Forrest Gump (1994)
“Life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get.”
Director: Robert Zemeckis
Cast: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise
Synopsis: Forrest Gump, while not intelligent, has accidentally been present at many historic moments, but his true love, Jenny Curran, eludes him.
The movie Forrest Gump possesses many of the characteristics of its lead figure, a simpleton who passively observes – and often inadvertently influences – many of the key historical moments of the 1960s and 70s that have since shaped America. The simplicity of both is deceptive, their apparent lack of artifice concealing hidden depths that only become apparent once their whole story has been heard. It’s Gump‘s unthinking acceptance of events that enables him to float unharmed on the winds of change – like the white feather which provides the focus of the movie’s opening and closing scenes – while those around him flounder and fall.
The movie opens with Gump sitting on a bus stop bench. He begins to relate his life story to a succession of characters who take up the seat next to him, and his story provides the film’s narration. Named after an ancestor reputed to have founded the Ku Klux Klan, Forrest has an IQ of just 75, and as a child he quickly becomes a target of ridicule and abuse from his peers. Only Jenny, a poor white girl living with her sexually abusive father, shows him any kindness, and they remain friends throughout the film, even as Jenny grows up to become first a political agitator and then a stripper and drug addict.
Forrest seems to live a charmed life in many ways. Running away from his persecutors, the childhood Forrest sheds the leg braces he wears to correct a back problem and discovers he possesses a near super-human pace which earns him a college scholarship. Following his graduation, Forrest enlists in the army and soon finds himself sent to Vietnam. Under intense enemy fire, Forrest saves the lives of a number of his platoon, including Captain Dan (Gary Sinise), who loses his legs as a result and grows embittered following his discharge from the army.
Forrest Gump dwells on the question of whether life is controlled by destiny or is simply a series of random unconnected events that occasionally collide, without actually providing any answers or opinion. Certainly Forrest, who questions little and has only the faintest understanding of all that happens around him – and can therefore be said to have no understanding or belief in the concept of destiny – sails through life largely untouched by its hardships, while Dan, who believes it was his destiny to die in battle, and Jenny, who struggles against a seemingly pre-ordained life of misery and hardship, both have a hard time of it.
As well as sharing the essence of its main character, the movie Forrest Gump also has a tendency to drift along, allowing its story to be buffeted by a sequence of historical events. Forrest’s unnoticed influence on American culture includes teaching Elvis how to shake his hips, providing John Lennon with the inspiration for his hit song ‘Imagine,’ and exposing President Nixon’s involvement in the Watergate Scandal. It’s a shaky conceit, this practice of inserting Forrest into factual moments which, because we know he is a fictional character, do little to further the theory that everything’s coincidental.
At over two hours, Forrest Gump is too long, and the weak ending suggests that the maker’s struggled to come up with a conclusion that didn’t come across as contrived. Even then, they didn’t really succeed. Everything seems to be tied up too conveniently, with Jenny performing an abrupt about-turn in order to achieve some kind of redemption. Strangely, the final scene seems to suggest that life is a series of repetitions with only minor variations which surely flies in the face of much of what has gone before. But then that’s symptomatic of Forrest Gump the movie’s refusal to adopt a definitive point of view on the themes it pretends to explore.
And that’s all I have to say about that…
(Reviewed 22nd September 2012)