Is Napoleon Dynamite a Mormon movie?

I made a comment over at another board that I frequent to the effect that Napoleon Dynamite is a Mormon movie. When asked for details, I realized that I couldn’t really explain why, other than the fact that I know that the filmmakers are LDS. So I put it to you, gentle KB readers: Is Napoleon Dynamite a Mormon movie? Why or why not?

Not all of us are LDS (I don’t think), and I’m pointing my evangelical friends this way, so try to explain for a general audience.


66 thoughts on “Is Napoleon Dynamite a Mormon movie?

  1. Are Your Friends and Neighbors, In the Company of Men, and Possession Mormon movies? Those are made by a Mormon as well.

  2. Note I’m not talking about who made the film here — more like, are there identifiably Mormon (cultural) elements in the film.

  3. No.

    It’s a southern Idaho movie, an eerily accurate depiction of culture in that area (albeit shifted in time). There are a lot of Mormons in So. Idaho, so it’s natural for the two to blur together. But it’s not a Mormon movie.

  4. Besides a brief glimpse of Napoleon’s Ricks College t-shirt, I did not notice any explicitly Mormon elements in the movie. I have to agree with Steve that it is about a cultuire that happens to have Mormon elements in it.

  5. I think it is. It’s made by Mormons who remain Mormons. I don’t think there’s anything particularly unusual in the culture of Mormons except some elements of the Book of Mormon. So, this movie presents Utah/Idaho culture, which is entirely informed by Mormons.

    It’s the most successful Mormon project, ever.

  6. Some things I found very Mormon about the movie:

    * It has a DI in it

    * There’s a popular girl who was too nice to turn him down for a date–obviously, she was Mormon

    * Most of the dresses worn at the school dance were very modest

    * He’s in high school and has an older brother in his 30’s

    I’m sure there’s more I’m just gonna stop there. But then, the movie was all based on things that actually happened to the filmmaker or to someone he knows, and he’s Mormon, so in that sense it’s a Mormon movie.

    My husband was raised in Idaho, and the movie kinda freaked him out a little bit. He doesn’t really have fond memories of Idaho.

  7. GOSH!!

    The language. Do non-Mormons outside of Utah/Idaho actually say things like “Gosh”? Do non-Mormons in Idaho say “Gosh”? I’ve never heard any, but that just may say something about the crowd I run with.

    (Funny story: A friend from SLC tells me there was a billboard advertising the local brew, “Polygamy Porter” with the slogan ‘If you just said ‘Oh My Heck’, this isn’t for you.)

    Hated the movie, btw, and I’m from Idaho.

  8. The fake swearing makes the best Mormon argument. Wasn’t there a church picture hanging on someone’s wall? Also, the reference to doing boondoggle at scout camp.

  9. There are many reasons why I found it annoying: the main character, the fake swearing (which just annoys the ‘heck’ out of me, probably from living in Idaho), etc… but the reasons why I hated the movie are:

    1) There’s no plot. The election plot could have been good, but there were, like, three scenes involving that.

    2) There’s no character development. There was a little bit with the girl, but that’s it.

    3) It seems that we are meant to laugh AT the character instead of WITH the character. This is something that makes me feel dirty.

  10. Pris,
    Re #3: I’ve noticed that almost all comic characters are being laughed *at* instead of with. That’s the very nature of comedy. Think about Dumb and Dumber, are you ever really laughing *with* them?

    ND just feels different because the characters are so real – suddenly it feels like you’re actually laughing at someone you know instead of laughing at some clearly fictional character.

    In ND’s case, I think all the humor is even more innocent than most comedies whose characters we laugh at.

  11. Is Napoleon Dynamite a Mormon movie? No.

    Sure, you can say it’s Mormonish for any reasons you like. But there must be a line between what is and what is not a “Mormon movie”. If you start calling ND a Mormon movie then you run into problems with the definition.

    I like the position on the matter. They would say that ND is not a Mormon movie because it fails two of the three criteria.

