By Marc S. Sanders
There’s not much that I can say to further praise the merits of Robert Zemekis’ Forrest Gump. It’s a film of legend though it’s a sore spot for die-hard fans of Pulp Fiction, which competed for Best Picture in 1994. Guess which film won. Tom Hanks won the Oscar for the second year in a row, following his outstanding turn in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia. Zemekis won Best Director. Eric Roth’s screenplay won as well.
What holds a lasting impression for me about Forrest Gump is the sweeping travel through time of a man with limited intelligence but unlimited willingness to explore and participate, whether it be as a Ping Pong Champion, a Medal of Honor recipient for heroism during the Vietnam War, a millionaire entrepreneur of a shrimping boat business, or a man who just felt like running from one corner to the next of the North American continent. Forrest Gump never knew to compromise a belief he had, probably because he was never aware of the capability to compromise in the first place.
An interesting theme occurs throughout Roth’s screenplay (adapted from the novel by Winston Groom). The people that Forrest encounters are always shouting their ideals and agendas. Yet no one seems to listen. Not just Forrest though. No one at all listens to each other. Lieutenant Dan (Oscar nominee, Gary Sinese) shouts for an immediate evacuation of a hostile territory under attack and no one on the other end of the line, appears to be listening to him. He orders Gump to leave him there, but Forrest does not listen. Forrest only focuses on rescuing his friends, Lt. Dan and Bubba (Mykelti Williamson). What exactly were Americans like the Hippie movements, the War Veterans, the Black Panther party, even the men in the burlesque nightclubs, as well as the various assassinations attempting to accomplish really? Did they accomplish anything? Did any of these parties make an impactful change, or did they just like to hear themselves talk? Did they just want the recognition for only themselves and no one else? When Forrest meets up with his love Jenny (Robin Wright), in a gorgeous caption in front of the Washington Monument (often shown during Oscar film compilations), he has just shared his thoughts over a loudspeaker, unaware that not one of the thousands of war protestors could hear him because the microphone had been unplugged. Later that day, a Black Panther participant only cares to wave his finger and shout his agenda in Forrest’s face. Is Forrest interested? Is he even listening? Is the Jenny, the hippie and her protestor boyfriend listening? Like many Americans, Forrest was only concerned with what was most important to him; Jenny. When Forrest develops a following during his cross country run, everyone is looking for his purpose and his message, and Forrest is unaware that he needed to offer one. Americans are always looking for the next best following. When Forrest passes the Grand Canyon and stops running, the parade of lost souls behind him shouts, “Now what are we supposed to do?” Forrest doesn’t listen. He just walks away and declares he’s tired. America during the mid twentieth century was lost. Forrest was not. Forrest just went in the direction in front of him.
Zemekis pulls an interesting trick of contrasting Forrest against other regulars. The nurse who sits on the bench next to Forrest is more interested in reading a mundane two dimensional issue of “People Magazine.” A man listening to Forrest’s tale of rescue in Vietnam was only concerned with the bullet that struck Forrest in the butt, not the men he saved or the loss of his dear friend Bubba. The old codgers who hang around the local barber shop in Greenbough, Alabama just watch the exploits of Forrest as the years go by. Their hair gets grayer and their skin gets more wrinkled, and life just passes them by while Forrest passes life by. It’s a subtle, yet effective, device that I appreciate on repeat viewings.
Sally Field contributes to the disregard Forrest has for menial issues. If Forrest is going to be denied going to a regular school because his intelligence level falls a few points below average, she will make certain that does not interfere even if it means pleasuring the principal. Mama Gump has the wit and intelligence. Forrest does not. However, their commonality shows in their disregard for what keeps us from living life to the fullest. Without Mama as his influence, Forrest would never have met the President again, and again, and again.
Mama reminds Forrest that “Life is like a box of chocolates…” You know the rest! It doesn’t matter what we get, as long as we get what we pursue.