das wandern

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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

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Written by knsayres

March 16, 2005 at 4:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

24 Responses

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  1. did you write that, or did you get it from somewhere else? dr. mohler said pretty much that exact same thing in chapel a while back.

    mbnewman

    March 16, 2005 at 4:47 pm

  2. I happen to be rather enamored by Seinfeld at the moment. 🙂
    While this film’s popularity might be a philosophical symptom, I don’t think anyone is basing their worldview off it.  And don’t forget that it also reflects the positive sides of our generation – like the absolute importance of friendship & community.

    mhssoftware

    March 16, 2005 at 5:24 pm

  3. I think it does reflect the sadness of how the church youth group always jumps on the bandwagon of whatever is popular. I don’t think it necessarily reflects a meaningless worldview. You could really argue the opposite in many ways. Teenagers have become so used to glossed over plot-by-the-numbers movies that a slice of absurd life is a refreshing thing even if there isn’t a constructed three act premise to it all. And in all honesty, it would be good if people started to understand the idea of meaninglessness instead of sinking their hopes and dreams into the Hollywood idea of success and values. Either way, I kind of dread having teenagers because youth groups and their bandwagon-joining can be so frustrating.

    Trae

    March 16, 2005 at 7:13 pm

  4. i just liked the movie before it got all popular. i loved it. still do. (34 times and counting) but it has offered a lot of illustrations for people to relate to and has offered a clean medium to relate to non-christians. i think Trae hit the nail on the head. and what can be better than a mormon-made movie?! yea for mormons! 😉 nice view and argument. and when in the crap are you going to cheat on your bf and go on a date with me?! ha ha. that’s crazy.

    Hishandsnfeet

    March 16, 2005 at 10:58 pm

  5. good grief- it’s just a movie. are you an english major?– you know….? the kind of folk that overanalyze everything
    I mean- what the hell are tv and movies anyway?– Generally speaking- really- they are, for the most part, just as trivial- it’s called ENTERTAINMENT— as for DiscipleNow and stuff- I haven’t seen anything of that sort… but really- if the kids like it- it’s another way to make the weekend more fun and bring more people in- why the hell not?
    maybe i’ve missed something but I think it’s not a big deal…. at all.

    iamkris10

    March 17, 2005 at 1:04 am

  6. I think we should all remember that this movie was paid for and promoted in part by MTV.  This means that:1) People will like it.2) It most likely will not line up with Christian beliefs.3) It’s probably very funny.”Don’t take life too seriously, you’ll never get out alive.” – Bugs Bunny

    Anonymous

    March 17, 2005 at 1:34 am

  7. hmmm those are interesting ideas… i think i like them.

    Anonymous

    March 17, 2005 at 9:18 am

  8. haha… i don’t think you’re overanalzing anything kristen… i think it’s fun to sometimes look at what people are trying to say philosophically through art. anyone (well, most people) who just write off philosophy as intellectual irrelevance are sheep. they don’t realize that alot of the crappy opinions/attitudes out there today came from really smart people influencing other really smart people who fill our culture with bad philosophy. however, i think micah said it better than anyone else possibly could. so i just refer the rest of my comment to lumberjackbill up there. rock on dude.

    therewasthisbear

    March 17, 2005 at 9:32 am

  9. I understand what he’s saying, but he’s wrong. Click Here

    tomrippity02

    March 17, 2005 at 6:58 pm

  10. Hmm…”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.”  Yeah, and if you walk into Lifeway, can’t you still get those chocolate bars that look like Hershey’s that says ‘Jesus’ on them, among many other ridiculous marketing schemes.  Isn’t that the same thing…I hardly believe I would hear Todd Brady condemn Lifeway for “chocolatizing Jesus” as Jon Blair once put it.

    heine511

    March 17, 2005 at 10:25 pm

  11. i agree with Trae, LumberJackBill, and love what Heine511 said… good word, Heine. I just wonder what made Todd seemingly blow up and write this essay? It seems a little out a character for him. I’ve been out if the Union Loop or bubble or whatever for almost a year now, but what happened? Where and why was this essay written?
    “Gosh!”

    WeaponXDH

    March 18, 2005 at 1:25 am

  12. the objective of the creators of Dyanmite was to make a clean, funny movie that would still appeal to today’s youth…. unlike most of the other movie’s put out by MTV(which bought the rights to distribute the film after it showed at Sundance last year(the movie is actually more like a student film mostly )) which have a plethera(sorry i can’t spell) of sex, swearing, and stupiditity…. this just had stupidity…. but this is the only movie that i felt like i could take my LIFE group to with a clear conscience… i’m sure many Youth group leaders feel the same way…. Dynamite has mini plots such as a love story between kip and lafawnduh and pedro for president…. youth weekends based off dynamite would seem more silly than beneficial… the church has always struggled with mixing church and culture… i’m not sure why this would be much different…. the strengthing of relationships in the group from quotes and just having something to relate to with each other(however superficial it may be) sometimes just this spring board can allow for a deeper relationship…. this may seems sad but… sometimes it can be hard for those connections to be made… Dynamite could be used as a teaching tool as to why all the things that dynamite pursued didn’t really matter in the end… overall i see this movie as more beneficial when viewed correctly and it is light-hearted clean fun not a thinker movie but with some benefits

    gilbobulldog

    March 18, 2005 at 3:25 pm

  13. It’s hard for me to conjecture exactly how Todd feels about Lifeway and their Jesus tooth paste and Jesus chocolate in response to Heine’s comment.  However, I would think that he wouldn’t necessarily agree with these ways of marketing Jesus (although I can see the symbolism of having Jesus clean your mouth).  I would tend to think as an employee of the University he wouldn’t be allowed to condemn the Christian bookstore.  Politics, heh.

