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UNION PERSPECTIVE: 'Napoleon Dynamite' reflects worldview of pessimism and triviality

JACKSON, Tenn.March 11, 2005 – It is often said that one must laugh just to keep from crying. While most agree that life is certainly that way at times, it seems that much of American society has now arrived at a place where laughter is valued even above careful thinking.

This is especially evident as preoccupation with silliness and aversion to truth and meaning seem to be the fountain head from which flows the current youth culture’s fascination with the ridiculously silly movie, “Napoleon Dynamite.” If you are unfamiliar with the movie, talk to the nearest teenager, and more than likely you will get an earful of silly one-liners spoken as precisely and passionately as originally delivered in the movie.

Yesterday’s culture was enamored with “Seinfeld” — a show about nothing. However, in comparison to the subject matter of “Napoleon Dynamite” which obsesses on oblivion, “Seinfeld” appears to be a show full of meaning, purpose and direction. Society’s quest for triviality has caused us to want more and more of nothing, and we are getting it with this latest film.

Never mind the fact that there exists no plot or point. In fact, the point of the movie is that there is no point. When asking young people what the movie is about, puzzled looks appear on their faces, and after awkward pauses they usually reply “Well, I don’t know but it’s hilarious!” Saying that “Napoleon Dynamite” is “hilarious” is like saying that grass is orange. It simply is not.

Someone older than 25 who does not think the movie to be funny probably will be written off by teenagers as uncool or out of touch with this present generation. Nevertheless, the essence of “Napoleon Dynamite” lies not in its humor—regardless of one’s opinion about what is funny—but in its focus on nothingness. Scene after scene, one looks hopelessly for some semblance of plot or significance, but emphasis remains solely on the absurdities of each character. From Napoleon putting Tater Tots in his pockets to his brother’s endless and romantic chatting with a long-distance “babe” to Pedro’s wearing of a wig purchased off of a store mannequin, pointlessness prevails. Snippets of silliness are constructed upon a storyline of nothingness resulting in the thoughtful viewer’s frustration which waits in vain for resolution. The logical conclusion of the movie is that nothing matters, and that life is a series of meaningless (although many might say funny) irrationalities.

Christian leaders have an excellent opportunity to expose the inadequacies of such a film. Sadly, rather than helping our young people to think Christianly about the meaninglessness espoused in the movie, “Napoleon Dynamite” has become the theme of many church youth retreats, conferences, and DiscipleNow weekends. By plastering Dynamite’s picture on the front of the latest church camp T-shirt and building programming on the images of such a movie, many are telling the world that some Christians consider faith to be on the same level of seriousness as that of the culture around us.

Any movie is an outgrowth of one’s worldview. “Napoleon Dynamite” is reflective of a worldview that is hopelessly trivial in essence. Such a worldview is rooted in pessimism and driven by meaninglessness. The movie’s conclusion leads one toward ultimate nothingness.

The apostle Paul sought to take “every thought captive to the obedience of Christ,” (2 Corinthians 10:5) and we must do no less, regardless of how seemingly insignificant the thought might be. In the midst of such a culture which values the trivial and the nonsensical, the Christian should strive to have the mind of Christ about all things — even about society’s infatuation with an apparently harmless and funny movie. But as is evident, it is much easier simply to laugh. After all, it doesn’t require any thought.


Todd E. Brady is minister to the university.

Todd E. Brady

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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