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Nope's Jean Jacket Explained

"Nope," the third film from celebrated director Jordan Peele, was billed as a mysterious alien sci-fi flick in prerelease materials. Its nature is actually something much stranger: a monster movie in which the real threat is not the monster itself but the pursuit of it. Jean Jacket, the alien creature that resembles a UFO, is rarely seen for most of the film's runtime, but it drives the movie from afar.

Peele sprinkles many easily missed details throughout "Nope," but the movie clearly demonstrates at its outset that it's commenting on the nature of spectacle, the very reason we go to the movies, by placing a biblical quote from the Old Testament book of "Nahum" before the opening scene. "I will cast abominable filth upon you, make you vile, and make you a spectacle," it states. Jean Jacket is akin to God in this metaphor, directing events from above while hidden within a cloud. And the alien does indeed "cast abominable filth" on those who challenge it, raining blood and debris from the sky.

In pursuit of Jean Jacket — not even to capture it but simply to capture evidence of its existence — OJ (Daniel Kaluuya); his sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer); and eventually tech guy Angel (Brandon Perea) are driven to the brink of their own destruction.

However, Jean Jacket is a more conventional antagonist in many ways, requiring its opponents to learn its patterns of behavior if they're going to stand a chance at taking it on. So who or what is Jean Jacket, how does it work, and what brought it to Earth in the first place? Here's what we know about the monster in "Nope."

Jean Jacket is an alien animal

One of the most important facts about Jean Jacket actually comes as a twist partway through "Nope." After Jupe (Steven Yeun) stages a show at his ranch theme park meant to take advantage of Jean Jacket, the alien swallows him along with the entire crowd. This event causes OJ to realize that Jean Jacket is not a spaceship but a predatory animal.

Like many animals in real life, Jean Jacket is extremely territorial. It has claimed OJ's farm and the surrounding area as its feeding grounds and therefore treats OJ, Em, and Jupe as competition. After OJ spots it at Jupe's ranch, it returns to the farm and showers the farmhouse with bloody debris as a method of marking territory.

Jean Jacket's mouth is two school buses in length, as Jupe notes before his ill-fated show, meaning the maw is about 70 feet in diameter and the entire UFO form is 250 feet across, about the wingspan of a Boeing 747. Its skin resembles a thick fabric and can be seen rippling when the UFO descends to swallow its victims. When it later transforms into its full form, the fabric-like construction unfolds into what almost looks like sails, helping it float high above the ground. The obvious question is where the alien came from and why it chose Earth as a hunting ground. Unfortunately, "Nope" is scant on details in that regard. We are given no indication of its origin or whether there are others like it (though presumably there are).

Jean Jacket has multiple forms

For most of "Nope," Jean Jacket appears in the shape of a flying saucer, a slightly oblong cowboy hat in the sky. But as the protagonists begin their plan to capture Jean Jacket on camera, it transforms into its true appearance, an almost incomprehensible shape that Jordan Peele claims he based on an angel. Not a Biblical angel, though it certainly resembles one of those as well, but an angel from the anime series "Neon Genesis Evangelion."

From what we know of Jean Jacket, it tends to hunt for prey while in its UFO form, but transforms into its angelic figure when threatened, as occurs toward the ending of "Nope." The angelic figure is far larger than even the enormous UFO, unfurling to reveal an enormous, square eye that flickers mesmerizingly, enticing its prey into a trance. When completely transformed, it dwarfs the surrounding Hollywood hills in size, looming over the background of every frame. That massive angelic form was designed before Jean Jacket's UFO shape, in fact.

While the angelic form of Jean Jacket is not as nimble as the swooping, predatory UFO form, its body language implies that the angelic form is a defense mechanism, similar to how some creatures on Earth have features to make them appear larger in order to scare off potential predators. That may explain why Jean Jacket never reveals its angelic form until realizing it is under attack in the final act.

Jean Jacket only eats those who gaze at it

Jean Jacket reflects the film's theme of spectacle. Accordingly, the key to defeating the alien monster ends up being the realization that it only attacks those who look it in the eye. Early in "Nope," OJ and Emerald are staging a horse for a movie shoot, but the animal goes berserk after a clueless crew member holds a mirror up to the horse's eyes. Much later, after Jean Jacket eats Jupe and his showgoers at Jupiter's Claim ranch, it returns to the farmhouse, spraying bloody detritus all over the property. Jean Jacket drives a decoy horse the protagonists tricked it into eating through OJ's windshield, which reminds OJ of how the horse behaved onset earlier in the movie, causing him to realize that Jean Jacket, like other animals, is threatened by eye contact.

Thinking back to the "Nahum" verse that begins "Nope," it's tempting to draw on other Biblical stories where gazing at something heavenly is fatal, especially considering that Jean Jacket's full design is based on angels. For example, in "Exodus" 33:20, God tells Moses, "A human being may not see Me and live."

For the characters in "Nope," the choice is often between looking at the beast or running, though if they run, they cannot properly see what's chasing them. The climactic sequence involves plenty of inflatable tube men and googly eyes as a method of tricking Jean Jacket into thinking it is being watched, triggering it to attack. But even as Jean Jacket unfolds into its majestic angelic form, OJ and Emerald are careful not to look at it.

Jean Jacket represents a perfect movie

Jean Jacket is not literally a camera. But everything about it represents the process of moviemaking, down to the design of its unfurling angelic form, which has a square eye in the front that resembles a movie camera's sensor. As Antlers (Michael Wincott) says before facing down his death armed only with a hand-cranked camera of his own, "We don't deserve the impossible."

Antlers' sacrifice and his final line are illuminating for those who hope to better understand the beast at the core of "Nope." In an interview with the Associated Press, Jordan Peele explained, "Making a movie is basically like chasing the impossible, trying to bottle something that doesn't exist." In other words, Jean Jacket represents the idea of a perfect movie, a spectacle that shows people things they've never seen before. And yet, most who pursue Jean Jacket wind up digested by it. Jupe, who thinks he can form a bond with the beast and use it as a theme park attraction, is eaten, as is Antlers when he decides that capturing the impossible is worth certain death. Only OJ and Emerald, who are careful to never look directly at Jean Jacket because they respect its terrifying power, ultimately survive.

With Jean Jacket, Peele created one of the most fascinating and instantly iconic alien monsters in cinema history. Just don't look too closely.