Mise-en-Scene in Napoleon Dynamite Essay

This essay has a total of 1629 words and 6 pages.

Mise-en-Scene in Napoleon Dynamite

In Napoleon Dynamite (Jared Hess, 2004), the character known as Napoleon Dynamite (Jon
Heder) is quite a unique fellow. His quirkiness and eccentricity are what make him as a
character; they are the primary traits of his personality. Keep in mind, however, that he
is not the only odd character in the film, but he has his own peerless way of defining
himself separate from any other character(s). This effect is achieved through certain
cinematic techniques that director Jared Hess utilizes in order to bring out Napoleon's
persona in ways other than simply "guessing" who he really is. Rather, these techniques
"explicitly imply" certain character traits; they are like clues that allow one to see the
character just as the creator intended. Through mise-en-scene, sound, and acting and
performance, Napoleon Dynamite emphasizes and comments on the character of Napoleon,
defining his physical and social nature.

Part of Napoleon Dynamite's character is defined through mise-en-scene. His costuming
throughout the movie is very indicative of who he is; he is almost always seen wearing out
of date clothing, usually from the 80s. He wears very drab colors, except for when his
shirt sports a vivid design. His mismatched, corny, and awkward clothing are synonymous
with his personality. On the other end of the spectrum, he wears a gauche-colored yet
slick-looking suit to the dance. This is fitting due to the fact that he thinks he is
suave for having a hot date, yet he is still "gauche" according to his date and the rest
of the school.

Another element of mise-en-scene that helps define Napoleon's personality is his physical
setting. The town that he lives in is uneventful, repetitive, and simple, all
characteristic of his persona. The high school, his neighborhood, the open fields and
pastures; all of them emanate one distinct word that uncannily matches Napoleon's
temperament: boring. This is not to say that he is boring per se; Hess gives him words and
actions that call for sidesplitting laughter. His demeanor as a whole, however, is as dull
as stone. His not so subtle, lack-luster voice and uninterested facial expression gives an
efficient comedic effect, but would be considered dreary and mind-numbing in any real life
situation. More on his acting and performance will be discussed later; there are other
elements, such as sound in the film, that emphasize and comment on Napoleon Dynamite's

Sound in Napoleon Dynamite plays a vital role in defining characters, particularly
Napoleon's. Additionally, considerable portion of the significant sound in the film occurs
in the music. The most blatant effect of the music is the cheesy MIDI arrangements. These
outdated compositions portray the tackiness of Napoleon; he and the music are clearly out
of style. One of the crudest examples of this is when Napoleon buys his suit; the muzak in
the background is as unbearably corny as Napoleon's taste in clothing. Albeit music is a
fundamental factor in Napoleon Dynamite, it is not the only element of sound that is

The sound effects in the film also give clues as to what kind of person Napoleon really
is. One supporting example is when he is eating "tots" in the middle of class. The
unnecessarily loud crunching noise portrays his manifest lack of craftiness and style.
There was one audio technique, however, that was extremely puzzling. In every scene inside
a house, there is a very subtle background of birds chirping. This emphasizes the fact
that Napoleon lives a rural community, rather than a busy suburb or city setting. This
sound is extremely understated, however, and is obviously intended to be a subconscious
feature to the viewer (Note: I listened to the movie with headphones, so I heard more

Napoleon uses some of his own characteristic sounds in the film to facilitate who he is.
As a matter of fact, the first sound he makes in the movie is long, depressed sigh when he
sees the school bus approaching. This portrays his pessimism towards life and his general
despondency. Additionally, his next line is a very frustrated one, saying, "Whatever I
feel like I want to do. Gosh!" Since this is his first true line, it gives the impression
that he is very perturbed in life and gets agitated easily. The most significant
characteristic of Napoleon's voice, however, is its monotony. This attribute explicitly
demonstrates his boredom with life and his lack-luster personality. While sound is a
noteworthy part of Napoleon's character, there are some other very important traits that
define his personality as well.

Napoleon is a nerd; there is no doubt about it. Several aspects of his character support
this argument nicely. The first example in the film is when Napoleon gives his current
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