I Wanted To Review ‘Napoleon’ But I Can’t Read My Apple Pencil Notes

An attempt to review the Ridley Scott film 'Napoleon' starring Joaquin Phoenix goes horribly wrong when Nick Bhasin discovers that his notes, taken on an iPad with an Apple Pencil, are complete nonsense.

promotional photo of joaquin phoenix as napoleon

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Ridley Scott’s Napoleon, starring Joaquin Phoenix in the titular role, is a weird, weird movie. 

It’s two and a half hours long, but somehow still feels like it’s only scratching the surface of Napoleon Bonaparte’s historical significance. From what I gathered, Napoleon was a very awkward person, he felt most comfortable doing wars, and he really liked his first wife Josephine (played by Vanessa Kirby).

Apparently, he also had an American accent. And the people of 19th century France spoke with British accents, even while they were fighting with the British, who also spoke with British accents.

As you can see, I have A LOT to say about this movie. I am bursting with emotional takes. Parts of the movie were exhilarating, especially on the big screen. Parts were completely confusing and I lost consciousness at several points, forgetting who I was and what was happening.

But here’s the thing: I can’t read my notes. I know it sounds like a cop out, but it’s not. I can not read the words I wrote while watching the movie.

I used my Apple Pencil on my iPad (I am locked into the Apple ecosystem and don’t see a way out) to hand-write my thoughts into the Notes app. Theoretically, the handwriting then turns into regular type. I really didn’t want to disturb anyone else in the theatre, so I kept the screen dark and wrote while my eyes were up, focussed on the movie, and trusted that the machine would do the rest.

At first, I wrote with regular handwriting. But that created a slight, but perceptible tapping sound. So I switched to cursive writing — the Pencil wouldn’t have to come up off the screen and there would be no tapping noise.

Well, somewhere along the way, things went horribly, horribly wrong. The notes, they… didn’t come out. By that I mean, they appear to have been written by a person losing their mind. Not slowly or steadily, but immediately. As if, as soon as they sat down to experience the glorious reunion of Ridley Scott and his non-Russell Crowe Gladiator star Joaquin Phoenix, they went completely mad.

Here’s a sample:

“I an enjoriça sucalant breakfast”


“Raised by wolves 389 die flags I”

Come again?

“While she laughs politics”


text of gibberish from apple pencil notes on ipad about napoleon

From what I remember, the movie had a lot of what we’ve come to expect from this kind of Hollywood period film. Great costumes and epic, brutal battle scenes. And Joaquin Phoenix gives a really interesting, if sometimes bewildering, performance. Is it Oscar-worthy? Maybe. But you wouldn’t know it from my notes, which features lines like…

“You think sografbecase you have boasts”

“Oinking Lilia pig”

“Just fight aradito fought”

What could any of this mean? What was I doing?

At some point, of course, we will all have to interrogate the matter of whether I was using the Apple Pencil correctly. I’m a little nervous about how close this might hew towards victim-blaming, but I get it.

Well, my understanding is — and has always been — that you fire up the Notes app, write with the Pencil, and then watch as your handwriting is turned into perfectly clear, professional type. But obviously, if that were the case, I would not be face to face with a Notes entry that features lines like “His bashful there is some 20 early19th two grupare speaks Austrian? love hopping”.

I mean, the movie was perplexing at points, but this reads like someone having an out-of-body experience. That note was written from a different plane of existence. An alternate realm. The deep recesses of the multiverse.

Of course, I would love to be able to expound upon the truly weird nature of the relationship between Napoleon and his first wife Josephine — he seemed very obsessed and she seemed extremely apathetic — but notes like “Its aceptádolsmoslos” and “Speech t the army himagáramos” are unhelpful at best.

Also, I am not sure you will leave the theatre with much insight into Napoleon the man vs the historic figure after this movie. It was sometimes hard to tell what made him such a great leader. Here is where I’d like to refer to something specific in the film based on my notes, but all I can offer is “His awkwardness is very Jenny”.

I think the movie may have had some things to say about the cost of imperialism and how European history is shaped by the unchecked ambition and aggression of megalomaniacal men. But if that is the case, what the hell does my note “Sort of soddials” have to do with it?

Now, this note — “Rupert brain?” — may have something to do with the fact that Rupert Everett, star of My Best Friend’s Wedding and Shrek 2, shows up for some reason as Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington. At that point, I felt like I was coming out of a coma and incapable of coherent thought, so I might literally have written “Rupert brain?”. If that was the case, the Apple Pencil was doing its job and I owe it an apology.

So should you see this movie? I think a big, sweeping period film gunning for Oscars is always worth seeing on the big screen. What do my notes recommend? Well, I’ll just leave you with this:

“Wellington won’t titsador.”

Thank you.