Cartoon Whimsical Waste.
Trying to defend just one of the messages in Forrest Gump would be a Herculean task, but trying to defend them all is impossible.
American Film Institutes Ranking: #71/100
Awards: Nominated for thirteen winning Best Director, Actor, and Picture.
My Rating: None.
I’ve never given a film no stars before.
I tried to do this top 100 thing in high school since I had too much free time. Back in 2005, I felt like the whole fabric of this movie was just nostalgia. I despised it: all the quotable lines rested on a bedrock of a greatest hits album, and everything else that happened was just fluff. After this last viewing, I’ve hardened my stance.
Reviewing the top moments in history and music for baby boomers to relive their fleeting lives is at least a palatable and a harmless goal. What I missed then was the multiple layers of incoherent moralizing wrapped in the cream puff of pastiche.
A pure and innocent man with some good ol’ fashion values is able to teach Elvis how to dance, meet every president over 30 years, wins a medal of honor, becomes an All-American Football player, graduates college, is an early investor in Apple, becomes an elite ping pong player, provides inspiration for John Lennon’s Imagine, becomes a millionaire, breaks the Watergate scandal, and runs coast to coast.
[ANALYSIS WITH SPOILERS]
There is so much that is awful about this film. It perverts everything, including the very protagonist that is meant to be pure. The only moment of sincerity I detected was the death of Bubba the shrimp enthusiast. A cruel twist of fate for our two lonely and awkward characters as Forrest has his best friend die in his arms.
This sentimental moment gets casted away as the moralizing piles up.
What makes this movie so enraging is how it bundles so much together in an untangle-able ball. What are we supposed to learn from this movie? What is the message from Forrest Gump?
Here are the four messages I could gather, and how they are complete chickenshit when put in the same movie.
Message 1: Attitude is Everything.
The most obvious one is a classic school of thought: attitude is everything.
Forrest is disabled, physically and mentally, before he breaks through these chains with the right mind set. How else could a man with such limitations reach such a pedigree?
No doubt, this is what most people take away from this movie. They recall the pure and precious Forrest staying committed and loyal and figure this is something worth emulating. The problem is that this is buttressed with another message that begins the incoherent bullshit.
Message 2: We Lack Freewill.
He never has any wishes or wants and instead floats through life. Everything that happens to him is pure chance. He runs pass football recruiters and ends up in Alabama; once he graduates from there, he bumps, like physically, into an army recruiter and signs up for Vietnam; after being decorated in Vietnam, someone notices he’s good at ping-pong and he becomes world renown and an important cog in East vs. West.
He’s completely soulless. Not only is he not making any decisions in his life, he’s not even reacting to them. Forrest isn’t a real person. His emotional toolbox consists of a threefold attack of happy, sad, or dimwitted. It’s a poorly written computer program.
This makes the two messages completely at odds: It’s all about his attitude which oddly enough has nothing to do with his life.
It’s a wee bit stereotypical of people with disabilities, right? That they can’t have the ranges of experiences, thoughts, and feelings as the rest of us?
Message 3: Go With the Flow or Be Destroyed.
Then comes the third message: what not to do.
Jenny is Forrest’s childhood friend. She grows up with an abusive parent that shapes the rest of her life. She decides to forge her own path and escape the tides of fate. Her story parallels Forrest’s as they travel through time, but hers is more about the under belly of society. She’s a stripper, a hippie, a cocaine addict. She then dies of AIDS.
If this was simply a story of fate, you could make some trite observations about their two diverging paths and chalk it up to the gods. But, that doesn’t work with the clear difference in attitude between the two characters and the movie’s insistence on Forrest being “pure.” Everything he did was for the “right” reasons, while she instead drowned in hedonistic fun.
Let’s talk about how that “pure” point of view.
Message 4: Be Apolitical.
An early scene in the film has Forrest talking to an African American woman. He brings up why his name is even Forrest:
Now, when I was a baby, Momma named me after the great Civil War hero, General Nathan Bedford Forrest. She said we was related to him in some way. And, what he did was, he started up this club called the Ku Klux Klan. They’d all dress up in their robes and their bedsheets and act like a bunch of ghosts or spooks or something. They’d even put bedsheets on their horses and ride around. And anyway, that’s how I got my name, Forrest Gump. Momma said that the Forrest part was to remind me that sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense.
What a quaint way to bring up a terrorist organization to the very person that experienced the atrocities from it. It’s okay though, because Forrest is just too innocent to know the difference. Instead of getting caught up in politics, he lives a more fulfilled life because he puts his head down with the right attitude and does what life gives him.
What a message!
I get that things are probably too political right now as activism on both fronts has seeped into everything — base entertainment like the NFL, NBA, or movies just can’t keep away from current events. It’s annoying and probably a net loss for society to always be this busy talking about politics.
However, this opposite side of being completely non-political is just as bad. Even though Forrest plays an integral part in integration of the school systems and the horrors of Vietnam, it’s all treated with gum drops and cotton candy. He stumbles through immensely complicated problems and understands none of it. His lack of political insight robs him of even MORE autonomy because he never sees anything beyond what’s in front of his face; he can’t make decisions for the future because frankly I don’t think a future Forrest exists.
This is again juxtaposed with Jenny who is hyper political, you know the person who dies from AIDS.
Round Robin of Shit.
Outside of the messaging, there is the actual movie plot to contend with.
Every movie makes you suspend belief. Forrest Gump asks you to be unconscious.
Making a list of all the things Forrest intersects with would balloon this blog post to 2000 more words. Every major event of 60s-80s America runs through Forrest, but somehow no one ever notices him. You’d think a man that has met every president, been on late night talk shows, decorated veteran, millionaire investor and business owner, and All-American football player would have a little bit of PR to contend with.
The reason we have to listen to all this dithering bullshit is because he’s waiting to get on the right bus to go meet Jenny. After talking for almost two hours to anyone who will listen, a woman brings to his attention that her apartment is only 6 blocks away. He gets up and starts running.
Buy the movie soundtrack.
Other People’s Takes (which I went all positive to balance me out) :
- I Can’t Unsee the Movie: “It’s what our soul needs again. Forrest Gump can show us a different way than the destructive path that we’re on. It’s through how countercultural he is.”
- Screen Jives: “Forest has a very simple view towards life and cuts from the materialism that surrounds him and lives his life like a box of chocolate, you never know what you will get, but we should discover something when you get it.”
- The Simple Cinephile: “So in conclusion, Forrest Gump is still a great movie twenty five years later. Pretty much everything about it is excellent.”