Directed by Robert Zemeckis Written by Eric Roth
Forrest Gump has been my favorite movie since I first saw it as a child. There is something that it does, something in the story it tells, how it tells it, and who is in it that hits me in all the right places. Off hand I cannot easily describe it, but in the following essay, I hope to be able to convey to you why Forrest Gump means so much to me. At the same time I understand this is not a film that will enchant every viewer as it has done for me. I hope that people can see it as a great film because personal feelings aside, I still feel as though it is just that, a great film. At the same time, I know for a fact that the personal connection the filmmakers make to me is the single reason it is my favorite film of all time. There is no other explanation. For the rest of this essay, I will prove to you that Forrest Gump will live forever in my life.
I will start my argument with the characters of the story and their portrayals by the great cast. Obviously, the power house of the film is Tom Hanks as the title character Forrest Gump. For the longest time, I knew that this character was the reason I loved the film. Forrest has a low I.Q., yes, but he is not dumb. In many ways he is the smartest character in the story. Why? He follows his heart. While most of the other characters are searching for their destiny and wondering what they should be doing, where their life is going, Forrest simply follows his heart. This would be insignificant if his heart was not as pure and innocent as it is. I once attempted to read the original source material, a novel by Winston Groom, but failed to get very far because I was appalled to find that Forrest was not as innocent as he was in the movie. That is the key to my love of the character.
Because Forrest is so innocent, I connect with him. I would be doing myself a disservice to say that I am that innocent, but honestly, I am still quite innocent, or at least I fancy myself so. As such, I connect with Forrest, I root for him, I appreciate his ways and hope that he can stay that way, no matter who he encounters no matter what experiences he has. He is pure.
Tom Hanks plays him so well. At the same time, so does Michael Conner Humphreys, who plays Forrest as a child. If it wasn’t for him early on, I would not have been hooked by the character from the beginning. Hanks even modeled his adult Forrest on the cadence and mannerisms of Humphreys, a young boy from Mississippi in his first role on screen. Hanks breathes life into a character that already has so much. At the same time, the role needed a charismatic, capable actor to keep that life there, to keep the innocence there, and to keep the joy that Forrest so often exudes throughout.
Along with young Humphreys, the beginning part of the film is carried by Sally Field as Mrs. Gump. Until Hanks shows up to play a major role in the film, the audience has to depend on Field to tell the story alongside Humphreys. Without her performance, the film may be lost altogether. She is central in why Forrest is the way he is. Like Forrest says, “She had a way of saying things so I could understand them.” She had her popular phrases like, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” She had a way of guiding Forrest to where he needed to go. She would comfort him and encourage him. Once he grows up, she does not play as big a role, appearing only seldom, but she is still a presence in Forrest’s life up until the day she dies.
Next we have Lt. Dan Taylor, as portrayed by Gary Sinise. He is such a well written character. We do not meet him until Forrest is in Vietnam; he is the commanding officer. A brief history tells us that he has a history with the military: someone from his family has died in every American war. As such, while Lt. Dan is a good soldier, he fully expects to die in Vietnam. However, Forrest comes to his rescue, something that initially upsets Lt. Dan. He thought it was his destiny to die with his men, proclaiming, “What am I supposed to do now?” He is lost. And as such, when he returns home, a cripple with no legs, he goes into somewhat of a tailspin, becoming a drunk. Meanwhile, Forrest is off pursuing other things once he returns home and we do not see Lt. Dan for sometime until he shows up after Forrest’s appearance on the Dick Cavett show, where he inspired John Lennon to write “Imagine” by the way. We see his defeated condition. Drinking heavily, not taking women seriously, as they hardly take him seriously, finally calling him a “freak” after he defends Forrest after they call him “stupid”. He lives in a scarce apartment and is frustrated with life, struggling to see how he will “walk beside Jesus in the kingdom of Heaven.”
We have a short break from Lt. Dan again until Forrest becomes a shrimp boat captain, like he had promised his army buddy Bubba before he had died in Vietnam. Lt. Dan had off hand promised that if Forrest one day became a captain, he would be his first mate. What is significant here is that he stuck to his word. He had made the promise as a joke, but once it came true, he was a man of his word, and thankfully so because in the end it saved his life. Shrimping is tough going at first, but as fate would have it, they are the only boat to survive a hurricane and they become very rich in their venture. During their struggles at first, Forrest would pray to God for support, an off hand suggestion by Lt. Dan. And during the storm, Lt. Dan seemingly made a connection with God, as Forrest says during one of the most poignant parts of the film, “I think he had found God.”
Again we have another break from Lt. Dan until near the end of the film when we learn that he has “new legs” and is set to be married to Susan. His life has been fulfilled. He thought he was supposed to die, then he thought his life was over because of his disability, but now he has overcome both and found the love of his life.
