By John H. Foote
18. FORREST GUMP (1994)
The leaf that blows away from Forrest (Tom Hanks) at the beginning of the film, carried by the wind through the air, coming to light on various objects and places in its unpredictable journey is a direct metaphor for Forrest Gump himself. Like that leaf, he is carried through modern day history, seeming to be like an object, having no direct impact on that history, yet that history has tremendous impact on him.
Forrest is mentally challenged, what we once would have called slow, or simple, but only so academically as in book smart. In terms of life, he is actually very wise and never forgets anything he is taught that it is relevant. Over the course of his extraordinary life he will meet face to face with three American Presidents, reporting to the police the break in at the Watergate Hotel which will bring down the Nixon administration. He happily drops his pants to show President Johnson his wound in his buttocks, drawing smiles from all around. Forrest blows gently through history showing up in the most incredible places and will in fact become a huge part of American history in the process.
He is not, of course, because Forrest Gump is a creation of bold originality
When the film opened in the summer of 1994 it was a monumental smash at the box office, making millions. Reviews were very strong, and the reason I believe it was so big a hit was actor Tom Hanks.
Hanks took a role and absolutely made it his own, creating a character that he based on the little boy who played the very young Forrest Gump in the film’s early scenes. Faced with the problem of having to teach the child to talk as Hanks did, and knowing it was doomed to failure, Hanks switched things up and modelled his speech after that of the Kentucky born boy. Those hard g’s at the ends of being, that slow deliberate delivery tinged with that Eastern Kentucky drawl was brilliantly replicated by Hanks who gave us one of the most original creations in modern movies. I emerged from that first screening KNOWING Hanks was going to win his second consecutive Academy Award for this lovely performance. And it was so deceptively deep, as we watch Forrest evolve before our eyes. Having run from bullies all his life, he is a born football star once he has the ball because no one can catch him and he runs forever, a born soldier because he follows orders to the letter, and loved the army because there was always something to do. When they are attacked, he fearlessly goes back for his friend Bubba, and ends up saving several men in the platoon including his commanding officer Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) who is enraged because he feels he was cheated of his destiny to die in combat as his ancestors had. Just sort of floating through life, Forrest seems good at everything he does, especially ping pong, becoming something or a world champion for the United States.
When his tour in Vietnam is over, he is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and while in Washington speaks, accidentally, to thousands of protestors who have descended on Washington to make clear their displeasure over Vietnam. He meets Abby Hoffman and, when finished speaking, hears his name called from the sea of people. There is Jenny (Robin Wright), his childhood friend and the only woman other than his mother who Forrest truly loves. Abused as a child by her father, Jenny is damaged, running from man to man through her life, never pausing to find out if they loved her or not. They spend the day together, and then she is gone again, but not for good.
Lt. Dan finds Forrest and the two spend New Year’s Eve together, with Forrest announcing his plans to buy a shrimping boat. He does just that and Dan comes to Alabama to be his first mate as he promised. As a powerful storm rages all around them, Dan rages at God for taking his legs, but is somehow reborn in the storm telling Forrest, “I never thanked you for bringing me here” as he jumps in the sea to swim. Careful eyes and ears will know he never did really thank him.
With all the other shrimping boats destroyed, Bubba Gump shrimp becomes a nationwide sensation, making the two men millions. Forrest gives half of his millions to Bubba’s mother, making her rich beyond her wildest dreams, and Dan invests Forrest’s money wisely for him in Apple Computers. This makes him as he says “a gazillionaire”, free to do whatever he wants.
He nurses his mother, portrayed with warmth and genuine affection by Sally Field, as she dies and when he is not expecting anything to happen, Jenny comes to him. Worn out from hard living and drug abuse, she sleeps a lot, but Forrest does not care, they are together. He asks her to marry him and she refuses, ashamed of the life she has led, but before she leaves she makes love with him, as though their lives had led to that moment.
She contacts him five years later and invites him to come to the city. He does and there he meets his son, Haley Joel Osment, and tells Forrest she is sick (likely AIDS from needle sharing) and will he marry her. He takes she and Forrest back to Alabama and cares for her until she dies in the same bed his mother did, burying her under their tree on his property. He and little Forrest make a great team, and in the last scene of the film, as the little boy gets on the bus for school, Forrest sits, blankly, as a leaf blows into the wind.
Forrest overcame every single obstacle that came his way and thrived despite his challenges.
Such a beautiful fable was Forrest Gump!
Audiences and critics loved the film, though after its staggering popularity some cynical critics went back and revised their admiration for the film, believing it to be a Hollywood mainstream bit of propaganda. Rubbish. Flawlessly acted and directed, it is a beautiful story about a man stumbling his way through life and recent American history. A modern-day fairy tale, it makes no claim to be realistic, is honest about its emotions, and leaves audiences smiling through their tears by the end. Nominated for 13 Academy Awards, with no nominations for the women (!), the film would win six in all. Its chief competition for awards was Quentin Tarantino’s groundbreaking Pulp Fiction (1994) and yes, sure Pulp Fiction deserved to win Best Picture and Best Director, but it did not because this was the year of Forrest Gump and Robert Zemeckis. Hanks won and deserved his second straight Oscar for Best Actor and the film added wins for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay.
Sally Field and Robin Wright each deserved a nomination for Best Supporting Actress that never came, sadly. Field was particularly strong as Forrest’s homily spouting mama the most famous being “Life is like a box of chocolates” which became a pop culture phenomenon in the United States and Canada the summer of 1994.
Forrest Gump remains one of the most beloved films of the nineties and certainly is high on the lists for the great Tom Hanks performances. Try and imagine the film with any other actor, including those considered, John Travolta or Sean Penn and you know only Hanks could pull this off.
Pure movie magic.
John H. Foote is a well-recognized Canadian film critic/historian who has been an active critic for 30 years. His deep love for the movies began at a very young age. He began his career as co-host of the popular TV show Reel to Real where he remained for nine years. While on TV he began dabbling in education, eventually ascending to Director of the Toronto Film School, where he also taught film history. After leaving the college to care for his wife, he returned to teaching at Humber College where he taught both Film History and Method Acting Theory. John has written two books: “Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker” and the upcoming “Spielberg – American Film Visionary”. He is currently working on two books, one about the films of the seventies and another on the films of Martin Scorsese. Through his career he has worked in TV, radio, print and the web. John has interviewed everyone in the industry (more than 300 interviews) except Jack Nicholson, he says sadly. Highlights include Martin Scorsese, Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep Robert Duvall, Jane Fonda, Francis Ford Coppola and Kathryn Bigelow.