    1) It does not involve explicitly Mormon characters and issues.

    Can we call the cartoon Anastasia a Mormon movie if we find mormon elements to it? Better example: how about Blair Treu’s Little Secrets? It was made by Mormons, includes characters who are probably Mormons. But it’s not a Mormon movie.

    2) It was not specifically marketed towards an LDS audience.

    This sounds strange, but is actually the most important factor. Otherwise, C. Jay Cox’s Latter Days would be a Mormon movie, which I think most would agree is not. Similarly, LaBute’s Bash would be a Mormon play.

  12. There is actually a plot. Napoleon goes with his brother to a Tae Kwon Do class and the teacher gives them three instructions for self-defense, and the rest of the movie is Napoleon implementing them in his life.

  13. Oh, and I have to comment on how much this movie resonates with kids. My own kids love it and use language from it all the time now. (“Luckyyyy!” and “Whatever I FEEL like I wanna do, GOSH” being the most used. OK, maybe it’s me using those.) I just found out, though, that some girls in my ward are doing the Napoleon dance at their school talent show–and they’re not the only ones.

  14. I just disagree. Napoleon Dynamite is a Mormon movie because it is made by Mormons (and Mormons are in fact, its primary audience), just as Madama Butterfly is an Italian opera that contains no Italian characters and tries to evoke Japan and the U.S. — nonetheless, it’s Italian through and through.

    Bash is something else, more along the lines of Angels in America. Neither are particularly Mormon.

    Latter Days might be considered a Mormon project, though its creator has long left the Church. But there are certainly plenty of Mormon resonances, and the cultural references are detailed. It’s Mormon, too (which doesn’t make it good, you understand).

  15. And Napoleon Dynamite isn’t a bad movie. It’s a terrific comedy, perfectly written and timed. It has some things I might have left out, but I have to give it credit — it connected with a lot of people.

  16. There is no way NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE is not a Mormon movie. I can’t believe any of us are shy to claim this as part of our cinema. The argument that it is an Idaho movie is weak IMHO. I find that equivalent to saying DO THE RIGHT THING isn’t an African-American film, it’s a Brooklyn film or BOYS IN THE HOOD isn’t part of Black Cinema, it’s a South Central film.

    When grouping cinema it is important to consider the religious or ethnic background of the filmmaker, this is one of many factors, but it’s certainly more important than who the film was marketed toward. If Mormon cinema is defined by the films marketed exclusively to Mormons than we’ve got a pretty sorry collection of work quite frankly.

    The writing team is a young married couple–how Mormon is that? Jared Hess came across the name of the title character on his mission, for gosh’s sake. All the commentary on this film is that it’s a stylized version of a filmmaker’s personal experience growing up Mormon in Idaho. That’s the real barometer–the fact that it’s relevant to the Mormon experience–not who it’s marketed to or whether the filmmaker is Mormon or not.

    As a Mormon I definitely saw my experience in the film. After all I only went to Scout Camp five times and learned Napolean like dance moves at a dozen stake dances.

    Does it need characters that are explicitly Mormon to qualify? Absolutely not. NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE has characters that are implicitly Mormon to anyone familiar with Mormon culture and to many who have only a vague familiarity.

    I have no problem saying BASH is a Mormon play, or even that LATTER-DAYS is a Mormon film. It is not required that we approve or embrace every film or play that we call part of Mormon Cinema; it’s only required that we recognize it touches on Mormon experiences, including negative ones many if not all of us have never even had.

    A too narrow concept of what is Mormon Cinema will only stunt aspiring filmmakers who wish to make highly personal films, but also reach out to a broader audience. NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE has its flaws, but it does succeed in being both personal and broad simultaneously–an impressive feat.

