Napoleon Dynamite and Nostalgia Trips

I think the reason I reacted so strongly to the movie is that it was very nostalgic for me.
Napoleon Dynamite

After Douglas Theatres’ inaccuracy dashed my hopes of seeing Napoleon Dynamite in Lincoln a few weeks ago, I finally had a chance to catch it up in Omaha. Although I’d been looking forward to the movie for months, I was a little apprehensive as to whether or not it would live up to my expectations. I’d recently been burned by a highly-anticipated movie (*ahem* Anchorman *ahem*), so I was a little worried about this one.

Thankfully, I found it incredibly enjoyable and hilarious. It stumbles here and there, but more often than not, it’s an absolute riot, and full of wonderfully quotable lines. I can understand how some people might respond coolly to it, as it does seem like it’s trying a bit too hard to cash in on Wes Anderson’s style of quirkiness, and said quirkiness does sometimes become a liability. However, as the movie went on, I was surprised at just how deeply the movie seemed to, well, “connect” with me (for lack of a better term).

I was discussing the concept of nostalgia with a friend awhile ago. I do consider myself someone who is particularly prone to waxing nostalgic, although I’ve never really been able to explain why I find certain things nostalgic. Even those things that trigger my nostalgia I find hard to explain, how even a certain guitar effect can instantly release a flood of half-formed and half-understood remembrances of a simpler, gentler time in my life.

However, it’s difficult for me to assign any overarching description to it. It’s something ephemeral and just out of reach, occasionally brushing against my sub-consciousness and causing me to reflect on times spent racing around my cousin’s suburb house on BMX bikes, going to slumber parties, attempting to work up the courage to ask a girl to couple-skate, and staying up late to watch the Knight Rider season premier.

I think part of my nostalgic-ness comes from the fact that I led a sheltered childhood. Now, I don’t mean that in any sort of negative way, or to cast aspersions on my parents. However, growing up, my family didn’t have a TV all of the time (and when we did, we certainly didn’t have cable, so no MTV for me), I didn’t get to see a lot of movies, and I didn’t listen to much music (and when I did, it was usually whatever was playing on AM and/or Christian radio). I spent most of my time in my room, reading books (especially our family’s set of encyclopedias) and drawing pictures of spaceships. However, I absorbed a ton of stuff from my friends, classmates, and neighbors. I’d hear about all of this great stuff going on in the culture around me, but I rarely got to experience much of it firsthand — and when I did, it was a huge deal. (One of the greatest moments of my childhood was when my dad took me out of school to see Top Gun!)

Somehow, all of that stuff got lodged in my mind somewhere, and over time, I think I’ve developed this very idealized and stylized version of the past. As such, it represents something warm and safe for me. Because I wasn’t actively engaged with the culture, at least as actively engaged as a 5th or 6th grader can be, I didn’t know the good from the bad. It was all good and great and exotic, and even though I realize that now on an objective level, I still get ooey-gooey inside. Which explains, I think, how I can love a movie like Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo even though I think it’s an absolute piece of crap that I can barely make it through sometimes.

So what does this have to do with Napoleon Dynamite? Well, I think the reason I reacted so strongly to the movie is that it was very nostalgic for me. Sure, many of the characters are incredibly quirky, almost annoyingly so. However, Napoleon himself reminded me of many kids I knew while growing up, from grade school and even on into high school. Kids who spent their time being perturbed and disillusioned, who scribbled strange fantasy worlds in their Trapper Keepers and in the margins of their notebooks. Kids like me.

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