1994’s Forrest Gump is a film about which I have always had mixed emotions. In that year, I felt the innovative and clever Pulp Fiction was robbed out of the best picture award in favor of a safer, more mainstream film. As I rewatched the 142 Tom Hanks sort-of epic, sort-of love story many years later, I found a different set of mixed emotions.
The movie is a fictional tale of a mentally challenged man from rural Alabama who overcomes a back problem, falls in love, plays college football, joins the Army and goes to Vietnam and saves his lieutenant, plays ping-pong, starts a shrimping business, invests in Apple, runs for 3 years, mows the grass, has a child, gets married, has his wife die of AIDS and along the way meets every President, uncovers Watergate, teaches Elvis Pressley to dance, helps John Lennon write Imagine, invents the Shit Happens bumper sticker and the Have a Nice Day logo and a bunch of other stuff.
It is alternating parts the story of Forrest and a visual effects laden trip through history. Forrest is an easy character to empathize with and there are moments of genuine emotion in viewing the world through his simplistic eyes. The character arc of love interest Jenny is compelling, a sexually abused child who struggles with drug abuse and direction throughout a lot of her early adulthood and contemplates suicide at several points before finding her purpose as a mother, only to discover she is HIV positive. The very thing that makes Jenny compelling make Forrest a less interesting character – for all of her complexity and flaws, Gump has simplicity and always doing the right thing. For all the difficult decisions that Jenny has to make in her life, Gump has wonderful things fall in his lap. He is likable and Tom Hanks, possibly the greatest actor of his generation, does the role justice, but there is ultimately nothing relatable about Forrest Gump – he is a cute puppy, not a complete human. He faces adversity, sure (his friend Bubba dies, his mother dies, Jenny dies), but he never faces MORAL adversity – never makes the wrong choice, does the non-noble thing, gets himself in trouble.
The interweaving of Gump in history goes from cute (aw, he met the President as a ping pong player) to tiring (even his character seems bored with meeting the President by the third time) to downright insulting (the surface treatment of important social movements such as Anti-Vietnam protests or the Black Panthers is kind of insulting to anyone who is an actual activist – sort of a white privileged time machine ride). It’s a gimmick that is way over used and is ultimately reductive. The visual effects are cool, though.
The film also lacks even a basic sense of realism. Okay, if I suspend disbelief that one man of limited intellect can do all the things that he did and be involved in all the history that he was involved in, let’s just take a few basic examples. How exactly does one run for 3 years? In the 250 mile stretch between Phoenix, Arizona and Las Vegas, Nevada, where does one eat? Find water? Sleep? How does the greatest Running Back in the history of Alabama football get recruited to the Army and not the NFL? How does Lt. Dan, a man with no Wall Street connections, get in on Apple pre-IPO?
Forrest Gump is entertaining, mass produced tripe that appeals to our desire for a more innocent time. It produces some great quotes (I personally far prefer “sometimes, there aren’t enough rocks” to “life is like a box of chocolates”) but is ultimately emotionally shallow and manipulative. In turns out I like it less now than I did in 1994.
Production Quality 10/10
Rewatch Value 8/10
Total Score: 30/40