How? This is Exhibit A for the prosecution. The MPAA is more concerned with intended audience instead of content in the film. This movie has just a lot of nudity in it. Admittedly, it's rarely full frontal, but that is there to a certain extent. There's drug use, the f-bomb, constant language, sex, gore, war violence, non-war violence and cursing the almighty. Yet, it still gets a PG-13.
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
You know what makes me want to write this even less than I wanted to before? Logging in and finding what work I've done towards it gone. I'm already going to have a cynical edge to this review, so I'm just giving the heads up now. Mr. Zemeckis, it isn't fair the tone I'm presenting to your film. I'm just writing against a clock because I've gotten all of my work done and I only have a few minutes before I start recording my podcast. My media empire is closing in on me, guys. To think, I have to give a presentation on Benedictine faith next week. Yeah, this is all giving me palpitations.
It's pretty cool for film teachers to hate Forrest Gump. There was a time in my life where I felt like I had to dunk on this movie. It is very dunkable, from a snob's perspective. Everyone who is not a snob loves this movie. It's a very lovable film. I think a lot of that comes from your opinion about nostalgia. I love nostalgia. Heck, I live for nostalgia, even if I refuse to admit it. But at least I'm open-minded to say that my nostalgia isn't the only kind that should be celebrated. (That said, I'm waiting for my Real Ghostbusters revival...again.) So it's Boomer nostalgia, perhaps the most universally accepted nostalgia. Yeah, I get tired of it. I'm already tired of writing about it, so that might say how little I get excited to see Vietnam again. But I realized while I was prepping for my paper on the visual travel narrative that I was unironically having a good time. The movie is really watchable. I shouldn't be surprised. Robert Zemeckis seems to know what he's doing and, in this, he made a really fun movie that is oddly dark as the day is long. (Now he's got me talking like him. Gosh.) I'm far from being a Forrest Gump fan. I think that the movie is still weirdly problematic and pandering. But Forrest Gump is an exercise in vulnerability. A lot of people have tried to capture Forrest Gump's sensibilities and only a few have gotten close. It is hard to be completely distanced from a protagonist who is mentally disabled. (I'm not sure of the proper term or diagnosis for Forrest. I know that he has an IQ of 76, but I really don't have enough information from this movie to go beyond that point.) He is the ultimate sympathetic character. We understand why he is treated the way he is throughout the film. The stigma of the mentally challenged is all over this movie. I know that when the movie was coming out, there were theories that Forrest was a genius and the 76 IQ was simply a misdiagnosis. I know the movie plays with that idea a bit, especially when Forrest is in boot camp. But I think that cheapens the whole thing.
Forrest and his condition provides a situation where the protagonist is allowed to be a complete innocent. Tonally, this creates a very heartwarming and watchable movie. But it is also somewhat unfair to Forrest to have him being almost unemotional. He keeps stressing that he does know what love is, but I don't really see a ton of other emotions outside of lovable goofball, even when tragedy is constantly befalling him. So we have this dynamic: reality states that Forrest should emotionally connect with a lot more than he is showing in this movie. Again, we don't have a diagnosis. But I know that every disorder has its own real world frustrations and Forrest, sadly enough, lives in a Hollywood version of disabilities. Fine. But the other end of the dynamic is that this story is allowed to be a dramedy with a character that everyone loves but doesn't know in reality. I'm thinking of Tom Hanks and his performance in this. It's a great performance. There are all these moments, but he's really just playing shades of a character. We see him get angry, but that anger always manifests itself in quick and sudden, almost-comic violence. What I'm realizing is that Forrest Gump is the one movie that thrives on a normally unacceptable "tell, don't show." Forrest constantly tells us that he loves Jenny. He shows up and is still the same awkward Forrest that we've seen throughout the story. He mentions Jenny a billion times throughout the story and the only real physical change we get with the character is the fact that he clams up pretty hard. But again, we're talking about the distance between a 4-6 on the Forrest Gump scale. This is also the truth about Bubba. Bubba is his best friend because he's physically in the same space as Forrest. But oddly enough, these relationships work. At no point do I question Forrest's devotion to Jenny nor his love for his best friend, Bubba. Heck, Bubba, on the grand scale of things, is barely in the movie. But his impact on the film is pretty noticable. The odd thing is that Forrest is most expressive with Lieutenant Dan. Is this for a narrative purpose? Is it funny because the two characters have such a dynamic juxtaposition? Again, I just reviewed Of Mice and Men not that long ago and seeing Gary Sinese pretty much repeating his character from Of Mice and Men is pretty amazing. (I just did the math and Forrest Gump actually came out after Of Mice and Men.) This is all a roundabout way of saying that Forrest Gump is a loving, charming, and innocent character that we're not exposed to in reality. I'm not saying that there aren't sweet people, but even sweet people hurt from tragedy that they experience.
