Yesterday I reviewed Finding Forrester (2000), so today I thought why not review another movie with the word “forrest” in it? So here we go with Forrest Gump (1994). I truly hope I can make it to a movie theater soon! I guess seeing new movies would not change the never ending search for some kind of funny hook in opening paragraphs for reviews. Also, that is not meant to take anything away from the 1994 classic. Some of the most iconic cinematic moments of the last couple of decades can be found in this film, making it a natural for any reviewer to discuss.
Forrest Gump is about the life of the title character (played by Tom Hanks) from childhood to adulthood. Along the way, the film holds up a mirror to the events that affected Americans from the 1950s on up into the early 1980s. Actually, that is the whole point of the movie. Forrest is basically a lens for history, and is not really an active agent in the events around him. Most of the story is told by him narrating his past, which sees his mother’s (Sally Field) boarding house visited by Elvis (Peter Dobson), being present when the University of Alabama was integrated, fighting in Vietnam, witnessing anti-war protests, and visiting every president from Kennedy to Nixon, among many other adventures. These things happen to him rather than any conscious decision on his part. Take his recruitment into the army, for example. In a fairly comical moment, an army recruiter is practically on top of him as soon as his college diploma is in his hands, suggesting that joining the military was the best move for his future. With his trademark “Okay,” the film moves on to his training and subsequent wartime service. The one thing that keeps him from being completely robotic is his relationship with Jenny Curran (Robin Wright). She is his boyhood crush, and she is the one who utters the famous line, “Run, Forrest, run!” when he is being chased by bullies. The movie follows both of their lives, and though they veer off in two different directions after college, they are tied together by Forrest writing her letters. Events come to a head when Forrest visits Jenny and finds out that he had fathered her child (Forrest Gump Jr., played by Haley Joel Osment). His dreams are fulfilled when they get married, but she dies shortly afterwards, leaving Forrest to carry on with his son.
Typically when you have a film where the main character has little agency, it is a recipe for disaster. Cinematic events are meant to create sympathy and root for them to triumph over the trials with which they are presented. When you do not have these things, it is almost like there is no movie. As such, one could almost look at Forrest Gump as a documentary. People who watch it, particularly if you were alive during the events depicted in it, I am sure had many twinges of nostalgia that made them sweetly remind themselves, “I remember that.” Yet because it did these things so well, it just makes it work. As a historian who has studied the late twentieth century pretty extensively, this all appeals to me personally. So if you like a dramatic portrayal of American History, this is the film for you.
Despite being such a lovely trip down the collective American memory lane, Forrest Gump is as good and awarding winning as it is because of the dynamic between Forrest and Jenny. Of course, as a Catholic I would have preferred if he had waited until marriage to have sex with Jenny, but at least they were eventually wed to one another. What really appeals to me, though, from a Faith point of view is Jenny’s sickness. After their final re-uniting, she informs Forrest that she has a disease that the doctors are unsure how to treat. This turns out to be AIDS. The care that he provides for her as she wastes away in the same bed his mother passed away in is a corporal work of mercy. There are seven of them and I will not describe them all, but they can help the doer to get to Heaven. The character who does these things is one for which I can root.
Forrest Gump is rated PG-13, and I remember enjoying it when it came out and I was in high school. Then again, I was a history nerd. There are some suggestive parts of it that would be difficult to explain to a younger person. And while the ending is sad, it is still a heart-warming tale that withstands the test of time. I do not think Forrest is necessarily a character to be emulated in terms of his limited intellectual abilities. However, he faces that with a great line, “I am not a smart man, but I know what love is.” He says this when Jenny rebuffs his first marriage proposal. Yet it is in the acknowledgement of love that is all one really needs to know. He shows love not only for Jenny, but also the few close friends he makes along the way and it is beautiful.