  17. I agree with you wholeheartedly Brian (much more eloquent than am I) except perhaps concerning Bash. The inherent qualities that make Napoleon Dynamite a Mormon work are exactly what is missing from Bash, and frankly, all of Neil LaBute’s oeuvre. LaBute is more an observer, and although he did join the Church (he has now left it), his ethnic and cultural background are quite different. Just as Tony Kushner utilized some of the language of Mormons, he couldn’t codify their soul, and neither can LaBute. But the soul of Mormonism in Utah and Idaho is perfectly parodied in Napoleon Dynamite.

  18. The problem with your definition Brian, is that it means any movie by a Canadian is a Canadian movie–even if we’re talking about Fiddler on the Roof, made by Norman Jewison (who is, despite his name, a goy from Toronto). I’m all for paying attention to the “religious and ethnic background” of the filmmakers, but when talking about genre categories, we have to go beyond expressive identity markers (as important as they may be to our own subjective experiences) and into more intentional and objective criteria. Why? Because filmmakers, like composers and authors, cannot prescribe their own subjective experiences to others…meaning, even if the authors or creators of a piece happen to find great resonance in the “Mormonness” or “Jewishness” of their work, there’s no guarantee that others will subjectively experience the same thing–in which case, the label attached to the film or whatever will just be confusing. (David Letterman called Napoleon one of his favorite movies of the year, and said he felt like he was looking at his younger self in a mirror when he watched it. Think he would have reacted the same way if someone had handed him a flyer announcing that he was watching a “Mormon movie”? Maybe, but probably not–being as unfamiliar with Mormon culture as he is, the identification would have just gotten in the way of the film’s comedy for him.)

    For the moment, I have to agree with Eric: “Mormon cinema” is cinema made by and/or marketed to and/or about Mormons. Hopefully it’ll expand beyond that point, but for the moment claiming Jared Hess as “one of our own” may be accurate, but it doesn’t label this particular work of his. I’m sympathetic with your concern that failing to stamp our brand on Napoleon will “stunt aspiring filmmakers,” but it’s not worth expanding the label “Mormon cinema” way out of context.

    Yes D., Madama Butterfly is an Italian opera, but not simply because it was composed by the Italian Giacomo Puccini. It’s “Italian opera” because there had developed, over a period of years, a very definite musical and narrative style of opera called “Italian opera”–and Butterfly fit right in. If hoardes of young Mormon filmmakers start making dry, mildly absurdist comedies about obviously, if not explicitly, Mormon characters and their lives in small towns in the Intermountain West, then pretty soon we’d have a definite style of “Mormon cinema” that Napoleon Dynamite would fit into. But we don’t have that, so calling it a “Mormon movie” is descriptively unhelpful. It’s a sweet (literally, as in not dark, more Truffaut-like than Wilder-like), funny ode to rural dorks, maybe the best indy comedy released last year. Why need to we claim more than that?

  19. Truthfully, I don’t really think there is a specific Mormon culture. The only truly Mormon things would have to have Nephi in them. I’m willing to claim Napoleon Dynamite as Mormon, because I think its good. I’m willing to throw out Bash, because it doesn’t do us any good to claim it. There it is, in a nutshell.

  20. Russell, I never said any film by a Mormon filmmaker is by definition a Mormon movie. If you read my post again you’ll see I said the background of a filmmaker is one of many important factors.

    My definition centers on whether Mormons see their experience in the film or not. Many of them do. This in no way means David Letterman or the millions of other non-Mormons that love NAPOLEON DYNAMITE do not see their experience in it either. If an Italian-American was to say to me that MEAN STREETS reminded him of his life growing up in New York it would in no way prevent me from enjoying and relating to that film. When any filmmaker from any culture makes any film about personal experience, you’re right, there is no guarantee that others will relate, but it’s nearly impossible to deny that many great films operate on this principle of the personal being universal.

    I saw Richard Dutcher speak at the Miller-Eccles group and this was his strongest point–the personal is universal. He even cited FIDDLER ON THE ROOF as an example. The specificity of the Jewish culture in that film is exactly what makes it universal. The same is true of NAPOLEAN DYNAMITE, MEAN STREETS, and dozens of other successful films.

