“Hello. I’m Forrest, Forrest Gump.”
By Cassandra Lau
Exactly 22 years ago, one of America’s greatest films was released when director Robert Zemeckis turned the then less popular novel, Forrest Gump (1986) written by Winston Groom, into a comedy-drama film starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wrights, Gary Sinise, and Sally Field. It is undoubtedly an incredibly bittersweet and heart-gripping film, where one can at many times relate to Forrest, and sympathise with him. However, the Academy Award winning film is not only considered one of the greatest for the emotions evoked, but the emotion that is provoked by its truthful portrayal of society.
Forrest Gump is a film that becomes more and more significant, and tear-inducing, as you grow up. Just like the tragic death of Simba’s father in Disney’s film The Lion King (which was released the same year), Forrest becomes more than just the sweet and loveable, chocolate-offering story-teller that sits at a bus stop in Savannah, telling strangers about his life. Rather, Forrest becomes a symbol of all the principles that the founding fathers of America built their country upon, and to a certain extent, a reflection of ourselves.
Forrest Gump is about the rediscovery of lost innocence in a politically-troubled America. Forrest is as honest as he is sincere, and his child-like naivety and virtue blur the violence and political disagreement among opposing social, racial, and gender groups. This notion is especially seen when he returns from Vietnam, receiving the medal of honour whilst completely oblivious to the ongoing anti-war protests. In the scene where activist Abbie Hoffman invites Forrest to discuss the war in Vietnam amongst thousands of spectators, ‘there was only one thing [Forrest] could say about the war in Vietnam’, which was, ‘I lost my best good friend Bubba in Vietnam.’ Despite Forrest’s unprofessional and inconsequential answer, his truthfulness dismisses all political meaning, dissolving all the conflicting debates and unrest into something pure and innocent: love and friendship.
Furthermore, Forrest Gump is about living the simple life. Forrest as a character does not ask for much, unlike Jenny who is constantly unsatisfied: ‘I want to be famous. I want to be a singer like Joan Baez.’ Forrest conversely gains both fortune and fame without setting out to, but out of his own integrity, (‘I made me a promise to Bubba in Vietnam’) and love (‘Run, Forrest, Run!’). In fact, he is entirely oblivious of his achievements: ‘College ran by real fast ’cause I played so much football. They even put me on a thing called the all-America team where you get to meet the President of the United States.’ In the scene where he meets Kennedy, the only appealing thing to Forrest was ‘the food … they was free, I must have drank me about fifteen Dr. Peppers’, insofar the only thing he could utter to Kennedy was, ‘I gotta pee.’ For Forrest, the only reason he gets where he is by listening to his Mama, Jenny, Bubba, and Lieutenant Dan. His absolute honesty and disregard for success make him more loveable than frustrating, especially for a capitalist and materialist audience, suggesting perhaps there is more to life than the tactile possession of valueless ‘things’.
Finally, Forrest Gump is about hope, the unrequited dream of being who you want to be through hard work. It is difficult not to admire Mrs. Gump and her unrelenting belief in her son: ‘What’s normal anyways?’ she questions, challenging the socially constructed definition of a ‘normal level of IQ’. She also teaches Forrest, ‘Don’t ever let anybody tell you they’re better than you, Forrest. If God intended everybody to be the same, he’d have given us all braces on our legs.’ Besides her, every other character questions Forrest’s ability: ‘Are you stupid of something?’ asks a young Jenny, or alternatively Bubba’s mum asks, ‘Are you crazy or just playing stupid’, to which he responds, ‘Stupid is as stupid does.’ Forrest shows us a person’s actions inform you more about them than appearance, as ‘[He] gave Bubba’s momma Bubba’s share’- enough to prove her wrong about Forrest. Ultimately, he surprises everyone and brings hope into other people’s lives, especially that of Lieutenant Dan’s.
Forrest Gump, as a masterpiece of cinema, utilises emotion to convey problematic issues that are concealed and etched into society. In short, Forrest represents society stripped down to its very naked core where innocence and goodness flourishes, where materialism and egocentrism dissolve into the unreachable, where fortune and time are made insignificant, because, in hindsight, all are insubstantial in comparison to friendship, humanitarianism, and love.
This article was published in our November 2016 issue.