“No,” says the stoic protagonist of Jordan Peele’s new film in moments when it’s too much for him, like when an oval bird-eating body hovers overhead. OJ, whose name is stereotypically associated with white characters with American football player OJ Simpson, avoids confrontation with reality, not wanting to see it. The dismissive response could also be related to the hero’s attitude to the death of his father, which presents the film. He is said to have been hit by a piece of a helicopter. Official Journal doubts such an interpretation. Although the tragic accident happened in broad daylight, he couldn’t say exactly what happened. He has not yet accepted and cured the misfortune, so he indifferently exposes himself to the looks of others, humans and non-human entities, while he himself is afraid to face reality. It is the looks that wrest control from one person and give another a dangerous force, which is the central theme of Nene, a film that offers a thrilling spectacle and critical reflection on the scene’s late capitalist society, which consumes images numbly.
What makes the scene
It is no coincidence that most of the characters are associated with the film or entertainment industry and the story is set in the suburbs of Hollywood. OJ works as a horse trainer – together with his sister Emerald, he runs a company that provides horses for filming and television. Their great-grandfather was said to be the jockey from a series of photographs in which Edward Muybridge wanted to prove at the end of the 19th century that all of a horse’s legs were in the air at one moment while running. This means that the person behind the birth of cinema and the first movie actor was African American – but you won’t read about this (as well as other benefits of marginalized social groups) anywhere. However, the identity of the rider is actually unknown, and Bell, like Quentin Tarantino, creates an alternate history. However, the idea behind the myth of the Black Knight is valid – the media, including films, make some people visible and ignore others, thus participating in shaping history and the structure of society.
Peele’s Western environmental horror suggests that we can never completely tame the wild and it’s only a matter of time before our pride takes its brutal revenge on us.
Peele traditionally focuses on outsiders who have to fight for their place in social structures. The work of the siblings of horses does not flourish. Animals are increasingly being replaced by computer animation. Therefore, OJ and Emerald are looking for other sources of income. Their business partnership with Ricky Park, the mayor of a nearby western town, transforming American landscapes and legends into a circus, is beneficial. OJ sells his father’s stable and Park becomes the main buyer. Animals are stripped of their majesty in the city, just as they are in movie studios, and become attractions for the amusement of visitors.
The park has a painful past experience of animal exploitation. In the 1990s, as a boy, he worked on a popular sitcom whose main star was – like it or not – a chimpanzee named Gordy. But during the filming of one of the episodes, “the monkey was caught in a cage,” as Park described it and as seen in two males, terrifying even though all of its violence takes place offscreen. After the action of the bloody challenge, the sitcom was terminated, but at the same time it secured Jordi’s position. Park also decided to monetize his childhood trauma and bases his business on a similar model, based on the infamous series. As the quote from the Bible that begins the film says, the scene arises from violence and devastation. Peele explores this idea in the context of film, advertising, live performance, and everyday life, where our sensitivity to the suffering of others is diminished by the influx of erotic and shocking scenes.
Like the social thrillers of Peele Escape and Us, where black families confront both external and internal violence, Nene starts out slowly and innocently, taking his time with the horrific scenes. The First Trimester is an urban drama of siblings trying to process the loss of a loved one and keep the family business together. Daniel Kaluuya, who plays the main character with charming restraint, and Keke Palmer, who is his energetic opposite, organically and quickly complement each other to win the sympathy of the audience. When bad things start to happen to them later, we have no problem communicating with them and sharing the horror they are in. Cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema, a regular collaborator with Christopher Nolan, primarily shot the actors in wide-angle sets from the start. Saves psychological close-up shots.
The panoramic compositions highlight the grandeur of the surrounding western landscape, in which the actors seem insignificant in comparison, as well as the emptiness surrounding melancholic heroes. The method of shooting also suggests that the human perspective will not be the key in the end. The same is evidenced by the titles of individual chapters, which always bear the name of some living creature, but never the name of a person. Peele’s two previous films have explored the inner world of the characters and their subsequent efforts to escape it. Nene turns this concept on its head. The danger comes from the outside, and the determining factor is not looking inward, but outward and beyond.
