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)
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
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