I save Jenny Curran, played by Robin Wright (Penn), for last because she has become my favorite character in the film. She is Forrest’s lifelong friend and lifelong love. We first meet her as the “voice of an angel”, welcoming Forrest to sit down on the bus when no one else would. We soon learn that she has a troubled home life, connecting instead with Forrest and begging him to say with her “a little longer” so she did not have to go home to her abusive father. She goes so far as to pray to God to make her a bird so she “can fly far, far far away from here.” The trouble with Jenny is that she doesn’t know what her destiny is. Lt. Dan thought he knew, but Jenny does not have a clue, she is a nomad, travelling from place to place, trying to put her past behind her and discover a new life and new destiny. Forrest manages to pop into her life just enough to remind her that he will always be there and always love her, but she is fearful of staying with him for some reason. She has not had luck with men, starting with her father. They have mistreated her, abused her, and ignored her, sometimes getting her into drugs. She lived a hard life, but she spent her life running away from her problems instead of confronting them.
Another moving moment in the film is when Forrest and Jenny are taking a walk in their hometown of Greenbow, Alabama and they come across her childhood home. She realizes that her father ruined her life. He set her off as a fearful, runaway child into the world and she senses that it was this that made her take so long to find Forrest the way she should have long ago. Robin Wright gives such a great performance, better than Hanks in my opinion. Her facial and bodily expressions are what sell me here. It’s in what she doesn’t say and the way she says the things she does that are great. Her subtlety is what I appreciate most.
Now one big sell for me in most films are the visuals and Forrest Gump is no different. Though not one of the best of all time, it is no slouch visually either; there is plenty of beauty to behold. To capture a life such as Forrest’s there is no other way than to show the beauty of life through images. Instead of trying to use words to describe visuals, I will just show you.
Robert Zemeckis was the perfect director for a film like this. It was going to require visual effects. In addition, he knew how to tell a story like this, a wonderful adventure like Back to the Future, but at the same time a quiet, moving film like his later film Castaway. Zemeckis and Eric Roth, the screenwriter, knew that the romance between Forrest and Jenny was the heart and soul of the story, something previous screenwriting attempts failed to recognize. Their collaboration struck magic with a story like this. Moment to moment, the film progresses and the fact that it is simply Forrest sitting on a bench telling his life story because he tried to remember his first pair of shoes is amazing. It’s a story well worth telling. In addition, the fact that it catches up to real time and continues the storytelling into the future, telling of the reunion of Forrest and Jenny, is the best way it could have ended. Originally, the film was supposed to end on the bench, but I don’t see how that would have worked, and I’m glad it ended the way it did. In addition, this may be my favorite score, or at least up there. What Alan Silvestri is able to create is a mood and a sound that perfectly reflects what is on screen. And it compliments the extensive soundtrack that is so capable of capturing the times of the film, the social aspect. The emotional part is left in the very capable hands of Silvestri.
One of the major themes of the film is destiny. It is mentioned multiple times and it begins and ends with a feather “floatin’ around accidental-like on the breeze.” The characters have varying viewpoints in destiny. Lt. Dan thinks it exists, Mrs. Gump thinks life is random, and Jenny and Forrest don’t seem to know. Jenny is trying to find her destiny, but does that mean that it is actually there? To me destiny is a fascinating concept.
I think the most central theme that I connect with in the film is love. The whole film is full of love: paternal love, fraternal love, platonic love, and, of course, romantic love. If it wasn’t for Mrs. Gump, would Forrest be what he was? What about Bubba? If it wasn’t for Forrest, would Lt. Dan or Jenny be who they are? And if it wasn’t for Lt. Dan and Jenny would Forrest be the same? I would think the answer to all of these questions is no, they wouldn’t be. Love is easily my favorite theme in film, in literature, and in life and the way it is dealt with here is wonderful. It’s not simple: around every turn you have Jenny denying Forrest. At one point, Forrest asks Jenny to marry him and she says no, “you don’t want to marry me.” She thinks she is damaged goods, but Forrest tells her that he “may not be a smart man, but [he] knows what love is.” That line breaks my heart every time. “Stupid is as stupid does,” which basically means that Forrest is not stupid because he follows his heart, he loves and he has never done a stupid thing in his life. It’s really endearing to me.
I must have seen the film over 50 times. It never gets old and always manages to make me cry. I know that there are things I didn’t talk about here that I could have too. Whether it be tears of joy for the romance, or how beautiful the world is, or if it’s the tragedy in the film: Bubba dying by the lake in Vietnam, Lt. Dan struggling with surviving, or Jenny confronting all the demons in her life throughout the film, I always end up crying at least somewhat. I do not expect this to be everyone’s favorite film, I don’t even expect everybody to like the film. The connection I have made with it over the years is unique and unbreakable. It will forever hold a place in my heart. It is romance, adventure, comedy, history all rolled into one. It is complimented by astounding visuals, great performances, and an emotion that hits me. With this write-up, I hope to at least inspire people to see it for the first time or at least give it another chance.