I just finished watching NOPE a science fiction horror film by Jordan Peele. I don’t normally watch horror films but I loved Peele’s Get Out and so I was excited to watch NOPE. Woah, was it good!

It follows a brother and sister who discover something frightening living in the skies above their California horse ranch. It swoops down from the clouds at the same time every day.

They go through various stages of reckoning with the situation.

First, they’re scared cause it’s really weird. Then they get excited – especially Keke Palmer’s character who sees it as an opportunity to capture the phenomenon on camera and possibly make a lot of money. She calls up a famous filmmaker to gauge his interest, but he brushes them off. Daniel Kaluuya’s character is more resistant to the idea anyway and wants them to just stay safe – which makes complete sense cause in the first scene of the movie he witnesses their father being killed by the excrement of this sky beast.

Giving a spoiler alert warning here! There’s a subplot involving an entrepreneurial guy who seems to own an amusement-type park in this mid-west town. He witnessed an incredibly traumatic event as a child actor – an on-set monkey actor murdered a whole cast of people right in front of him. For some reason the monkey spared him and it’s given him a belief that he’s chosen or special.

He tries to make money off almost everything and so it’s no surprise that he tries to make this alien-in-the-sky’s daily appearances into a sideshow of sorts. He thinks he’s immune from harm, or he has a death wish of some kind, but (spoiler alert) he is not spared from this beast’s feast and neither are his 40 guests.

Then Palmer and Kaluuya’s characters get a call from that filmmaker who now wants to capture this phenomenon after hearing about the 40+ people’s disappearance. Game on!

They get a few different cameras ready and set up, and they seem to get some amazing footage of the beast consuming a TMZ reporter – hah. But as their film shoot goes on – and the beast gets closer and closer to eating each one of them, the life and death struggle they’re engaged in overshadows any attempts at cinema.

I kept having this dizzying experience watching the film. I was in awe of the special effects that created this alien monster, admiring it even as I was terrified of it. (They have a particularly disturbing scene of what it looks like when you get eaten by the thing.) I was in awe of the thing, and so I also wanted the characters in the movie I was watching to get a great shot of this incredible monster for their movie. Hoping they’d capture it to share with other people. While also simultaneously not wanting them to die. And also realizing that I was watching a movie and the beast wasn’t even real. It was a trip.

If I’m searching for a deeper meaning in all of this I would say, real life is pretty freaky and the grit and effort required to face our fears, survive and do something of consequence is so great, and all this capturing of it for social media and movies is not the point. As evidenced by the TMZ reporter losing his life in the film because he’s more concerned with getting a photo than being saved.

Yet we continue to write, make movies, and tell stories like Peele has done here because it’s entertaining and unifying and we crave that as a species. Something the aliens may not ever understand. 😉

Viola Davis & Jennifer Lawrence on Fear

“I’m always terrified, let me just say that.” – Viola Davis

I’ve been watching Variety’s ‘Actors on Actors’ interview with Viola Davis and Jennifer Lawrence from this past December, and I was excited by a few minutes of a very frank conversation they had about fear.

They’re both such powerhouses in the industry and often play strong women who literally kick ass in their acting roles. But in this interview, Viola models the power of vulnerability as she begins a frank conversation about fear with Jennifer. I’m including the interview below, beginning at the moment the fear conversation really kicks off.

It’s a revealing exchange about how fear impacts a creative career.

Fear & Art

In spite of all their experience and accolades, Viola and Jennifer feel fear during those days and moments before the first ‘action’ is called on set or when a director comes up to give them notes.

Viola also talks about how she feels ‘the scrutiny’ when she’s on set. She feels pressure and asks herself if she should try and live up to other people’s hype about her. When she actually feels like she doesn’t know what she’s doing and feels the same as everyone else on set.

Artists who are established feel pressure to perform to a certain level again and again, while artists who aren’t yet established often feel pressure to prove themselves.

That pressure isn’t an inherent part of the actual creative process though. It’s kind of a byproduct of pursuing creativity as a profession. But do we also have an innate human need to feel that the art we’re sharing is accepted and approved of by other people?

What happens if we don’t care about that? Is it even possible to genuinely not care? Let’s assume it isn’t possible, that we’ll always be a little afraid of how our art might be perceived.

