Gump Like Me
With Forrest Gump, the fable of the dimwitted but goodhearted Alabaman who was, in his own words, a “football star, war hero, national celebrity, and shrimp-boat captain,” director Robert Zemeckis takes his work to a new level of maturity. His previous films — the likes of Back to the Future, which he directed, and Romancing the Stone, which he wrote — are, for the most part, fun and highly entertaining, but Forrest Gump has an intricacy and depth that is more rewarding while still being enormously engaging.
Gump is one of the early movies to showcase the possibilities of CGI (computer-generating images), demonstrating that it isn’t just science-fiction films that benefit from advanced computer technology. From the feather that floats down from the sky to settle at Forrest’s feet to the news footage of Forrest with presidents and newsmakers, Gump shows that a whole new kind of story can now be told — and instead of looking to the future, as many films using CGI do, Forrest Gump looks into the past and examines our relationship with it.
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks), through no effort of his own, continually finds himself in the middle of important, influential events — initiating the Watergate scandal, for instance, or inspiring John Lennon to write “Imagine.” Some criticize Gump as being anti-intellectual for giving a simpleton such central roles in so many crucial moments in time. But I prefer to see Forrest’s involvement as a metaphor for how we all move through time. Forrest may be causing and witnessing history without understanding what he does and sees, but so do we all — we can never know the full ramifications of all we do at the moment we do it, and events later recognized as pivotal don’t always seem that way at the time, even to those of us far more intelligent and self-aware than Forrest.
The theme of history’s continuity and chains of people linking backward and forward through time is touched upon often in Gump. Of his friend from Vietnam, Lt. Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise), Forrest says, “Somebody in his family had fought and died in every single American war.” At one point as Forrest tells his tale while waiting for a bus, a woman with a little boy listens and reminisces with Forrest. The child, I think, is meant to suggest a passing on of stories, joining Forrest’s history — which is indeed the history of us all — with the future.
Destiny is another concept Gump explores, without ever really resolving what it is. Forrest’s Vietnam buddy Bubba (Mykelti Williamson), grievously injured, wonders “Why’d this have to happen?” Dan, raging to Forrest, who rescued him from certain death, cries, “I had a destiny. I was supposed to die in the field with honor.” Even Forrest eventually asks his mother (Sally Field), “What’s my destiny, Momma?”
Forrest speaks of the “people passing through” the rooming house his mother ran when he was a child. He once unwittingly helped create a star who would change American culture when he danced a strange little dance for a then-unknown Elvis, who was staying at the house. I think all of us are like Forrest, like the people passing through the rooming house — paradoxically, we all create history while simultaneously being swept along helplessly in its wake.
And that’s all I have to say about that.
Oscars Best Picture 1994
AFI 100 (1998 list): #71
unforgettable movie moment:
Forrest, shanghaied into a war protest at the Lincoln Memorial, is reunited with Jenny (Robin Wright), the pair of them wading into the reflecting pool, out of the crowd, to embrace.