    Anonymous

    March 18, 2005 at 6:03 pm

  14. here‘s maybe a different perspective?

    pfostpfilms

    March 18, 2005 at 7:47 pm

  15. i think mr brady took the movie way too seriously

    Anonymous

    March 19, 2005 at 2:54 pm

  16. I agree with the article. I guess I’m about old enough to be written off as “out of touch” with the kids, but his point is still valid. And I think this thing should be taken seriously. When I know dozens of people who quote the damn thing offhand several times a day, it becomes readily apparent that it has had a significant cultural impact. In doing so it transcends from being merely a stupid film about stupid kids to being something that we should be watching to see why it has become what it has./rambling

    SomeHollis

    March 19, 2005 at 6:40 pm

  17. I agree with Todd Brady too. I remeber the group of faces i saw when, after viewing the movie, said it wasn’t great. I felt like I was being veiwed as a heretic. I just don’t see the worth in holding this movie in such high regards, when it generally has no point. It may have its moments but there is nothing that would make me spend money twice to see it. Someone asked me if i thought Napoleon Dynamite has the most insightful look into our society – no, i don’t. In light of what todd has said, maybe there is something to consider, but i dare say look at the movie Saved and think about what the external view of Christianity is.

    rtmalone

    March 21, 2005 at 7:19 am

  18. well that same thing happens to me everytime i say that i hate lord of the rings. and im sure you all think im crazy too.

    Anonymous

    March 21, 2005 at 10:50 am

  19. That was a great essay.I agree with it completely. Sure its entertainment, but as Christians we need to be conserned about everything that we take in. We need to think critically about everything, and if we find that it does not match up to our beliefs and our convictions then we should refrain from watching such things.

    jdmiller04

    March 21, 2005 at 12:39 pm

  20. hey.. check it out..new blogring..
    beloved.because you have never looked more beautiful than in His eyes.
    http://www.xanga.com/groups/group.aspx?id=1061645

    Anonymous

    March 21, 2005 at 9:55 pm

  21. It seems like everyone who criticizes the movie thinks it has no point whatsoever.  I disagree.I think that the movie shows a lot of insight into our society.  I frequently read the reviews of Victoria Alexander who said, ” I never laughed at any of them, just laughed at how strong each character was under such crushing obstacles as social graces, attractiveness, and the need to have ‘skills.’ ”  A perfect stereotype of what our society has become, a society where everyone has to have a hansom, athletic, multitalented boyfriend, or to have a girlfriend who turns heads when she walks into a room. I don’t know about everyone else, but I know that this stereotype had a major presence in  my high school.

    tomrippity02

    March 22, 2005 at 12:20 pm

  22. I think the person who wrote that article is a fool. You are taking life too seriously. he needs to laugh. he needs to quit trying to think so much and be knowledgeable when wisdom is far greater than knowledge. what is childish? and why is being like a child such a bad thing? I do belive God himself would rather us be like a child and be full of unconditional love than to be a self righteous man who seeks to make other things look evil when he does not know the creator of that movie and his intent. it seems to me that his article displays more pessimism than anything in that movie. basically, if I knew this guy, I wish I could say… “shut up.” that’s all. everyone is so critical these days. but hey, you can’t make everyone happy in this life I guess… just don’t forget there is another one. a better one. a longer one. an eternal one which makes this argument look pointless so just shut up and laugh already. dang.
    The point of the movie is friendship, and a nerdy kid over coming adversity in highschool, while still dealing with problems at home… trivial or not, it may be stressful to him. some people find certain things more stressfull than others would, and vice versa… so yes, it does have a point. even if it is trivial to you so called “thinkers.” sorry. life isn’t about big words and knowing alot. it really isn’t and that is what makes some people fools, when they think that. that’s just me. my opinion.

    Anonymous

    March 26, 2005 at 12:10 am

  23. amen to that

    Anonymous

    March 26, 2005 at 4:46 pm

  24. I don’t know that I would agree with the essay.  People who have seen the movie fall into two categories:  Those who love it and those who hate it.  There are few exceptions.  While there is no plot, there is a purpose to the movie.  The movie is all about character development.  As far as Napoleon Dynamite’s version of “truth and meaning,” I’m pretty sure no one is looking for that in the movie.  The characters are so rediculous that no one can believe they’re anything but caricatures of people that really do exist.  I think that’s the reason I enjoyed the movie.  The different people that I saw there had an attribute here and there that reflected something that I had seen before.  I think this is pretty much constant in the friends I have who enjoy the movie. 
    “The logical conclusion of the movie is that nothing matters, and that life is a series of meaningless (although many might say funny) irrationalities.”  I suppose the point that I am trying (and probably failing) to make is that this movie isn’t trying to make a logical conclusion about life in general, just a few days in the life of Napoleon Dynamite.  It’s an attempt to string together a series of funny moments, but it’s not pessimistic at all.  The ending is actually a happy one.  Pedro becomes president.  Kip gets married to his “soul mate.”  Uncle Rico gets back together with his girlfriend.  Napoleon gets to play tetherball. – Eddie

    WingGundamZero

    March 28, 2005 at 12:36 pm


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