It really doesn’t need to practically influence anything other than our lived experience in a moment. We feel the emotion of fear, and then we still create.

I recently heard the famous writer Elizabeth Gilbert say in an interview that it’s not her responsibility to make sure the books she writes are ‘good’. She’s just going to write them. What a cool way to relate to our art.

Fear & Age

In the interview, Jennifer also talks about how she was less afraid when she was younger, and how it changes as she gets older.

She used to train wild horses in Kentucky. Jump up and go for it. Then a few years ago she jumped on a horse, thinking nothing of it, and moments later froze in fear and fell off. She was suddenly so aware of how dangerous it was, and how hurt she could get, and that wasn’t something she’d considered when she was younger.

When we get older, but also as we experience more, no matter what age we are, we realize how much pain and potential for hurt there is.

We learn so much from our environment, from what has happened to us, and from what we’ve seen. It can change the way we orient to the world, and increase our sense of fear or caution. We begin to manage fear with whatever coping mechanism we have adapted, fight/freeze/flight/fawn. This is why therapy is so powerful, so we can bring greater emotional intelligence to our choices in moments of fear.

I believe that the more awareness you have of fear, the greater your capacity to be brave. Cause fearlessness is not the same thing as bravery, it might mean you don’t know there’s anything to be afraid of, to begin with.

I don’t want to be fearless – I want to feel the grit of fear and then take action anyway.

Bravery & Art

Viola asks Jennifer, when they have producers on set with opinions, etc… the pressures of being ‘the cog in the machine’ as Jennifer says, how can they stay true to the bold acting choice they made in preparation. Especially when that important creative choice is made to share the truth of the character they’re playing. Knowing that compromise on that may affect the impact of the performance…

“How do you, as an actor, have the bravery of your choices so that when people come into the theater, they feel less alone.”

I love that thought, that the bravery of our choices isn’t even for us alone. There’s something bigger than that individual fear we feel, and that’s the people we seek to connect with, communicate with, and affect with our art.

It’s about being brave enough to create and commit to genuine artistic choices no matter our fear, no matter the pressure, so that someone who is feeling isolated in their life, can feel seen through art, and maybe even heal just a little bit.

Do You Know Who Is Living Inside You?

Taking care of our inner emotional landscape is our responsibility and ain’t no one going to save us otherwise. That realization and the decision to commit to turning inward with care is intimidating.

I’m discovering it’s also SO FREEING and EXCITING. 

I’ve been in somatic therapy for a year now and it’s a game-changer. Basically, it’s a form of therapy that focuses on what our body is telling us. Listening and moving through stored emotion so that we can release ourselves from the fight, freeze, fight cycle. Then we can think more clearly in all situations, even stressful ones, and more fully engage with our lives. 

I’ve also been learning about my inner child: the angry child, the vulnerable child, then there’s the punitive adult – there’s a whole family of versions of our emotional lives, living inside of us. 

Not literally, of course. But everything we as children have experienced, all the insecurities and hurts and joys still impact how we relate to the world today. And it’s now the responsibility of our fully capable healthy adult self to parent those younger versions of ourselves. Paving the way for us to relate to our lives in a more clear-headed way. 

Why is something so clearly beneficial also kind of scary? Why is the prospect of caring for our emotional, physical, psychological, and mental health intimidating sometimes? 

So many reasons…

  • It’s ‘easier’ to just react from where we are at the moment
  • Therapy can be expensive – This factor is a systemic crisis in my opinion. Some therapists have a sliding scale rate for people with lower incomes, and it’s worth asking to see if they do. 
  • It’s ‘easier’ to just have someone else take care of our emotional needs (friends, partners, family)
  • We have so many available avenues to numb out instead (tv, drugs, alcohol) 
  • Mental health is still stigmatized in many communities and choosing to focus on it can make you feel judged

In spite of these many valid demotivators, if you haven’t already, I urge you to find the bravery and resourcefulness to embark on your mental health journey. It just might be the single greatest gift you could ever give yourself and those around you. 

My relationship with the world and how I relate to other people has been shifting since starting this work. Because my relationship with myself is shifting. 

I’m listening to Lillian, asking her what she wants to say, how she feels, and what’s going on inside. She is my most important, longest-lasting, and dedicated relationship – and I owe her all the love in the world. 

I hope you’re loving YOU.

Happy New Year!!