I am by far no fan of Forrest Gump. If there was ever a movie that should’ve never won the Best Picture Oscar, it should be Forrest Gump.
Schindler’s List was such a serious important movie that I think Hollywood just decided to throw its hands up give it to a movie that is basically a two and a half hour adaptation of Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start The Fire.” It is really the ultimate Boomer movie as it focuses on a post-WWII era through rose-colored glasses.
We’re introduced to Forrest Gump, a simple and sweet southern man, who tells people on a park bench his life story. Gump is played by Tom Hanks in a role only Hanks himself would’ve been able to pull off and we’d be able to believe it. Gump is supposed to have a low IQ but a heart of gold. It’s not really a feel-good movie because Gump never really overcomes anything. He just lucks into everything.
And that’s the main problem with this movie. Everything just comes to him. Some football scout sees him running and he gets a football scholarship (for five years) to the University of Alabama. Even though his low intelligence would’ve prevented him from lasting one year of college, he graduates and then joins the Army because someone hands him a pamphlet.
Then, it turns into a Vietnam War movie just long enough to introduce Bubba Blue (Mykelti Williamson), whose role is so stereotypical it basically an updated Stepin Fetchit. He also meets Lt. Dan Taylor, a Gung Ho military officer who thinks he’s going to continue his family’s legacy of dying in battle.
Bubba gets killed while in Vietnam and Lt. Dan gets severely wounded, but the movie never focuses on these matters as we clearly switch to Gump being so happy he’s injured because he gets ice cream. Of course, because he carried many people out of a war zone before it got bombed, Gump is granted the Medal of Honor to which he never really understands its significance.
He then is used as a PR stunt by the government to play ping-pong and became a symbol of American Exceptionalism during the Cold War. This leads him to make money as a spokesman. He uses his money to buy a shrimping boat which he lucks into success because a hurricane doesn’t sink it while leaving destruction in the Gulf of Mexico. And he becomes richer when Lt. Dan invests into Apple Computers.
The problem I have with this movie is that Forrest is never smart enough to comprehend what’s happening around him. But it’s okay not to question everything and just let things happen. I feel this was originally meant to be a different movie then what happened.
The fact that Forrest is lacking in the common sense or intelligence to see that people are using him is overlooked except for one scene in which Forrest tells that he was able to find a job cutting grass. But even that becomes a symbol of Forrest’s simplicity as he cuts the grass for free anyway when he gets richer. You could say Forrest is a parody of how easy white Anglo-Saxon men had it in the post-WWII era that even one of low intelligence could achieve greatness the likes we wouldn’t believe. Forrest teaches Elvis Presley how to dance; meets JFK, LBJ, and Nixon; and alerts the police about the break-in at the Watergate. He’s essentially a representation of the Baby Boomers and I think that appealed to many moviegoers at the time 27 years ago.
Now, watching a movie like Forrest Gump is horrible to sit through when you think of many things in the movie and they’re handled.
First off, Forrest is only allowed to go to a public school because his mother, Mrs. Gump (a thankless role by Sally Fields who deserved better) has sex with the principal. This is meant to be a joke but it’s actually very sad that she had to stoop so low at an era in which people with low intelligence were shunned. It probably wasn’t a one-time thing either.
Forrest also has leg braces which with his mental abilities, makes him a victim of bullying by sadistic children. And this coined the catchphrase “Run, Forrest, Run!” But it’s actually pretty terrible that Forrest spent his youth being physically assaulted by his peers. Even the teens in Radio were more caring.
His only friend seems to be Jenny Curran (Robin Wright as an adult and Hanna R. Hall as a child). Jenny is a complicated character and sorely misunderstood. Because her mother died, Jenny is the victim of sexual abuse by her father. She plays with Forrest to stay away from the abuse as much as she can.
Later when she’s older, she is kicked out of college for posing in Playboy but not before Forrest follows her and assaults a boyfriend when he thinks she’s hurting her but they’re just making out in a car. Forrest turns into a stalker throughout the movie, never fully understanding why Jenny doesn’t want to have a serious relationship with her.
