Mise-En-Scene in Napoleon Dynamite

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  • Topic: Preston, Idaho, Napoleon Dynamite, Preston High School
  • Pages : 5 (1631 words )
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  • Published : May 30, 2005
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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 His costuming throughout the movie is very indicative of who he is; he is almost always seen wearing out of date clothing, usually from the 80s.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 character.

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 relevant.

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 detail).

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...
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