One film that captures both your imagination and your heartstrings is the classic American film, Forrest Gump. Released in theaters over two decades ago in 1994, it has become one of the most beloved films of all time and enjoyed high amounts of praise from both critics and moviegoers alike. The film was notable for the fact that it won many different awards and accolades such as the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director for Robert Zemeckis, Best Actor for Tom Hanks, among many other distinctions. I would argue that this film along with Big helped to launch Tom Hanks as one of Hollywood’s rising stars and set him on a monumental acting career, which included many future box office hits. Five years ago, the U.S. Library of Congress recognized Forrest Gump as being a film that is historically, culturally, and aesthetically significant and selected it for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
Forrest Gump is about an everyman who has a slight disability of not being as smart as everyone else with an IQ of 75. However, despite him learning this fact as a child and being bullied about it, he manages to not let this handicap ruin his life but instead learns to preserve and make the most of things. The story of Forrest Gump takes place over the tumultuous and transformative decades of the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s when America went through a number of political, social, and economic changes. One of the true delights of this film is seeing how many of these changes Forrest witnesses and is actually apart of.
During the film, we see him shaking his hips with Elvis Presley at his mom’s guesthouse in Alabama, serving in the U.S. Army after being drafted in the Vietnam War, starting a fight during the midst of a Black Panther group meeting, and meeting Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon. Despite his lack of formal intelligence, Forrest does not let that stop him from being an ‘All-American’ college football player, a veteran of the Vietnam War, a shrimp boat, a wealthy man due to his investments in a little company called Apple Inc, and lastly and most important, a loving son, friend, father, and husband. In addition to serving in Vietnam and witnessing Elvis Presley in person, Forrest also helps a black woman become the first African-American to integrate into an all-white school, helps to break the seal on the Watergate scandal when he sees people breaking into DNC headquarters, and becomes an international ping-pong star while helping to improve relations between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. He’s an every man who takes life as it comes regardless of the good or bad and finds himself involved in extraordinary events that shape American history.
As Forrest gets wrapped up in these events over the course of the film, he takes an almost child-like innocence to them even in the cases of war, violence and prejudice. He’s aware of these things and knows right from wrong but tries to live a simple and uncomplicated life despite all he’s been through. He wants to be a good son to his mother; he desires to be with the love of his life, Jenny, to have good friendships with his fellow soldier Bubba and Lieutenant Dan, and to be a responsible father to his son at the end of the movie. He may lack intelligence in terms of critical thinking and solving problems; he has the ability to display maturity, show emotional intelligence and is able to show kindness and love towards others despite his differences with them.
While he may not know his father, and his wife Jenny disrespected and left him in the cold over the years when she was dealing with her own demons, he has the ability to look past these grievances and live a good and fulfilling life. Forrest endures other traumas and heartbreak in the Vietnam War when he sees his fellow soldiers and friends killed or disabled like his good friend Bubba and his lieutenant, Dan Taylor. While he could have given up on life or become bitter and disenchanted, Forrest instead finds new purposes in playing ping-pong around the world, starting a very profitable shrimp boat company with his old Lieutenant Dan, and runs around the United States for three years straight to help get past those losses and betrayals that has haunted him. Forrest is an example of a man who never gives up and keeps moving forward despite his past. He simply does not let his past define him. Like all of us, he’s been giving good and bad fortune but he makes the best of things regardless of the circumstances.
During the long run scene of Forrest’s, people become inspired by his example and ask him for advice and guidance. He doesn’t have much to say to them but they happen to find comfort in the fact that he’s doing this just for its’ own sake. Forrest simply can’t help them all figure life as they have to each follow their own path and find inspiration wherever they can. Once one path ends, another one opens up to be explored afterwards. As Forrest states when reporters ask him why he’s running, “I just felt like running.” Sometimes, you don’t need a reason to be doing something if you feel like it.
While many other people are inspired and are given hope from Forrest’s example, Forrest is inspired by other people such as his mother played by the wonderful Sally Field, along with his fellow soldier Bubba and his Lieutenant Dan. His mother teaches him about love, respect, and finding your own path in life. She gives Forrest a quote on her death-bed that he takes to heart and has become one of the most famous movie quotes of all-time. “Life is like a box of chocolates, Forrest, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Forrest asks his mom what his destiny may be. She tells him that he can’t answer that for him and ask he needs to figure that out for himself. She does let him know that it was her destiny to be his momma and that she’s very proud of the man that he has become.
Forrest’s relationship throughout the film with Jenny is complicated and unfortunate as the ways their lives converge and diverge leads to pain and heartbreak but also compassion and understanding. Jenny is Forrest’s first and only love. They grow up together and spend time getting to know each other. Forrest is a breath of fresh air for Jenny who has to deal with an abusive father at home. Even through college, they remain close but still friends.
Jenny’s path through life takes her to some lonely places and she deals with abusive boyfriends, drug abuse, and hostile friends like the Black Panther party. Even with her flaws, Forrest still loves her as always and asks her to marry him. She eventually agrees to be his bride making him the happiest man in the world. Tragically, their marriage is cut short by the fact that Jenny has HIV/AIDS and has become really sick. However, the love that Jenny shares for Forrest allows them to have a son together before she passes away. While a devastating loss for Forrest like it was to lose his mother and Bubba, his best friend, Forrest’s destiny is renewed in the love he has for his son, Forrest Jr. as he takes care of him after Jenny’s death.
Forrest Gump is a special movie that has resonated with millions of people around the world. Many folks have been inspired by the message of this movie and have gone to improve their lives in enumerable ways. The story of Forrest Gump is a story of hope, love, perseverance, respect, and tolerance. Anybody who watches Forrest Gump will get something out of the movie because of its’ overall message. Like the feather that floats by Forrest at the beginning and ending of the film, you make the most of what we’re dealt with in life and it’s you alone who can shape your destiny through the choices you make, the people you befriend, and the impact you create. We may all be floating on the breeze like a feather unsure of where we’re going but we can steer the direction of that feather to new places and new conclusions.
Forrest Gump is a special character in a special movie that rekindles for viewers what they love about the big screen by showing our capacity as human beings to love, cry, laugh, and share good times and bad with those friends and family as Forrest does. Anybody who watches Forrest Gump can relate to Forrest and what he goes through. That is what makes this movie such an endearing, popular film and why it will last for many more years as one of the most iconic pieces of work in American cinema.