Jordan Peele’s latest film Nope has once again inspired great conversations surrounding the treatment of film crews. The film’s protagonists – Emerald (Keke Palmer) and O.J. (Daniel Kaluuya) – run a horse training business. There’s also the cinematographer Antlers Holst who only joins the crew once he sees how dangerous the alien Jean Jacket can be. And then he nearly gets the entire group killed when he pushes for one last shot of the creatures’ insides. So, what is his deal? Holst, played well by Michael Wincott, appears to be a representative of the best and the worst of the Hollywood “dream industry,” capturing both the ingenuity of craftsmen and the toxic qualities that only bring people down for profits.

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Yes, Holst does offer some good to the crew. He does agree to record Jean Jacket after seeing the disappearance and damage caused at Jupes’ (Steven Yeun) ranch. Part of that may come from the spectacle, but also he sees the damage if can cause – comparing it to the song “The Purple People Eater.” He brings the film camera to the set to shoot Jean Jacket specifically to still get the shot even if the power goes out. That’s the kind of thinking good craftsmen can bring, taking a risk and looking at something different but also being willing to help the team and make art. He even helps Angel (Brandon Berea) swap the film after it runs out. He’s rushing in to save the shot.

That’s most of the good from what we see of Holst. He is not in very much of the film, with most of his scenes coming in small bits, so it’s hard to get a read. What is shown suggests that he may seek more fame and thrills than needed even for this project, as muddling as they may be.

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Starting with the first scene, he is entirely disinterested with Emerald’s pitch about Lucky the (aptly named) horse on the commercial set. He also strangely watches scenes of animals fighting in this remote room while talking on the phone with Emerald. Maybe after decades of doing the same work in the film industry over and over, he is trying to feel something, anything resembling a jolt. The rawness of exploiting animals and violence is somewhat of a rush – unlike the commercials with horses and celebrities he is working on now. It’s another visual showing of animals in a film that is filled with dialogues about animals from horse training to the tragic accident on set involving Gordy. But he never engages with the animals or shows remorse towards them. Like the horse, he is just simply watching, learning, maybe about how they are being shot.

Holst’s seemingly cold view toward those almost predicts his final mistakes. He already has the main shot of Jean Jacket, but he pushes too far to get one more, destroying his camera, the film, and everything the group worked for for the mirage of an even better image. Holst makes one false step towards “spectacle” and instead lets out his most “vile” tendencies.

Even his first name “Antlers” ties him to animals. Nope would be the film to name a critical character after a part of a deer that is used for show and defense – and that people pay thousands for to either buy or hunt. Holst appears to be both sides of the “prize” aspect: he is the crew’s prized photographer to come in and record Jean Jacket, while also going off and making another, juicier image to hang on his mantle.

The claim about “spectacle” mentioned in that opening bible passage comes up several times in the film. Jupe directly says the word in his first conversation with Emerald and O.J. and – like Holst – dies when he thrives to achieve “spectacle” by bringing out Jean Jacket. Holst made a rash decision after getting a rush he had not felt in decades working in films and on sets, ignoring the obvious issues that looking at the alien would bring to him and everyone else.

It’s a move that feels emblematic of the producers and directors such a character may work for. Like the accident on The Twilight Zone film set, Holst put his crew at risk all for the sake of getting that money shot with the bottom line cutting his life out of the project. Holst barely thinks about Em, O.J., and Angel and falls for the easy trap, which predictably agitates Jean Jacket. He made the same mistake as the producers on Gordy’s Home! with the balloons that sparked Gordy: he provokes an animal for more profits and ends up getting bloodily murdered for it.

Holst is a tragic figure in the film. He falls for the same pitfalls that have harmed so many creators for profits. At times, he shows the ingenuity of the creatives that brought him on the project and then took a step too far over the edge and falls deeper into the pit. Nope shows both the best and worst of the film industry, and Holst is a humbling reminder of where the darkness can take you if you let the quest “spectacle” turn “vile.”

 

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