Time Travel

Napoleon Dynamite hasn't aged; it's just stayed weird

Time Travel
He will not share his tots with you.

There's this weird thing about Napoleon Dynamite. Well, there's a lot of weird things about it, but if you watch it these days, as you should with us at our next Suds and Cinema event, it doesn't feel as dated as a decade-old flick should.

This is because the quirky indie film, which was shot for a mere $400,000 but improbably has raked in more than 100 times that much in theaters alone, never really existed in time to begin with. It was set in Preston, an actual town in rural southern Idaho that, at least in the mind of writers Jared and Jerusha Hess, was a place that existed outside of time. It was a place where Napoleon and his brother Kip could live in a painfully sheltered environment that allowed aspirations of becoming cage fighters, wolverine hunters or seducers of chat-room babes to be accepted as reality.

You'll hear people argue about that Napoleon Dynamite is an "eighties movie." These are the people who refer to anything vaguely neon or hair-sprayed as "eighties," when in fact they're probably talking about stuff from 1994. But I digress. The film is decidedly not set in the 1980s, as we see during the opening credits, when Napoleon shows off his 2003-2004 Preston High School ID card. It's a contemporary film, which makes everything from Napoleon's top-loading VCR to his moon boots all the more ridiculous.

This can all be damn confusing at times, even on repeat viewings, but it's what makes the movie. It's hilarious that Napoleon wears Hammer pants and that Deb goes door to door selling glamour shots and handmade trinkets, but it also adds to a bizarre sense of desperation the Hesses wove into this story. These poor people are so out of touch that they're not just holding onto outdated styles and technology, they're holding onto the worst of that period's tackiness in the hopes that things will get better. And things are not great for Napoleon. His parents are mysteriously absent. His brother appears to be suffering from some sort of behavioral disorder. His schoolmates exist only to taunt him.

There's a lot of talk about time in this movie, too. Uncle Rico wants to go back to 1982 to fulfill dreams of football stardom and hot-tubbing with his soulmate. They actually procure a time machine online (because you bought things online in 2004), which does nothing but damage their nards. It's like all these characters want to go anywhere but the present, because it doesn't matter to them that this present makes for a hilarious movie.

It just goes to show that you can't escape the present, no matter how many magic crystals you have. You can't go back in time. But you can sure as hell dress like it. ♦

Suds & Cinema: Napoleon Dynamite • Thu, June 12 • Doors/bars open at 6 pm, movie at 7 pm • $4 • Bike-in movie with free bike parking • Featuring beer from New Belgium Brewing Company • Bing Crosby Theater • 901 W. Sprague

The Polar Express @ Panida Theater

Sat., Dec. 3, 2:30 p.m.
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About The Author

Mike Bookey

Mike Bookey was the culture editor for The Inlander from 2012-2016. He previously held the same position at The Source Weekly in Bend, Ore.