What Napoleon Dynamite Can Teach Us About Communication

What Napoleon Dynamite Can Teach Us About Communication

Napoleon Dynamite

This post was spurred by some observations I made on an earlier Facebook note I wrote some months back.

My sons and I are huge Napoleon Dynamite fans.

One of our inside-jokey games we play with each other is to start a Napoleon Dynamite riff, and have the other finish (“I think the school can use some Holy Santos… El Nino de Atocha is a good one I think…” Son: “My aunt says she saw him.”)

While Napoleon may seem to be a trifle of a movie, it actually holds many good lessons on communication.

In fact, the movie can be said to be entirely about communication (or miscommunication), and the consequences of each.

Napoleon assumes that his grandma is too old to have a boyfriend… that Pedro is in a gang because Pedro is Hispanic… that it is easy to earn money… and that Kip is incapable of anything.

Every time Napoleon makes assumptions, something funny – but not wholly unexpected – happens.

Yet, when characters listen to each other, and heed good advice, good things follow. Pedro tells Napoleon that he can draw well, and can use that to get a date to the Prom; Napoleon draws a picture of Trish and gets a date. Napoleon tells Pedro to simply tell the school to say “vote for me, and your wildest dreams will come true” – and then Pedro does – becoming class president.

The movie also has something to say about how the familiar can make us insular – and isolated – from others.

There is a classic scene where Lyle, the next door neighbor farmer, tells the chicken farmer “over there is that creek where I found a couple of Shoshone arrowheads.” Of course, this is said in a mumble that it took me some dozen or so viewings to decipher – yet the chicken farmer nodded as if he heard every word clearly (probably because they have spent a lifetime together as friends) and understood the whole thing. Yet when Napoleon asks “do the chickens have large talons?” the farmer acts as if Napoleon is from Mars, and says he doesn’t understand a word he just said. Yet, Napoleon is the only one we can understand.

So, the next time you catch Napoleon Dynamite on cable or DVD, try doing so paying attention to how the characters (mis)communicate with each other. I have gained a whole new respect for the guys who put this film together, and how well they executed the finished product (especially for a small budget film).

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