What I really don’t like is how Jenny has been criticized over the years as a user and manipulator. In fact, she’s a very traumatized young woman who never had the help she needs. She joins the counterculture and anti-war movement but finds herself attached to a man who hits her. This is only natural since she was the victim of abuse as a child.
Yet, the movie never addresses this the right way. It wants to turn Forrest into her knight in shining armor. But he is just as dangerous for her. In one of the most pretentious scenes, Forrest tells her she needs to go back to the jerkwater Alabama town she left. But Forrest can’t understand why Jenny is doing what she’s doing.
And neither does director Robert Zemeckis, who has never been a good director for strong women roles. Jenny is more or less a ploy for Forrest. It needed a villain and they made Jenny the villain. Scenes in which Jenny delves into drug use and unprotected sex with men is just used as poor excuse to wag its finger. Jenny was the only one who was nice to Forrest as a child.
For those saying that she should’ve treated Forrest better is just InCel misogynistic sexism. Jenny loved Forrest. She always did. But his behavior is no different than the other people in her life. What if Forrest lost everything and just had to cut the grass? Would we still be rooting for her and Forrest together?
Be honest. We live in a society at the time in which women couldn’t get credit cards in their own name. Yet, she’s supposes to be June Cleaver to a man who lived at home with his mother?
And just because Forrest loved her a lot doesn’t mean she automatically had to love him the same way back. Jenny deserved a better subplot and depiction than what she was given.
I’m sure if a different director or even a better actress had handled the role, it would’ve been different. I’m not saying Wright isn’t a good actress. She’s proven herself over the years to be a good actress if presented with the right material. But the role is written wrong.
As for Lt. Dan, Sinise does his best as a man whose struggling to live a new life after a major injury, but again, his role is reduced to some hokey religious epiphany moment. In the book by Winston Groom, Lt. Dan remains an atheist and he meets Forrest in the VA hospital. His story arc is handled better than Jenny’s even though the script reduces it to the same we’ve seen before. Sinise is still able to keep it from becoming a stereotype.
Since much of the movie is seen through Forrest’s eyes, events like segregation, the Civil Rights, the Moon Landing, Vietnam War and its protest and much more are reduced to punchlines. Mainly, it’s because they don’t affect Forrest’s directly, which in itself says more about how white middle America was kept at a distance from these events.
The only part of the movie in which Forrest comes more than a one-dimensional character is where he begins to run back and forth across America becoming a national celebrity. This happens in the mid to late 1970s after Forrest and Jenny have sex and he proposes to her, but she leaves him.
This would’ve given the movie a little bit of depth to Forrest but the soundtrack is full of hit songs from the era and even as a celebrity, the movie can’t help put reduce Forrest to a punchline as he inspires the “Shit Happens” slogan as well as the “Have A Nice Day” Smiley Face shirts.
Later he returns back to Alabama and finds Jenny is living in Savannah, Ga., with a young son, Forrest Jr. (Haley Joel Osment). It’s been wildly theorized that the son isn’t Forrest and I believe it. I think this is the reason Jenny finally realizes she needs to marry Forrest out of convenience as she knows he’ll be able to care for him financially. It’s implied Jenny is dying of AIDS but it was actually Hepatitis C.
This actually is very depressing and sucks whatever good will humor and joy the movie was trying to convey. By even implying it’s AIDS, the movie becomes more of a conservative morality story. While this might have been appealing to Boomers who rallied against the free spirit of the 1960s, I feel younger audiences won’t find it as fascinating.
Considering that this movie beat out more memorable movies such as The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction and The Lion King, which wasn’t nominated, for Best Picture, it’s proof that some movies are far more liked in the era they’re released than for the ages. Look at Avatar as another example.
Even Hanks himself seems to feel this movie has been too focused on in his career. At an Oscar show about 15 years ago, he didn’t look too happy when they played the music from this movie as he walked on stage. Hanks has done memorable roles before this and many more after. He won an Oscar for his role but I feel roles in Saving Private Ryan, Road to Perdition and even the lesser known A Hologram For the King show more range than this.
Sadly, if anything else, Forrest Gump gave us the concept of the Simple Jack role and showed all actors have to do to win awards is to play developmentally disabled characters.
What do you think about Forrest Gump? Please comment below.