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Vote for Neuro(diversity): On the 20th Anniversary of Napoleon Dynamite | Features

by Xtreme HD IPTV

That was the nature of autistic characters in movies—they were either objects of pity in tragic disease-of-the-week flicks like “Son Rise: A Miracle of Love” (1979, the first narrative feature about autism), or McGuffins in plots where their miraculous math abilities were useful in cracking codes (“Mercury Rising,” 1998), or their refusal to speak could add tension to murder procedurals (“Silent Fall,” 1994). If they weren’t involved in legal intrigue, they existed to add spice to dreary protagonist’s stuck lives—Manic Aspie Dream Girls like in “Molly” (1999) or “Snow Cake” (2006) performed with disheartening sameness by attractive lead actors succumbing to Simple Jack Syndrome, exhibiting hand-clapping glee at zoo animals or spinning light toys, piping up facts about protons or satellites to prove their bona fides, or screaming at dull moments. Movie characters on the autism spectrum never got to be the hero of their own stories. All of that changed in 2004 with “Napoleon Dynamite.”

The gawky, frizz-haired Napoleon (Jon Heder) is no Rain Man–style savant, despite his yearning for the nunchaku/bowhunting/computer hacking “skillllls” that in his mind guarantee romantic success. He doesn’t wax poetic about prime numbers or display a spiritual rapport with animals or computers, and the closest he comes to an outburst of whimsy is in performance with the Happy Hands sign language club. Is he autistic? No one in the movie diagnoses him as such (the closest we get is Uncle Rico fishing for sympathy from a potential sale by divulging Napoleon still wets the bed). The DSM-V’s definition, however, is, as he would put it, flippin’ sweet: tendency towards flat affect, dislike of eye contact, ungainly body language, unusual and fixated interests, difficulty with small talk and reciprocal conversation. To be fair, Napoleon doesn’t have telling symptoms such as hypersensitivity to overstimulation, but is there any opportunity for sensory overload in their sleepy Idaho town?

No adults close to Napoleon shake their head in rueful marvel at how odd yet how magnificent he is, either. He is an ignored irritant, tactless, driven, unable to bridge the gap of human warmth. But he also has a stubborn tenacity for that which he values and dreams, which is relatable and admirable. He feels frustration, but never despair, the too-common coin of the cultural realm in the raw years immediately post-9/11. (It’s forgotten how viciously dark American satire was in that era, how monstrously cruel our appetite for reality TV humiliation and bloodthirsty denouement was before the era of trigger warnings. Current viewers have attested to an ominous undercurrent of isolation and exile in “Napoleon Dynamite,” but at the time its rural hipster aesthetic was welcomely PG-rated escapist froth.) And when his triumphant dance solo to Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” in front of the assembled school clinches the class presidency for his best friend Pedro (Efrem Ramirez), it’s a win for all of us.

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by Xtreme HD IPTV

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