We decided to watch the film Napoleon Dynamite over the weekend. For anyone who isn’t familiar, well, I won’t spoil it, and I’m no professional movie critic anyway (not that they know anything special). What I will say is that this movie really makes me think about all the examples of the past, times gone by, especially with the technology shown. I think we don’t really appreciate how much society, culture and technology have changed, even in the last 20 years and, at the same time, how there are also universal threads, continuous threads, that tie us all together through and across generations.
The movie came out in 2004 and I believe was set roughly in the present day in a rural area in Idaho. There were no cell phones, computers were physically ENORMOUS, and dial-up internet was the only way to connect. At one point, there is a reference to the internet bill, which indicates that there was a per-minute charge for access to the web, which consisted mostly of chatrooms and message boards.
I have a little bit of a story to tell about HOW this movie came into my life as well. Around the time it came out, or a year or two later, I had not seen it or paid much attention, but my younger brother, who was 2-3 years out of high school at the time, gave me the DVD for my birthday. I watched it and was like, “huh?” I called him up and asked him why he got that particular movie for me; it didn’t make any sense to me and I couldn’t really say I enjoyed it. But all he would tell me was to watch it again. Some time later when I had nothing better to do, I followed his advice and watched the movie a second time… As he expected, something clicked and I just found it hysterical.
Now, I see the film as being an even deeper work of art. Disguised as a movie about the trials of some high school misfits is a beautiful story of true friendship, empathy, and the things you can accomplish when you find your tribe, stand up to bullies, and stay committed to being yourself, in all your weird, wild glory. It showed the triumph of a small band of “others” over the mainstream jocks, preppies and cheerleaders.
I wonder if all these lessons will be lost, at least from this movie and others like it, because the knowledge of the historical tech creates a barrier for younger and future audiences. Sure, there are other movies that can tell similar stories, teach the same lessons, but I do think this movie is special, even in all its ridiculousness. How much of the story will be rendered inaccessible as time goes on, once no one has a lived memory of America Online and dial-up internet?
How many other movies do you love from the past that kids these days will never be able to appreciate due to the ancient technology on display? As technological products evolve faster and faster nowadays, will the life-cycle for generational appreciation of movies get shorter and shorter? How can we, as a culture, make art like movies that transcend generations or will we be doomed to be stuck in a specific time period whenever the current generation tech is used on screen?
All questions floating around in my head… Now, go watch Napoleon Dynamite; and if you don’t like it, wait a week or two and watch it again!