    Labeling a work as part of a specific national or ethnic cinema isn’t confusing. It’s enlightening. Typically, it helps viewers understand and appreciate the film better. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE doesn’t need to be presented or marketed to audiences as a Mormon film–I would never say that–but any comprehensive critical approach would have to adress that fact.

    To answer your last question, it is extremely important to claim NAPOLEON DYNAMITE as part of Mormon cinema. It says we as Mormons have stories to tell, can make films, and have experiences everyone can relate to. In other words, it says, we are in fact human.

  21. the movie did connect with a lot of people…but then a lot of people connected with ‘white chicks’. hey…more power to the filmmakers on doing so well with it. for me it was just a dull waste of celluloid. a geek saying ‘gosh’ just doesn’t cut it for me i guess. i’m not from utah or idaho so maybe that has something to do with it.

    on the flip side…if this truly belongs to ‘mormon cinema’ i’d say it is a huge step up from the crap they’re popping out in the utah theaters.

    my beef with ‘mormon cinema’ is this…the only way it seems the lds culture is able to view a film about themselves is in a comic sort of fantasy world (ala napolean dynamite). how would an lds audience respond to a film dealing with good faithful mormons and alcoholism/drugs or divorce or adultry or any other issue?

    if you saw the film ‘god’s army’ you’ll remember the scene when one of the missionaries gets involved with anti-mormon literature. then comes a scene where this ‘bad missionary’ heads to the bus station and our two hero missionaries try and stop him to no avail. this scene is exactly what i’m talking about. if the writer/director wanted to deal with real issues on a real level he would have written this bad missionary as a pretty likeable guy…a real character…someone worth saving. not just some punk we’d never care about anyway.

    everyone likes napolean dynamite and there’s much talk about how this film is a true depiction of idaho, of mormons, etc. but is it really? or is there some sugar coating here? oh yeah…it’s a comedy.

    like i said i’m not from utah or idaho…but i grew up around mormons and in a mormon family and this is a far cry from my experience.

  22. …its friday and i’m dead writing this…so excuse me…but i just wanted to add…perhaps the response to neil labute’s work and the film by jay cox are answers to what i’m talking about above.

  23. I think it all comes down to what we want to call a “Mormon movie.”

    I was thinking very stictly of the “Mormon Cinema” movement which was launched in 2000 when Dutcher released God’s Army, and which has since spawned 18 films (ND and Little Secrets not included) that have been made by and for the Mormon audience.

    But I also think it’s entirely fair to apply the label “Mormon movie” to anything which represents or speaks to Mormons in general.

  24. You make an important distinction, Eric. One thing which was clear when I heard Richard Dutcher speak is that he considers himself the founder of “Mormon Cinema,” and he repeatedly expressed disappointment in how his predecessors made use of the great window of opportunity he opened for them. He even predicted that “Mormon Cinema,” using his more narrow definition, would soon die.

    If we accept Dutcher’s own definition than I suppose there are only 18 films, but from what I took from his comments–the only films in that bunch he was pleased with were his own. So the Dutcher definition probably is even more narrow than that.

    The problem, beyond a certain egotism, with this idea is that using the definition a film historian or a film critic would use, “Mormon Cinema” is more than just 18 films and began long before the year 2000. I admit Dutcher made an invaluable contribution in finding a way to distribute and market his films (plus, I think BRIGHAM CITY is pretty good), but it’s more than unfair to the filmmakers that came before him to foster the impression that “Mormon Cinema” began ex nihilo with him and his work.

  25. A Mormon will experience ND in a very different way from a non member. We watched it with a friend that is from India by way of Canada. She thought it was very entertaining but when we discussed it with her afterwards it was clear that my wife and I understood it in a very different way.

    Now I would probably experience any number of movies in a different way from her, but the difference in this case is dramatic because the movie is referencing experiences that were close to me and that was because I was a Mormon that grew up in Utah and had spent time in the Preston area.