In the Anthropocene, we are accustomed to seeing animals as creatures who are exposed to the gaze of the representatives of the reasonable human race, and are not expected to reconsider. That’s why it has such a terrifying effect that, in the film’s introduction, a bloodied chimpanzee stares at the camera intently, breaking the invisible wall between viewer and viewer, and leaving the subject’s position. If the classic Western cowboy epitomizes American civilization and expansion confidently conquering the wilderness, Bell’s Western environmental horror suggests that we can never completely tame the wild and it is only a matter of time before our arrogance takes its brutal revenge on us. Therefore, presenting Nene as a strange movie is misleading. There is enough evidence that the heroes do not face colonists from a distant galaxy, but the frighteningly exaggerated consequences of human actions, even if not direct. OJ and Emerald are victims of the recklessness and neglect of others on multiple levels.
The great conclusion
In Nene, people repeatedly find themselves in a position of prey facing an even more powerful predator in more and more subtly scaled scenes, blending Sbielbergian terror with action and casual humor. Peele doesn’t completely give up on the issue of race, he does have the upper hand in the end, but for most of the film, the most important topic to him is not the whole of society, but the entire planet – the loss of humility towards living nature, the belief that we have grown up for it.
A man’s desire to subdue and transcend everything around him for his own gain is clearly embodied by Ricky through his various cheese-filled offerings. However, OJ and Emerald think similarly. A guest of undetermined origin frightens them, but at the same time they consider it a business opportunity. They want to portray the impossible before the curious from the rest of America, get a “financial shot” that will bring them money and an invitation to the Oprah Winfrey Show. Angel, a bored electrical salesman who has just been fired by his girlfriend and also looking for something to fill the void, gets new security cameras installed on the farm. They are naively convinced that technology cannot be deceived. But unlike the actors of science fiction about an alien invasion, they basically don’t want to destroy the “dreaded monster’s umbrella” – we’re not in one of Roland Emmerich’s films. They only intend to perpetuate it, demystify it (just as people have controlled nature with the help of science and technology since the age of enlightenment at the latest). Characteristically the most powerful weapon for the characters during the Great Finale is the forearm cam. As if only film makes reality visible in a society awash with images, giving it form and meaning. But who is the reality, whose point of view decides, asks Bill, playing an exciting game with different points of view and perspectives.
In the end, the duality of characters was overcome with a great starring and soundtrack that pays tribute to both Ennio Morricone and Elmer Bernstein. Those who are viewed with skepticism or outright hatred of history written by white men triumph over the eyes. The exploitative dimension of their actions, when they themselves are taming nature and want to turn its miracles into a spectacle for the eyes of others, has no critical overtones. Likewise, in the last third of the narrative, the motive for dealing with grief stems from the narrative, and Park’s character and her emerging conflict with her siblings are dealt with in a somewhat disorganized manner. It’s as if Peele cut some impulse lines so insensitively that others could resonate more strongly. While the climax itself is breathtaking and will leave you feeling good that you got your money’s worth, the narrative structure itself leaves a lot of standout elements at the end, and their purpose isn’t clear.
Sometimes caught up in his own ambitions and an overabundance of ideas, Nene lacks the cohesion and brevity of Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and other clever blockbusters that Bill examines or debunks. A movie based on an original concept that provokes curiosity, tension and bewilderment for two hours and at the same time euphemistically names many unhealthy social trends, but despite its weaknesses it is one of the most famous films in the genre. At the same time, the more than $100 million shown in North American theaters in the first month after the premiere proves that there is a demand for a quality non-franchise business and the “Jordan Peele” brand is not waning.
The author is a columnist on the film.
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