An underanalyzed Classic: Napoleon Dynamite

24 Jan

By Andrew Schuster

A good example of a pop-culture classic that probably doesn’t receive the proper recognition it deserves is the cult classic Napoleon Dynamite.  Originally a movie in the Sundance Film Festival, the movie quickly progressed to be a quite well-known and popular movie; during its peak, the movie managed to inspire everything from t-shirts to kid’s toys and even today it has been converted into a television show.  Many may wonder how a movie so bizarre and utterly unfocused could have become so popular.  Its popularity may have lied in its interesting design and plot, which combine to make a truly strange and yet oddly satisfying story.

One thing that a viewer may take from a preliminary screening of Napoleon Dynamite will probably be how a lot seemed to be going on, but none of it had to do with anything.  This, however, is probably the most crucial thing about the movie.  The question that passes through my mind asks who the movie is really about.  Is the movie about Uncle Rico trying to relive his high school football days, is it about Kip’s late blooming into manhood, or is it Pedro’s ascension from nobody to the class president?  Even though the title bears his name, Napoleon seems to have nearly no real place in the movie.  In fact, his only real role seems to be unifying their stories, which proves to be the most important role the movie offers.

Taking a deeper look at Uncle Rico’s storyline reveals this superficial man to actually have quite a deep past.  We take a man whose prime years were spent playing football in high school, looking to a grand future that awaited with the numerous scholarships, which for some unexplained reason he turned down.  This leads to the falling apart of his life, as can be noted by his mention of a lover that left him as well as the fact that he lives in a van.  In an attempt to recapture his youth, he spends time throwing footballs into a camera, hoping in some way it will bring him back.  At one point in the movie he even gets so desperate as to purchase a “time-machine” off the internet, which to his dismay only results in shocking him.  At first a powerful character, Uncle Rico boils down into a man who had potential and lost it, reaching his lowest point after Rex breaks his arm.  There is a glimmer of hope, however, when that lover he mentions returns to him at the end of the movie, showing that even after all his failures, self-inflicted or otherwise, he’s capable of redemption.

Pedro’s story is very noteworthy as well, and the one with which Napoleon is most directly involved.  As a new student to this small town (and even smaller high school), Pedro is very quiet and keeps to himself.  It’s also obvious he has some self-esteem issues, which he decides to confront by running for class president.  This is Napoleon’s biggest role in the movie because he takes it upon himself to do aide Pedro in the election in various manners such as campaigning and offering protection, with his single greatest feat being his dance to “Canned Heat” after Pedro’s speech.  Through this, Pedro overcomes his social awkwardness, defeating the popular choice for the election.  It’s truly an underdog story and a rise up from complete oblivion to become a social figure.

The final important sub-plot of the movie to be discussed rests with none-other than Kip, Napoleon’s man-child brother.  From the moment that Kip is onscreen, it’s apparent that something has stunted his development somewhere along the line of his life seeing as he still lives with his grandmother and has not job.  In an attempt to become manlier, Kip tries out a class to learn “Rex-kwon-do” and bulk himself up, unfortunately to no avail.  Uncle Rico takes Kip under his wing in order to sell Tupperware products and make him get a job, the first step into actually growing up.  After a while, Kip also finds a woman online and he eventually meets her to further his progress into growing into an adult.  After the credits, Kip ends up marrying the woman he met online, which proves to be the point where he has finally achieved adulthood.

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