(Part 6 of 7)
Napoleon doesn’t have any ambitions. This brings up an interesting question: “Do we need ambitions to drive us into reinvention?” Here’s a teenager who can’t connect with the world around him. Even with much disconnect, Napoleon proves that reinvention always wins out - even if you’re as selfish as Napoleon.
Right from the get-go we learn of Napoleon’s selfishness:
Kid on Bus: What are you gonna do today, Napoleon?
Napoleon: Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!
i believe Napoleon’s selfish life is the result of complacency and comfort. He’s comfortable being him, and it’s not until he makes new friends that his little selfish world flips inside out. He wants reinvention but doesn’t have good examples of how to go about achieving it. Little does he understand that it just takes initiative. Unlike Uncle Rico, he’s succumbed to his environment. To me, he sees life as a deck of cards and will take what he’s dealt. We should have a little empathy towards this dorky teen.
Let’s see life from his perspective. He’s a key witness to the pathetic reality of Uncle Rico and Kip. They don’t give him any respect i.e., Uncle Rico throws a steak at Napoleon’s face. They don’t acknowledge him as an individual who can make independent decisions, and they discourage him from taking risks.
Napoleon gets a different perspective by meeting Pedro. Pedro is taking social risks to improve himself and the world around him. They develop a friendship - well, as best it can be for a boy wonder such as Napoleon. What can i say, the guy is ugly and selfish Anyway, this is a great friendship as well as a motivational factor for Napoleon. Pedro’s influence on him is inspirational. For instance, he helps Pedro deliver a cake to Summer’s house. We can see from that scene that he’s beginning to think of someone else’s needs other his own. There are plenty of other examples as well.
Here’s a snippet from a conversation where he converses with Pedro about asking a girl to the school dance. It reveals Napoleon’s low self esteem:
Napoleon: Well, nobody’s going to go out with me!
Pedro: Have you asked anybody yet?
Napoleon: No, but who would? I don’t even have any good skills.
Unlike Deb who is open to new experiences, Napoleon reluctantly follows or disdainfully agrees to new experiences. His attitude is one of proven failures time after time. It’s easy to see Napoleon has never been encouraged to pursue his dreams. He retreats within himself: a world of tater-tots, Ligers and daydreams. His unmotivated events prove he wants the world to unfold for him.
Napoleon is complacent in a world where things happen to him. His selfishness leads him to believe that the people around him are there for his benefit. Even in the opening scene he calls from school to his brother Kip and demands chapstick be brought to him. Later, Kip asks Napoleon for a ride to Rex Kwon Do and without a fight Napoleon drags Kip behind his bicycle. There’s another scene too where action comes to Napoleon. The time machine bought by Uncle Rico and Kip is placed at the table. Napoleon sits in front of it as if its a homemade meal. He partakes of it with crystals and a crown of electricity.
Here’s are other examples of something happening to Napoleon instead of him taking initiative. The only reason Napoleon ends up at the school dance is because Pedro is going with Deb. The only reason Napoleon even gets a date to the dance is because Uncle Rico cons Trisha’s mother with a sympathetic story about his nephew. If not for outside experiences invading his small world then he probably wouldn’t live life. Living life with intention is how we blend into reinvention.
His only true pursuit of anything happens as he studies D-Qwon’s Dance Grooves. As absurd as it may sound, D-Qwon is like a Christ figure. Napoleon becomes dedicated to the was of D-Qwon and ends up becoming a new person. He experiences a true reinvention. From D-Qwon’s intense training video, Napoleon learns he can encounter reinvention through an interest in a subject. He dedicates himself to learning to dance as one would to studying the Bible. His interest in music and dance lead him into self motivation. And this small interest in dance turns out to be a major reinvention.
Through Napoleon, we learn the greatest lesson of reinvention. It comes about through sacrifice. Because Napoleon has invested hours of study in the ways of D-Qwon, he is able to take center stage and throw his reputation under the bus. Napoleon, compared to his classmates, is a total outcast. So from his perspective the realization that he has nothing to lose when he decides to bust some moves for his friend Pedro is a win-win decision. This is the opportunity he’s been waiting for - not to prove he can dance; rather, an opportunity to prove he can care for someone other than himself.
With each dance move he sacrifices his ego. This is what will gain him newfound respect. He too learns that losers have everything to gain and nothing to lose. His self esteem boosts as the applause ensues from students. His friend Pedro is now popular.
This overflow of Pedro’s success will trickle down to him too. But for the first time in his life he’s not concerned about how he can benefit (even though he offered to be Pedro’s bodyguard). He’s just happy that someone else got to accomplish their dream and that he played a significant part of it; i.e., Pedro getting elected as Class President.
i have to insert that last night at Thai Fresh in Austin, TX, i spoke to a filmmaker/screenwriter who encouraged me that people genuinely want to see others succeed. This is the view in which Napoleon adopts. Because he cares about his friend Pedro, he’s willing to do a crazy dance in an effort to do what he can to help his friend succeed.
Napoleon sacrifices his reputation. Although his reputation was one of standing up for nerds, he knows that his impact of being a total outcast still holds value and will cost him when he dances in front of the student body. This is very Christ-like or should i say very D-Qwon.
Reinvention is a chain reaction. From this intentional sacrifice rises another major turning point for Napoleon. In my opinion, it happens after he sees Kip hop onto a bus with LaFawnduh. Kip didn’t even say good-bye to Napoleon or Uncle Rico. Kip knows what he wants and is going after it. Kip wants to be with LaFawnduh. This inspires Napoleon to step out of his comfort zone too. At the school basketball courts while standing in front of a tether ball Napoleon asks Deb “You wanna play me?” They play tether-ball. And music for the ending credits begins.
The song “Promise” by “When in Rome” starts as they play tether-ball. “Promise” is a symbol for Napoleon’s effort to abandon his selfishness. For the first time Napoleon’s reinvention is represented by the closing lyrics: “If you wait around a while I’ll make you fall for me/ I promise, I promise you…If I have to walk the world and make you fall for me…I promise you, I promise you I will.” He has someone other than himself to love. His advice to Pedro finally becomes a reality. That advice was “Just follow your heart. That’s what I do.”
(To Be Continued with Concluding Remarks)