Written by: Eric Roth
Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field
Encapsulating an entire life comes with such difficulty because so many minor moments within each person’s existence cumulatively create the final product. Utilizing a fictional character and embracing this particular framework allows for the incredible heights of Forrest Gump but its narrow viewpoint on the way of life keeps it back from becoming the masterful story many want it to be.
Beginning his life with physical ailments leading to ridicule, Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) has a whole life ahead of him where people could take advantage of him. However, his sincerity in everything he does leads him towards historical American events along with the alluding affection for his childhood sweetheart, Jenny (Robin Wright).
Even without seeing this film, so many lines have injected themselves into popular American culture. Whether it be “Run, Forrest, Run” or “Life is like a box of chocolates,” Forrest Gump has left an indelible mark on those who watched it. Certainly, it’s easy to see why as it feels like a complete encapsulation of Forrest as a man. Mocked for having a low IQ and initially struggling physically, he feels like the ultimate underdog story comes to life of a man who always makes the right decisions. The man has no prejudice in his heart and through all of the historical events he happens to walk through, his honest approach to life shines through consistently.
This, without a doubt, is what adds to the specialness of this film and the titular character. Even with everything holding back Forrest from what people would consider success, his tenderness and willingness to help others always sends a strong message. Being sincere and good will allow anyone to succeed. The cynical world around us has made many of us look at this mindset with plenty of doubt to an unfortunate degree. This film chooses to relish in the goodness of one individual but the overall message gets clouded in the way it pits Forrest against the love of his life, Jenny.
Outside of his mother, Forest receives the first real piece of compassion from a young Jenny when she allows him to sit next to her on the school bus. With other students not offering the new kid a seat, Jenny does the opposite and welcomes him in, which blossoms into a wonderful friendship with bits of affection peaking through. Just as this film follows Forrest’s journey, we get to see snippets of Jenny and how she progresses through life. The dichotomy of their journeys says plenty about the more sinister approach this film has to portray Forrest, which does take away some of the shine and joviality the narrative hopes to emulate.
While Forrest does all of the honorable things in life, including playing football for the local university and serving his time in the army during the Vietnam war, the troubling contrast set to Jenny’s journey becomes questionable. The film certainly puts in the effort of moralizing their decisions to a concerning degree. Sure, Jenny is shown abusing drugs but not everything she’s involved with needed to be seen as some large negative life decision. One of the two troubling depictions comes with Jenny seeing Forrest after speaking for peace in Vietnam. Her garb and attitude certainly put her within a “hippy” group and everyone else around her is depicted as some sort of miscreant to the point where her “hippy” boyfriend slaps and Forrest retaliates. It simply becomes comical when the man advocating for peace creates senseless violence and the man in uniform corrects the issue through his own means. It demonstrates how the film wants to frame these “hippies” as opposed to someone as honorable as Gump. The scene also shares the presence of the Black Panthers, who also get displayed in an interesting light. These instances display this film as more than just an interest in showing the prevailing sincerity of Gump but also bringing down ideologies it saw as detractors of a meaningful society. Utilizing Jenny to this degree of depiction feels incredibly harsh, especially when much of her perspective throughout the film gets completely left out in favor of the titular character.
Despite the glaring red flags this film has with its moralization, it undoubtedly hits its emotional beats to an incredibly effective degree. The moments Forrest shares with both Jenny and his mother portrayed by Sally Field demonstrate a pure sense of humanity that has connected millions to this story. No matter all of the impressive feats he achieves in life, Forrest is simply a man who loves his mother and Jenny. This never gets lost amidst all of the other nonsense being pushed, which allows me to really enjoy this film overall.
Anchoring this entire story is the legendary Tom Hanks and whenever I think of his performance here, it’s hard not to reckon back to the discussion of this character in Tropic Thunder. Hanks handles this character with a warm level of care only he could do where he pays respect to the ailments of the character without letting it become a sideshow. It demonstrates a perfect combination of casting and actor seeing as the audiences’ relationship with Hanks informs much of the performance and the sincerity flowing from the work he does with the role of Gump.
Forever a film wedged into the American cinematic landscape, Forrest Gump has its major red flags but ultimately tells the fulfilling story of one man and in the silly ways he intersects with some of the biggest events in modern history. Adding Gump into the old footage gets a bit wonky at times but it works as much as it needs to in order for the point to come across.