  26. If a non-mormon can speak up, here’s the take of one. 1st a little background, I live in Texas and grew up in Texas. I’m a baptist by choice, and a former pastor in central Utah, where I hope to return after I finish school. I just watched ND for the first time last night, and it made me crave green jello and funeral potatoes.

    At first it was just strangely familiar, but when I saw the Rick’s College t-shirt, I understood why. I pointed out the t-shirt to my wife and explained where RC is and it clicked with her as well. I liked the movie, it reminded me of rural Utah, and it was quirky enough to keep me interested. My wife laughed some, but waked away asking why. She didn’t get it.

    So if I’m voting, as a non-mormon I say it is a Mormon movie.

  27. JH: I don’t feel there is any Mormon culture in the film.

    That’s what I found on screenwriter’s utopia interview of Jared Hess.

    It’s a worldwide Church, with modern prophets, and half of the worldwide members are outside the United States. If you don’t think of us who live abroad, those whose geneology is different, and of us converts in general as Mormons, then why did you send us missionaries? Was it one big joke? Joseph Smith Jr. didn’t grow up in a “Mormon” neighbourhood.

    Many Church members grow up in other neighbourhoods (I hear there are even Branches in Canada, Texas and India) And many non-members grow up in that North West of the USA area.

    Anyway, perhaps you could find another name for the area. A “NorthWestern” or something. Even those “freakin’ idiots” who think Mormon is somehow an “ethnic” group should recognise that Jewish films don’t mean they are made in the Middle East and put just a little analytic thought to it. Would Jurrasic Park be more Jewish if it was shot in the Middle East?

    Vasco de Sousa, a UK based filmmaker (never been to Idaho nor Salt Lake, joined the Church here in Aberystwyth) stumbled on this website looking for other church members who want to make films.

  28. Vasco de Sousa, you should look up Matthew Daniels… just wrote and produced his first movie “Powerless” The actors are a family,(his Wifes siblings) all LDS but the movie has nothing to do with LDS culture, is about loss of power in the UK due to terrorism and how these siblings cope… He Wrote, directed, produced and composed most of the sound track. This movie just went to “Cannes” 🙂 !!! He has started his second project, not sure what it is though.

    Oh, an as for ND, as LDS myself born and raised in England, I didn’t know when viewing what the writers religious preference was, but at points it made me wonder… the hair the prom dress’s, the GOSH!!! I thought this is either set in the eighties or this is a mormon town….
    But I too thought that the plot went nowhere and when it ended thought “AND……..”.

  29. This is the stupidest subject I have ever heard people debate about. If someone says that something is made by the Catholics, you get the impression that the church was involved. ND was not made by “the Mormons.” Catagorizing it like this is stupid. Is it a comedy, horror, drama, etc? Those are the catagories that matter to people. Can we now move on?

  30. I am not a mormon. I stumbled upon this blog from google. I loved ND. I had NO idea he was mormon or that anyone in the movie was mormon. I am utterly shocked by this fact. I mean this with no disrespect whatsoever, but I had no idea mormons could be this funny.

    As an outside observer who wasn’t looking for mormon overtones I found none and would never have seen them had I not stumbled upon the fact that he was from BYU.

    I think if you saw mormonism in the film, you are looking for it.

  31. How much do you know about Mormons, Michael M? It sounds like not much, so how would you have been able to recognize any Mormon-ness in it?

    I think the Mormon overtones to it are very subtle and only obvious to someone who is Mormon. The boondoggles and reference to Scout camp, for example. As a non-Mormon I’d not have known that’s a hugely Mormon youth activity.

    I’ll reiterate how weird the movie was for my husband. It was like his teen experience growing up in Idaho put on the big screen–and pretty much whitewashed and made cute and funny. He enjoyed it, he just doesn’t think anyone from outside of Idaho *really* gets it.

