Seeing no above all, what he knows is the closest thing I will likely ever experience Jaws in theaters in the summer of 1975. Of all the films I’ve had the good fortune to review, few have been as difficult to review as Jordan Peele’s new film—not because I have nothing to say about it, but because I’m too afraid not to too much.
noThe clever publicity campaign has obscured much of the film’s narrative and themes (which for Peele are always the same thing anyway), and my concern about diving too deep is not a reflection that the film is only interesting for revealing its strengths. .. guarded events as much as an acknowledgment that the film is so well contained and original that it should not be received, should not be digested in any way other than unspoiled and whole.
The story concerns two siblings – Otis Jr., “Oi” (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald, “Em” (Keke Palmer) – who run their family’s historic film business by driving horses to film sets. The company is called Haywood’s Hollywood Horses, and the two are movie royalty, descendants of the jockey who rode the horse in Eadweard Muybridge’s famous 1878 photographic movement, which became the first film clip when its footage was projected in sequence. They live on a horse farm in a remote, scenic valley of Southern California, surrounded by glowing, dusty hills that would make John Ford drool. And it is in this valley that strange events begin to occur and OJ sees something in the sky that looks like a flying saucer.
Although no is a veritable carnival of analysis, it is still extremely accessible and enjoyable as entertainment.
The siblings don’t know what to do, especially since the presence doesn’t seem entirely peaceful, but Em believes that filming it will give their farm attention and money that they can use to save their business, which has so far been on ice. after the death of their father (the great Keith David).
To stay afloat, OJ had to sell some of their horses – many to Ricky “Jup” Park (Stephen Ewen), a former child star and now impresario of the nearby Wild West, a fascinating, reconstructed Old West amusement park town, called “Jupiter’s Request”. Jupp is a survivor of a traumatic near-death experience that occurred during a television shoot he participated in as a child in which an animal went berserk, and he has processed this experience by turning it into various types of entertainment, time and time again.
This sets up the main discourse of the film, which is about the relationship between “spectacle” (a buzzword) and experiences of horror, terror and danger; that turning terrifying, unknowable encounters into fun is how people can cope with these things—specifically, unknowable encounters with the natural world. The film is largely about the differences between humans and animals and the supreme power of nature. His thesis concerns the uncertainty of human intervention, the ultimate impossibility of our attempts to control and imprison beings and forces that are ultimately not like us. That the siblings can try to confront a UFO (a creature so powerful and mysterious to them) by capturing it on film is a perfect encapsulation of this theme. Filming something distances the viewer from the subject, makes it legible and safe.
The film has a lot to say about the differences between watching something and “seeing” it from the safety of the simulacrum—so much so that, after I got home, I happily pulled my old film theory textbooks off the shelf and flipped through Christian Metz’s essays, Laura Mulvey and Thomas Elzesser. no is so narrow and so rich and has so much to say about our relationship with cinema that I want to write a term paper on it instead of review; I want to delve into how it unfolds the meaning and continues the conversation about the “look” and the “gaze” and other semi-Lacanian philosophies about what movies and entertainment in general really do to us.
no has much to say in this regard, even before the moment he establishes a familial connection between himself and the first films ever made, Muybridge’s sequential photographs. The entire film is all about cameras, all about lenses, all about capture. It is, fittingly for the Wild West setting, a deep reflection on “capturing” something, taking a likeness of it, trying to know it visually.
Although the film is a veritable carnival of analysis, it is nevertheless extremely accessible and enjoyable as entertainment. Actually, it’s fun with a capital E! Although the movie is not a horror movie per seit floats along, smoothly building tension and occasionally stretching it with genuine scares before galloping through its pounding third act.
Peele is a master at creating iconic images, and it’s clear as you watch no how quickly so many of his aesthetic flourishes would become indelible in film history. Indeed, the film is a visual playground, combining innovative optical touches with just the right amount of cinematic nostalgia.
Its characters are also excellently designed, archetypal enough to fit one another while feeling memorable on their own terms – brought to life by a cast of incredibly talented actors. The representations in no are some of the best of the year; Palmer evokes a perfect balance of bouncy charisma and brute strength, while Kaluuya’s stoic brother manages (as is his forte) to wring endless pathos from silence and subtlety.
A husky-voiced Michael Wincott plays a grizzled cinematographer who’s seen everything but nothing like this, a veteran of the crew reminiscent of JawsQuint is. And as a chatty electronics store clerk/UFO enthusiast named Angel who becomes intrigued by the siblings’ mission, Brandon Perea pretty much steals the show (a feat of atmospheric proportions).
The film was shot with IMAX cameras, so see it on that big screen if you can; after all, this is a watch-only movie, so watch it properly. It will be another reminder of the film’s point that when you can’t run and you can’t hide, all you can do is watch.