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The Dark Fan Theory That Changes Everything About Napoleon Dynamite

As a student at Brigham Young University in 2002, Jared Hess produced a film titled "Peluca" for one of his classes. The roughly nine-minute short followed three high school kids named Seth (Jon Heder), Pedro (Greg Hansen), and Giel (Chris Sanchez), as they skip class for the day in favor of other various activities. Though it sounds like a rather uninteresting watch on paper, in the wake of its screening at the 2003 Slamdance Film Festival, Hess morphed it into one of the most unique and quotable productions to arrive in the early 2000s: "Napoleon Dynamite."

Released in 2004, "Napoleon Dynamite" once again saw Jared Hess sit in the director's chair with Jon Heder returning as the lead. This time, however, Heder took on the role of small-town geek Napoleon Dynamite, who gets up to all kinds of awkward misadventures in his hometown of Preston, Idaho, throughout the film's runtime. The likes of Efren Ramirez, Tina Majorino, and more joined him on the silver screen in what could have been a major flop, but "Napoleon Dynamite" avoided such a fate. Aside from turning an astounding profit, it performed surprisingly well with critics and casual movie-watchers alike.

An odd, offbeat comedy at its core, "Napoleon Dynamite" is a pretty breezy watch with some standout moments. Although, according to one fan theory, there could be something far more dark going on below the surface that the movie doesn't reveal outright. 

Does Napoleon Dynamite take place in Purgatory?

This theory comes from Reddit user siriusjakc, who believes "Napoleon Dynamite" could take place in Purgatory. That may sound like a bold claim to make, and they admit as much in their original post, but they didn't make it without coming up with some evidence to back it up.

First and foremost, they talk about how the characters appear to dress as if they're from different periods in time. Napoleon fits with early 2000s trends, Pedro (Ramirez) adopts a '50s rural look, and Deb (Majorino) looks like a child of the '80s. Couple this with Preston's out-of-time feel (its lack of historical markers, desolate landscape, etc.), and the theory begins to make some sense. The post also speculates on how Napoleon and Pedro may have died and the ways the film hints at these events, including a YouTube link to the Death Taco Podcast episode that delves deeper into everything.

The reactions to this theory were overwhelmingly positive, despite its bleak nature. Ralph-Hinkley replied, "I dig it OP, new headcanon confirmed," and TortelliniSalad responded, "I love this movie, this is a chilling twist." Adding onto the conversation, theyusedthelamppost brought up the character of Uncle Rico (Jon Gries), whose entire characterization is that he has trapped himself in the past. "He seems stuck, never moving past the old 'high school version' of himself," they note, indicating that this element of his personality could explain when he died and went to Purgatory.

As one could imagine, not everyone who shared their thoughts bought into what the original post had to offer. "I'd say it's more likely that the filmmakers thought being stuck in a small town was like being stuck in Purgatory, and filled it with absurd things and made the setting uncanny to flow from that idea," wrote wasporchidlouixse. Redditor finallyransub17 had similar thoughts, commenting, "The characters, mannerisms, and setting are all exactly what people who grew up in the middle of nowhere are used to."

Is "Napoleon Dynamite" actually a film about lost souls trapped in Purgatory? Or does its presentation of Preston, Idaho, and its residents just give us that impression? Regardless of the truth, if nothing else, theories like this are just fun to ponder.