  32. Michael,

    I don’t think that anyone is claiming that you will find “Mormonism” in the film. Just that it is about a culture and a place that is very influenced by the religion. None of the major characters in the film are overtly Mormon. Other than a glimpse of painting in a living room and a t-shirt that Napolean wears there is no evidence that any of the characters are members of the LDS Church. The world they inhabit is very much Preston, Idaho, which is a very Mormon place. If you listen to the commentary track you’ll hear a few more overt references to the Mormon nature of the film.

    Obviously all of this is subtle, much of it is probably unintentional, and the film is intended for a wide audience. Don’t worry if you don’t see it as a Mormon film. You aren’t supposed to.

    To rework your summary:

    I would say that if you didn’t see this as a film made by Mormons, about a very Mormon place, without any overt references to that or any other relgion, then you simply aren’t familiar enough with Mormonism to recognize it. There is no harm in that. Enjoy the movie as you wish.

  33. Fair enough.

    I don’t know much about mormon culture in the west. What I know of mormonism comes from a conversation I had with these 2 guys on their mission in Tennessee. We didn’t talk about mormon culture or Idaho.

    I was just saying in my humble opinion as an outside obvserver I did not recognize any overt attempt to indoctrinate viewers. I was equating the term “Mormon film” to how people would use the term “Christian film” or “Atheist film”. Many films are made by Mormons, Christians, Muslims, Atheists but not all of those are considered representative of the whole movement/religion. A “religious film” would have the connotation to me that its purpose was to propagate a religous message.

    I didn’t notice a religious message. Maybe i was blind to it. I still think the film can be enjoyed without any cultural knowledge (firsthand or otherwise) of mormons or Idaho.

    Every film maker is influenced by their experiences (religious, family, socio-economic, etc). An art is an outward expression of the artist so of course those who are familiar with the artists influences will find a kindredness to their own.

    Anyone know what these film makers’ future projects are?

  34. I believe that Jared Hess is working with Jack Black in Mexico on a Lucha Libre movie, in which Jack Black becomes a masked wrestler to save an orphanage.

  35. I lived in Cleveland, TN which is in the southeast part of the state near Chattanooga, TN. It would have been late nineties (97-99).

    One was a tall blonde headed guy, he talked the most, the other one just listened mostly. I was working in a Fireworks Store on the interstate while I finished seminary.

    It was an interesting discussion concerning the Council of Nicea, Open Canon vs. Closed Canon, and some magic glasses. We agreed to disagree. He said he would come back to bring me some book that would answer my questions better, but I never saw them again.

    My next experience with Mormonism was Napoleon Dynamite…sweet!

  36. I grew up in a small town in Northern Utah, about 20 minutes South of Preston. There were people just like Napoleon and Kip I grew up with and I could pick out a dozen “Pedros” from my graduating class. Only a few of those people are Mormons. I don’t think it’s so much a “Mormon Movie” as it is a “Small Town in Southern Idaho or Northern Utah Movie.”

    I’m a Mormon and I’m just going to say, nothing about this movie appealled to my faith. I laughed when he did his dance because growing up there were always the geeks that secretly wished they were something more. I laughed when they were at the DI because I’ve been there, but someone who has never been there might think it’s just a regular thrift store. I laughed when it showed his Rick’s College Shirt because it was so from the 80’s. I’m just saying… 🙂

  37. Michael M: My next experience with Mormonism was Napoleon Dynamite…sweet!

    Heck yes it is!

    I spent a few days in Cleveland TN when I was living in Chattanooga. I was just visiting but we ended up stopping by the Church of God college campus to drop off a BoM to some student I think (who wasn’t there…) I just loved that Southern Tennesee area in general. Of course I was there several years before you were there. This super-cool new rapper named Vanilla Ice was all the rage in that area at the time…

  38. hey everyone,
    I think this movie is excellent!! and everyone at school is talking about it… they all just love it.. and as the only member at my school its a great way to let my peers understand thay we do have a sense of humor..i dont think its a mormon movie as in it doesnt have biblical characters or its not a story about the book of mormon but i can see the “mormonism” in it that there is modesty,no profanity,clean hummor and the other little things like the picture on the wall and in the special features he does say somthing about marrige for eternity!! but i just think its awsome, relating it to mormons or not its great!!