I can't believe I'm going to bat for Robin Wright, but her part is much more thankless than I thought it would be. Forrest Gump takes place over the protagonists young life. While Forrest's narrative does major jumps forward, Tom Hanks has the fortune of being able to perform much of that character and get the script that really lays out how Forrest got to these places. Jenny doesn't really have that. Her narrative is jumping through history as well. But we only see Jenny at her worst. There's never that part of the story (with the exception of a glimpse of Jenny working at a diner) where Jenny seems to have gotten her life together. So from Robin Wright's perspective, Zemeckis is telling her to perform these tragic, tragic scenes on demand without any build up. Hanks has these highs and lows. He gets to pretend to be on television and meet multiple presidents. Robin Wright has to, on command, discover how her character is suicidal. It's one bleak moment to the next. It's odd to think how iconic Jenny is. Everyone knows Forrest Gump and Jenny. But Robin Wright is barely in the film. Each scene she is in is frustrating because it rarely paints Jenny in a good light. There's an odd balance of what is going on in the film. Zemeckis does a solid job establishing that Jenny's cycle of abuse and depression was sparked by an abusive father. She had a terrible life and that seems to be spiraling out of control, especially devoid of the innocent Forrest Gump. But she's often unlikable. The logical side of me knows that depression and abuse are a real thing. The emotional side of me can't help but throw her under the bus and beg her to get her life together. I think that's something that I'm not alone with. Jenny is an amazing frustrating character. She is an adult who continually makes bad decisions and Forrest keeps seeing her for the kind person that we have all ignored. That's beautiful and weirdly messed up. When Jenny can't reciprocate Forrest's love, it's because she's seeing the same person that we're all seeing. It seems abusive despite the fact that Forrest is a grown man. He acts like a child throughout the picture and Jenny loves him in what seems to be a completely platonic way. When Forrest says, "I may be stupid, but I do know what love is," Jenny is actually at the disadvantage there because she doesn't know what love is. This brings it to another problematic element in the film: Forrest Gump, Jr. Jenny marries Forrest and sleeps with him, which I suppose is fine. But I never get the vibe that Jenny is sexually attracted to Forrest. She still sees him as a child or as a brother. Jenny is a woman who has been used for her sexuality her entire life. It makes sense that her gift to Forrest is her sexuality. But Forrest and Jenny could have had this entirely sex-free life. I know it is narratively interesting to explore Forrest Gump's odd experiences with sexuality, but an important part of the movie pivots on accepting that from Jenny, someone who doesn't actually seem to understand the intricacies of love. It actually might be the muddiest part of the film that deals with a lot of taboo subjects (with the tone of a family film.)
I hate the feather. Maybe it's history looking back on this film and screaming "stupid." It's the feather and the theme song. It seems artistic and vulnerable, but it is also the cheapest part of the film. The feather, in some way, is also tied to the framing device of Forrest's narration. I'm not sure how I feel about the bus stop because of that. I will say that it is functional. We have an avatar for the viewer in the form of whomever is listening to Forrest's tale. It is also a way to establish that Forrest isn't making up his story because he has evidence in the form of a Fortune magazine cover. The narrative also gives us Forrest's unique perspective on the events we are seeing. It minimizes the darkness of some really dark scenes and it works that way. I just hate the feather. It seems so Hallmark-y. I don't love being manipulated like that and that is just cheeseball silliness. It's also odd that Forrest Gump has all these catch phrases associated with it. Does that make a movie age quicker? It has to, right? "Stupid is as stupid does" doesn't really mean anything. I want to blame the '90s for this kind of stuff. I don't know if Zemeckis was doing this intentionally. I don't want to believe that he did, but this is the era of "Don't have a cow, man!". The movie became marketable because of "Run, Forrest, Run." As a guy who has no strong feelings about the movie, those are the moments that pulled me out. Heck, I was surprised how invested I got until I was once again reminded about how life was like a box of chocolates. (That one at least makes sense.) Forrest Gump has the unfortunate cross of have to outlive history. It's a very watchable movie that has been kind of wrecked by its cultural permeation. The most memorable parts of the movie are actually kind of the roughest to watch. I'm the kind of guy who gets more into the "Fortunate Son" helicopter stuff. So much of the movie is iconic, but it's the imagery and the quotes that kind of kill the movie for me.
"That's all I have to say about that."
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.