Generally speaking, I try to split the time I spend watching movies between revisiting those I have already seen and exploring new ones. While I often go a few years in between revisiting some movies, I always make it a point to revisit my favorites on a regular basis. While some people fail to see the point of re-watching a movie multiple times, like many that visit this site, I find new things to appreciate and find the same, if not a greater, level of enjoyment on each revisit, which brings me to the movie that I am focusing on for this column: FORREST GUMP. It is one of my absolute favorites. I love this movie so much, in fact, that it is the perennial favorite for the movie my wife and I watch to celebrate my birthday, which I did recently, allowing me the yearly chance to revisit this favorite.
"My Momma always said you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes."
Almost two decades after its release, FORREST GUMP enjoys a somewhat polarizing and often under-appreciated legacy. While the film was nominated for and won multiple oscars, including Best Picture and a second consecutive Best Actor for Tom Hanks, cementing him as one of Hollywood's favorite leading men, the film is often lumped into a category of Best Picture winners that won as the result of timing rather than pure merit. Certainly, there were a number of great movies that came out in 1994, including THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, PULP FICTION and the LION KING domestically as well as such international masterpieces as Wong Kar-Wai's CHUNGKING EXPRESS and Krzysztof Kieslowski's RED. But Forrest Gump, while beloved by its fans, is often left off many "best-of" lists and forgotten by critics, and I can not for the life of me understand why, as to me, it has always been the perfect blend of entertainment and art and the embodiment of movie magic.
As most people know, the movie centers around the eponymous character, who we first meet at a bus stop in a small town in the South, thanks to the feather of fate that symbolizes one of the film's major themes. The man at the bus stop takes the feather and places it in his favorite
book for safekeeping. He then takes out a box of chocolates and strikes up a conversation with the woman sitting next to him, who is wearing a pair of clean, white sneakers. The shoes remind the man of the first pair of shoes he can remember owning and this is the starting point for the extraordinary journey upon which we are about to embark.
Recreating American history.
The story starts with young Forrest Gump, who suffers not just from the physical handicap of having to wear braces on his legs to correct a defect in his spine, but who also has an IQ of 75, 5 points lower than the state's minimum acceptance level for public schooling. Forrest's mother, played by Sally Field, wants to make sure her son is afforded the same opportunities as everyone else and seduces the man who will allow her son to attend public schooling.
This sets up one of the major themes of the movie. Mrs. Gump, is so determined to fight for Forrest's inclusion in a "normal" life that she will stop at nothing to assure he gets it. The character of Mrs. Gump represents the way of life centered around the idea that things are not destined to happen, but instead, "you have to do the best with what God gave you," as she tells her son later in the film.
On the bus ride on his first day of school, when he is shunned by his peers, Forrest meets Jenny, who becomes the love of his life. As Forrest says, the two are "like peas and carrots" all the way through high school, until college and then the circumstances of life separate them. Jenny weaves in and out of Forrest's life, perhaps freeing him from a "normal" life to discover the destiny that awaits him. Jenny experiences the many complications of life that Forrest is able to avoid, joining in the hippie movement, the political scene, getting heavily into the drug scene of the 60's and 70's and ultimately, succumbing to the then-mysterious HIV/AIDS virus.
Much as Jenny comes in and out of Forrest's life through the course of the movie, Forrest's story is interwoven with the story of America during this time. After breaking
the shackles of his leg braces when he flees from bullies, which Forrest describes as a "miracle," Forrest goes on to play key roles in some of the major events of the 60's and 70's. Forrest plays football at the University of Alabama under legendary coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, fights honorably in Vietnam, after he discovers he "fit in the army like one of them round pegs," unwittingly tips off authorities to the Watergate scandal, meets multiple presidents, sets off the jogging movement of the late 70's and starts a multi-million dollar shrimp company, investing in Apple computers along the way, all set to the film's unforgettable soundtrack full of rock classics.
Together through life.
I have read many times over the years the film's critics argue there is a great deal of oversimplification of a very complicated and turbulent period in American history within FORREST GUMP. Similarly, I have read those same critics take issue with the many unbelievable events that Forrest always seems to be a part of along the way. But I don't believe anyone believes the movie is meant to be a realistic depiction of an individual man. Rather, Forrest represents the America of the second half of the 20th Century. While he is innocent and naive because of his perceived disability, he is also of greater virtue and simplicity than most of us are able incorporate into our lives. He is affected by these events, yet he has a life all his own that he strives to get the most out of while not altogether avoiding the heavier themes of life, which the film does an excellent job of exploring.
While films like Malick's recent THE TREE OF LIFE have dealt with the duality of life and the "way of nature and the way of grace", this is indeed a lofty and often unnerving idea, generally left out of mainstream Hollywood films. Forrest is in a unique situation in that he does not have the intellectual capacity to explore these ideas in profound depth, yet picks up this idea in the same way everyone else does. In fact, I have often thought that Forrest, despite, or more probably,
because of, his being "a bit on the slow side," as his mother says, he is able to circumvent the extreme complications and unease that comes from the tendency of all of us to dwell on questions that have no definitive answers.
A man alone with his thoughts.
In other words, there is an ancient simplicity in the world, despite how complicated we make it. Forrest simply lives his life and for this reason, he is able to extract such a vast array of remarkable experiences from it. He does not get bogged down with over-thinking one particular choice, like many of us do. He, instead, makes choices based on his ideals or what knowledge he has amassed along the way, while allowing fate to step in when it chooses to do so, which is perhaps the grandest and heaviest theme of the film. Moreover, it is the masterful exploration of this theme that allows FORREST GUMP, in my opinion, of course, to transcend a forgettable Best Picture winner to a level of greatness, as remarkable in its ability to so vividly create a time capsule of the turbulent era of the second half of 20th Century America as for its ambition and successful execution of infusion of philosophical introspection.
At the end of the film, when Forrest is speaking to Jenny's headstone, the movie's depth is revealed. Forrest continues his narration, this time to his deceased love, and soon switches to an emotional intensity so moving, I defy anyone to watch it and not get choked up. In this monologue, Forrest laments how much he misses Jenny and wonders what life is about. "Jenny, I don't know if Momma was right or if, if it's Lieutenant Dan. I don't know if we each have a destiny, or if we're all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time." This summarizes the philosophy of Forrest Gump. It is not a simple notion, like one might expect from a man of Forrest's "limited" intelligence, but it is one that, for me, gets as close to the heart of life as any other movie, and this is the main reason why I will always love this movie.
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This column explores the fascinating world of movies, through a slightly different perspective. There is no greater reflection into the soul of man than through the camera's lens.
I am a freelance writer from Winston-Salem, NC. I have been fascinated by movies since I was a child and have spent my free time on an unquenchable journey of exploration into films and the meaning and messages behind them.|
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