  39. I’ll share my experience. I was a devout Mormon until I was 26 (I’m 34 now and am a different religion.) I served in the Stake Youth Committee, very active, etc. My brother is more than seven years younger than me, and I think he stopped going to church when he was around 12.

    When I watched the movie with him, all the Mormon things popped out at me. And when I saw the Rick’s College shirt, I told him, “This is such a Mormon movie!” He had seen it before and he didn’t recognize it as Mormon at all. I said, “This has to have been filmed in Utah or Idaho.” And I went to IMDB afterwards and saw that it was filmed in both.

    We both found the movie very funny and we both liked it a lot. He laughed out loud at the steak hitting Napoleon in the head, I laughed at the “Whatever I feel like doing, GOSH!” part. He was a hyperactive little kid, and I was one of the “Oh my heck” girls.

    I still haven’t figured out if it’s a “Mormon movie,” but it was hilarious.

  40. I heard that it was made by a member of the lds church who was attending byu. It was a film project for his film major. It was entered into a small film festival or something and MTV bought the rights. I haven’t even tried to validate this rumor…but it was what I heard, so I am passing it on.

  41. I was just skimming through this, and I couldn’t get over what D. Fletcher said. Apparently it’s mormon because:

    * There’s a popular girl who was too nice to turn him down for a date–obviously, she was Mormon

    * Most of the dresses worn at the school dance were very modest

    * He’s in high school and has an older brother in his 30’s

    Do you know anybody who isn’t mormon? I’m not, I’ve never lived in a mormon community, and yet all those things were familiar to me. It’s not as if Joseph Smith invented the concept of forcing kids to go on pity dates and wear modest clothing, and I’d hope there isn’t anything in your religion discouraging financial independence in your middle age. I’ve met some kind, decent mormons, but you can’t try to pretend that the latter day saints patented morality.

    Incidentally, as a non-mormon I find the term “Mormon movie” unappealing and alienating. It makes it sound like the movie has an agenda to convert people or to teach them about the mormon religion. Napoleon Dynamite does neither. It may offer glimpses of the lifestyle of some mormon communities, but that’s just atmosphere to the central themes of high school awkwardness familiar to Americans of all religious beliefs. The Joy Luck Club is not a buddhist book or movie. Angela’s Ashes is not a catholic book or movie. Napolean Dynamite is not a mormon movie.

  42. It was me who said that, not D. I was raised Lutheran and converted to Mormonism when I was 18. Those things I listed were not part of my Lutheran upbringing, but they were very much a part of all my LDS friends’ upbringing.

    Your mileage may vary!

    I also have a husband who grew up LDS in smalltown Idaho, and it’s kind of hard for us to tell where the line between Idaho smalltown and Mormon is.

  43. Regardless, I’m amazed you believe those things to be mormon exclusive. I stand by my statements.

    I don’t know what you mean by “your mileage may vary.”

  44. The Below comments by Gary are entirely inacurate

    “I just disagree. Napoleon Dynamite is a Mormon movie because it is made by Mormons (and Mormons are in fact, its primary audience)”

    This movie was not made primarily for mormons. It was purchased and disributed by hollywood studio, Fox, and was produced by MTV films. I hardly think that these companies have anything to do with mormonism. It was released in New York City and Los Angeleles several weeks before it was released to wide audiences, which means Utah nor Idaho was not it’s prime audience target. If anyone would pay attention to pop-culture the last few years Napolean Dynamite has been spoofed in one form or another by entirely non-LDS entities such as SNL, Punked, music videos on MTV, The Best Week Ever, etc. Finally, ND made over $45 million dollars worldwide in theaters. If this movie’s primary audience was Utah and Idaho than it would not have made nearly that.

