Reflections on "Forrest Gump"
Welcome to my page of thoughts on the Robert Zemeckis film starring Tom Hanks, based on the book by Winston Groom.
I first saw the film in 1994, shortly after it was released, and although I thoroughly enjoyed it, I found it difficult to put my finger on exactly what it was that appealed so much. It is a difficult film to describe and define, and on the face of it, it is hardly promising material for a cinema hit - with no obvious dramatic theme pursued throughout the film (though several themes are frequently revisited), this is the episodic story of a less than intelligent, but very decent young man in 60s and 70s America.
The film is driven by the very strong central character who elicits sympathy, but who also inspires dignity and nobility. Indeed, the character is the film and it is through this character that the film treats a whole variety of themes - friendship, loyalty, courage, determination, war, fame, wealth, and especially destiny and luck, to mention but a few! Although lacking themed structure, the film grips as we follow various episodes in Forrest's life, and so the style of the film is quite fitting as we are following one man's path through life, a life driven by chance.
Beautifully made, it is written and directed with the perfect balance of drama, pathos and humour. The performances throughout are excellent, with Tom Hanks in superb form - totally natural and convincing. Indeed his performance is the very hub of the film. If the audience didn't genuinely care for and admire the character, there would be no film - it is only funny and touching because Forrest is so pure and child-like, yet fundamentally decent and likeable. Hanks manages to combine humour, pathos and dignity - quite a feat!
Much has been said about the technical aspects and the performances in the film, but to my disappointment I have found very little on the net with regard to the themes, so I thought I would add my ideas on the film, if only to stimulate debate.
The film opens with a long shot of a falling feather, and in many ways this summarises what the film is all about as the feather is blown on the winds of chance, with all sorts of possibilities for its fate, eventually landing at Forrest's feet having been propelled by gusts created by nature, people and other events. This may be seen as a metaphor for life and the way events occur by chance and exercise influence over others' lives. Of course, the key thing is that when it lands at Forrest's feet he treats it as something precious, something to be appreciated and kept. This may be contrasted with the attitude of others who busy themselves with their self-centred lives and who fail to appreciate the beauty, rarity and value of a moment or an opportunity.
Another "existential" aspect of life which is brought out in the film is the way in which people's lives mesh into others' lives and impact upon them. Forrest is able to extract something good from potentially bad situations, and whether by luck or by determination, he makes the best of things, showing a relentlessly positive outlook.
For example, as a result of rejection by several kids on the school bus, Forrest meets and befriends Jenny, and when bullies pursue Forrest, he discovers a talent for running which in turn will involve him in football and will play a part in obtaining a college degree. At nearly every stage in his life Forrest accepts and embraces fate or opportunity - does this suggest that others who are more intelligent are too clever or preoccupied to see and appreciate things of real value? Forrest is relatively simple (but principled), and he gets on with life, showing respect and tolerance toward others, while other more "intelligent" members of society appear to create problems for themselves and others by thinking too much.
There are several nods at moments and people in American history and Forrest's "contributions" to them - his influence on Elvis, meeting various Presidents, informing police of the Watergate burglary, and being present as Governor Wallace protests against desegregation among others. Here one point may be that involvement in historic moments may happen to anyone, but we also see these moments through Forrest's eyes, and as he is unfettered by selfishness or considerations of position or racism, his purity is both amusing and enlightening as we see these events with fresh eyes.
Much is made of Forrest's "stupidity" in the film, but another way of looking on this is to see him as "uncluttered" or pure of heart. He is decent and principled and as such inspires others. He is a beacon of devotion, friendship and love, whose positive attitude encourages others to find a positive solution for themselves. Others follow blindly when he takes up running - desperate to share in his way of dealing with problems, though in fact Forrest offers no solutions, but people are desperate to have something or someone to believe in, and Forrest fulfils their needs.
Having saved Dan from certain death in Vietnam, Dan is initially far from pleased, but eventually comes round to seeing things differently and is grateful to Forrest for saving him. Once again, Forrest's uncluttered and positive way of seeing things is proved right in the long term, while negativity is seen as self-perpetuating and potentially unhealthy.
Of course, using an "idiot" to point out society's weaknesses is not new - Peter Sellers and Hal Ashby did it fifteen years earlier in "Being There", and Voltaire hinted at the redundancy of intellectualism in "Candide" over two centuries ago. However, Forrest is all the more successful because he is touching and affecting, as well as entertaining - a rare feat which is to be savoured and appreciated.
My thanks for taking the time to read this page - I hope you found it useful. I would be delighted to hear from anyone wishing to discuss these notes or the film itself, and I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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