“Forrest Gump” is an adaptation from a book with the same name written by Winston Groom. This brilliant movie, directed by Robert Zemeckis, is filled with iconic character archetypes and deeply rich metaphors, which take the viewer back to a time of American innocence and youth. A time when America was forced to grow up and face very real and challenging issues, with far-reaching and long lasting effects, that touched all Americans during that time; racism, drugs, political assassinations and the war in Vietnam.
The character Forrest Gump, masterfully played by Tom Hanks, represents this American innocence, this ignorant bliss that we all share as children. Our hearts and minds untainted by the poisons of humanity’s shortcomings. Jenny, played by Robin Wright Penn, represents the proverbial minefield of complicated social and political issues that divided most of the country during that tumultuous time in American history. Her inability to commit to Forrest is a personification echoed by America’s wavering commitment on its stance on drugs, racial rights, and the war in Vietnam.
From the moment that we are introduced to Forest Gump, the protagonist in this movie, it is quite clear that there is something very unique and special about this person; a distinctive piece of chocolate in a box seemingly filled with millions and billions of other like pieces of chocolate. Forrest has the gift of incorruptibility. He is not a bright man, says the school system, who has his I.Q. ranked below average. They say he is “different,” but not in a good way. Yet, despite these perceived shortcomings, Forrest Gump accomplishes more than any one man or woman could ever hope for in a lifetime. He becomes an All American Collegiate football star, a collage graduate, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor (the highest honor a soldier can obtain), an international ping-pong celebrity, a successful entrepreneur, and eventually, has “more money than Davy Crockett.” He is honored at the White House on three separate occasions, getting to personally meet three important iconic presidents in American history; John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, and Richard Nixon. He even inspires two musical legends; Elvis Presley and John Lennon. There is only one thing that keeps slipping through Forrest’s fingers, which he covets most of all, “his” Jenny.
Forrest meets Jenny on the bud his first day of school. She is the only one who talks to him and offers him a seat next to her. In the words of Forrest, “she had the sweetest voice in the whole wide world,” and she looked “like an angel.” From that moment on, Jenny and Forrest were inseparable; like “peas and carrots.” Unfortunately, Jenny came from a broken and corrupted home. She lost her mother when she was five, and her father physically and sexually abused her and her sisters. This left her emotionally and psychologically scarred for life, and incapable, although deeply wanting, to reciprocate the love that Forrest had for her.
Ironically, at one point of the movie, when Forrest expresses his love for Jenny, she replies, “you don’t know what love is.” She falsely presumes, like everyone else, that because of the perception that Forrest “isn’t a bright man,” that he is incapable of understanding the complexities of love. Nothing could be further from the truth. Forrest’s heart is pure; his feelings are pure. His innocence, like the love of a small child, is the purest form of love anyone can possess. His thoughts and feelings are not corrupted by the outside world. He is motivated by only what his heart tells him to do. The only thing he truly does understand is love; the love of his mother, the love of his war buddies, Bubba and Lieutenant Dan, and ultimately his love for Jenny. Intelligence can be measured in many ways; wisdom, experience, book smarts and I.Q. scores, but if intelligence were to be measured by ones heart, Forrest would be the Einstein of love.
Eventually Jenny does come home to Greenbow, Alabama and stay with Forrest for a very brief period of time. By this time his mother has gone up to heaven, along with his Bubba Blue, and Lt. Dan is miles away tending to his business, Bubba Gump Shrimp, so when Jenny arrives unexpectedly at his doorstep, Forrest is thrilled. Those fleeting days are some of the happiest days of his life, spending all of his time with Jenny, culminated with a passionate night of lovemaking. However, Jenny gets cold feet and runs away in the wee hours of the morning. This devastates Forrest, and so like Jenny, he begins to run too. He runs for “three years, two months, fourteen days, and sixteen hours,” symbolically putting his past, and all of the hurt behind him.
In the opening scene there is a white feather, gracefully, playfully floating with the breeze; a metaphor for how fragile and fleeting life is, and how you never know just where life’s breeze may take you. This metaphor is further emphasized by a famous quote from the movie, “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you gonna get.” However, both his mother and Lieutenant Dan, people whom he admires and cares for deeply, express to him that life is not random, but rather, we are all predestined to have our own place in this world. Throughout the movie Forrest struggles with this conflict, and it isn’t until the very end of the movie, when this man, Forrest Gump, who has been told his whole life that he was not very bright, and that he was stupid and slow, figures it out for us; that life is “a mixture of both.”
Like that feather that fatefully falls at his feet in the opening scene in the movie, Forrest’s destiny is ultimately revealed to us when he meets his son, Forrest Jr., for the very first time. That fruitful night of lovemaking produced a son, which Forrest Sr. becomes solely responsible for after Jenny dies from what is presumed to be acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). All of these seemingly random events in his life all led to this one moment, his destiny; his son. Forrest Gump, as it turns out, is smarter than us all.
Michael A. Walker
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