    How could a movie like that be considered a mormon movie. The only reason why some people consider it a mormon movie is that ND has become a strong influence over Utah/US mormon culture, but, as listed above, it has become a strong influence over non-mormon pop culture as well.

  45. I don’t think you understand what we (and I’m not speaking for all Mormons here) mean when we say it’s a Mormon movie, Michael.

    You’re right, Napoleon Dynamite wasn’t intended for an entirely Mormon audience anymore than Do the Right Thing was intended for an entirely Black or African American audience, or Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was intended for a Chinese or Hong Kong audience. However, both those films are heavily influenced by African American culture and experience and Chinese culture and experience respectively. Similarly, ND is heavily influenced by Mormon culture and experience. The major talent behind both those films are people who are Black and Chinese respectively. The major talent behind ND was people who are Mormon.

    For any film to get wide distribution it must be purchased and distributed by a Hollywood studio, and many films, especially less commercial films, are released in NYC and LA first to build word of mouth in what is called a platform release. So that doesn’t prove it isn’t a Mormon film, it only proves that it shares the way it was distributed with many other films.

    Of course, ND has had a big influence on pop culture, that’s great. You don’t have to be Mormon to love it, just like you don’t have to be Black or Chinese to love Do The Right Thing or Crouching Tiger. All these films are commonly called cross-over hits, because they cross-over from one group to a wide audience.

    You do have one thing backwards. I consider it a Mormon film, not because it had a strong influence over Mormon culture, as you say in your last paragraph, but because Mormon culture had a strong influence over it.

    You can like ND and not like Mormons. It’s not like watching it will make you want to get baptized and go on a mission or anything, but saying it isn’t a Mormon film just because a lot of people saw it doesn’t make sense. That’s like saying Do the Right Thing is not part of African-American cinema.

  46. I is a mormon movie because those who wrote, produced, acted in it, or enjoyed it have already had their callings and elections made sure.

  47. Michael,

    Have you read all the comments here? I think there is a much more compelling case being made than the line you quote. I agree that Gary’s arguement is weak, but his isn’t the only one on the table.

  48. I’m a mormon from the east coast, and when I watched the movie with my friends we laughed because it reminded us of ourselves a little. How there’s no cursing and because of that people tend to look at you a little different and how he beleved something weird about the lockness monster or something, we beleieve in something a bit out of the ordinary,(still true I feel) but to others a bit weird at times, and even though the director might have took this theory to an extreme, he still got his point across.

  49. This is a movie about small town culture in the western states. It has small town elements that are common to predominantly mormon communities. It has a clean humor that is common among mormons. It is not a ‘mormon’ movie, but those familiar with this smalltown culture can relate to it on another level.

  50. we think napoleon dynamite iz a mormon movie becuz practically everybody hoo wuz involved w/ thu movie iz & remainz a mormon. + we’re not sure if much of u out there noz this but(he he i said butt) jon heder(soooo HOT!!) star of napoleon dynamite iz of course a mormon. thatz our statement & we’re sticking 2 it!

  51. Who cares ? Napoleon Dynamite Rocked, We laugh every time we watch it.
    Its called a moive. Like Does it mater who Made it ? Cathlic, Jew,
    islam, Mormon, And if thats suposed to a mormon town at least I dident
    see any drive by shootings or Meth addics romming the streets. it looks
    peacful. Hell I want to live their.

    F.Y.I Do any of you like SIFI shows?
    Did you Know that Battelstar Galactica is Based on the Book of Mormon..
    and that show Kicks Ass.

  52. I am lds and i had no idea that any one would ever think it was a mormon movie, I am in the construction field and to say every house i build is a mormon house because i am is foolish ,Testaments and the work and the glory are mormon movies ,films that are based on the religion

  53. I am mormon and it is not a mormon film. Saying it is a Mormon film would mean it has a mormon message to it. Like “The Best Two Years”. But no, Napoline DYnamite is not a Mormon movie.

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