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The inspirations behind the monster in Nope

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s… AAAARGGGHHHH

Nope movie poster Image: Universal Pictures

Moviegoers who ventured out to see the premiere of Nope, Jordan Peele’s new sci-fi alien horror thriller starring Keke Palmer, Daniel Kaluuya, and Steven Yeun, walked out of the theater this weekend with a lot of questions. One of the most common and pointed was, “What the hell was up with that freaky-ass UFO?”

While the extraterrestrial menace at the heart of Peele’s latest, dubbed “Jean Jacket” by Nope protagonists OJ (“Otis Jr.”) and Emerald Haywood, is commonly referred to as a UFO (unidentified flying object) early in the film, the alternate term — UAP, or “unidentified aerial phenomenon” — is perhaps more accurate. But that term doesn’t come close to describing the creature’s actual appearance, which was drawn from a variety of sources.

[Ed. note: Major spoilers ahead for Nope.]

Over the course of the film, the UAP assumes several terrifying forms, which make it roughly something of a cross between a shark, a flying saucer, a manta ray, a flat humongous man-eating eyeball, and a “biblically accurate” angel.

We’ve pulled together a short list of the known influences behind the creature’s design to get a handle on just what the heck we were looking at.


Jaws

A man with a spear stands on the side of a boat tipping into the sea while staring into the eyes of Great White Shark barring its teeth in Jaws. Image: Universal Pictures

Steven Spielberg’s work is a prominent influence on the bizarre appearance and inscrutable motivations of the extraterrestrial terror in Nope. Jean Jacket’s behavior and modus operandi bear a striking resemblance to those of eponymous great white shark of Spielberg’s 1975 summer blockbuster Jaws.

Aside from an appetite for unsuspecting humans, the biggest similarity between Jean Jacket and Jaws (or “Bruce,” the crew’s nickname for the animatronic shark used in the film) is in how little each creature is seen throughout most of their respective films. Peele adopts Spielberg’s approach of suggesting the antagonist’s presence rather than explicitly showing it, and also wraps that approach into Nope’s larger themes about the perils of seeking out spectacle even at the expense of one’s own sanity or life.

Sahaquiel from Neon Genesis Evangelion

An image of Sahaquiel, the tenth angel from Neon Genesis Evangelion, displayed on a large screen in NERV headquarters. Image: Khara

One of the most common comparisons moviegoers have made to Nope’s creature was to the otherworldly antagonists of Hideaki Anno’s 1995 apocalyptical mecha anime Neon Genesis Evangelion — the creatures known as “Angels.”

In the universe of Neon Genesis Evangelion, the term “Angel” is used to describe a mysterious species of gigantic creature, ancestral variants of humankind that have lain dormant in and around Earth for countless millennia. Throughout the series, the actions of the clandestine secret society SEELE, and NERV, the secret government agency led by Commander Gendo Ikari, collectively invoke the wrath of the so-called Angels, rousing them from their centurieslong slumber and leading them to attempt to destroy humanity.

Jean Jacket’s appearance and design most closely resemble those of Sahaquiel, the 10th Angel, which appears in the 12th episode of the original 1995 anime, “A Miracle’s Worth,” and the second film in the Rebuild of Evangelion tetralogy, Evangelion 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance. In the episode and film, the Angel inexplicably appears in Earth’s orbit on a crash course with the city Tokyo-3, forcing NERV and the Evangelion pilots to coordinate in a race to intercept the creature before it collides with Earth and destroys the city.

Though Jordan Peele hasn’t come out and explicitly cited Neon Genesis Evangelion as an influence on Nope, he did publicly make his fandom of the series clear on Twitter in the days leading up to the film’s release:

Coincidence? I think not!

The Purple People Eater

In a scene late in Nope, Michael Wincott’s gravel-voiced cinematographer Antlers Holst ironically recites lyrics from Sheb Wooley’s 1958 comedy rock song “The Purple People Eater” while Antlers and the protagonists devise their plot to lure Jean Jacket out of hiding in order to get a coveted “Oprah shot” of extraterrestrial life. While Jean Jacket isn’t purple, doesn’t manifest anything resembling a horn, and certainly doesn’t seem motivated by anything close to a love of rock n’ roll, it definitely demonstrates a preference for food that’s not “too tough” — unlike the horse statue it devours and subsequently belches out partway through the film.

Jellyfish, squids, and other real-life aquatic creatures

Comb Jellyfish, Tentaculata, Marsa Alam, Red Sea, Egypt Photo: Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild/Getty Images
a red-orange West Coast Sea Nettle (Chrysaora Fuscescens) swims to the left Photo: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
a Black ghost knifefish swims amid kelp in an aquarium Photo: DeAgostini/Getty Images

In an interview with Thrillist, CalTech professor John O. Dabiri discussed his experience working as a consultant on UFO (or UAP) design for Nope, describing the creature as an amalgam of various terrestrial aquatic lifeforms such as jellyfish, squids, and octopuses.

“I took them down to our lab here at CalTech,” Dabiri said. “When we feed our jellyfish, they have what are called oral arms, which are these almost silk-like ribbons that end up getting released and displayed when they’re feeding. It’s really cool to see the analogy between feeding time in my lab, when we put little tiny baby shrimp in there and they all get pulled and caught with the tentacles, versus what you see at the end of the movie, that same type of unfurling of Jean Jacket.”

Among the various species of jellyfish, Dabiri specifically cited the ghost knifefish as a direct influence on Jean Jacket’s design, comparing its ability to generate electric fields to the creature’s ability to generate an EMP field capable of knocking out all electric power in its vicinity.

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