, even better, OJ survived (and so did his horse, Lucky). Roll credits.

What “Nope” Is Really About

Like with Peele’s other films, “Nope” has a larger thematic undercurrent throughout — it’s not just about a UFO encounter. In reality, the whole movie is about spectacle, and our monetization of spectacle. We’re inundated with bad news day in and day out, in the social media age, we can’t look away. Videos of Jan. 6 playing over and over and over again, complete with their own chyron and special segment on cable news. We “eventize” tragedy, at our own peril.

In “Nope,” it’s key that the way to not be eaten by the monster is to not look at it. O.J. discovers that if he looks down, instead of directly at it, the creature moves right along. If you don’t look, you can’t feed the beast.

This is why the Gordy storyline is so integral to the thematic thrust of the film. Jupe has spent his life making money off the tragedy he witnessed, but in a few quiet scenes we realize he’s not over the tragedy at all. He’s still traumatized, hoping that by recounting the “SNL” sketch or telling the “story” of the event he’ll work through it. Remember, when Jupe tells the Gordy story to OJ and Emerald, Emerald asks, “What really happened?”

So yes, “Nope” is a UFO movie. But it’s also, at heart, a film that speaks to the moment we live in right now.