Forrest Gump (1994)
Release Date: July 6th, 1994 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Robert Zemeckis Actors: Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Robin Wright, Mykelti Williamson, Gary Sinise
lowly speaking, awkwardly annunciating, grammatically flawed, simple-minded Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks, in an engrossing performance that stands alongside Steve Martin’s Navin from “The Jerk”) sits on a quiet park bench, striking up a one-sided conversation about the story of his life to various people waiting for the bus. As a child in Alabama, he suffers from a crooked spine and is outfitted with leg braces to strengthen his back. With an IQ of a below average 75, the boy is barely able to get into a public school. But his mother (Sally Field) ensures that he receives no disadvantages, reinforcing to him the notion that he’s normal like everyone else. At school, he meets little Jenny, his only friend and the most important relationship he’ll form. As she copes with an abusive father, Forrest soon learns the valuable skill of running, which allows him not only an escape from bullies, but also transportation and, eventually, a sense of purpose.
When he grows up, Forrest goes to college on the football team, capable of outrunning everyone on the field. He witnesses the University of Alabama’s reluctant racial desegregation, presided over by Governor George Wallace, and is selected as an All-American player, rewarded with a meeting with President John F. Kennedy. Meanwhile, Jenny (Robin Wright) attends an all-girls school. After five years of college, Forrest receives a degree and is recruited by the army. During training, he meets an equally peculiar soldier nicknamed “Bubba” (Mykelti Williamson), a man obsessed with the shrimp business and intent on opening up his own shrimping company after his service ends. Both are shipped off to Vietnam in Alpha Company, serving under Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise), where Forrest saves several fellow soldiers and is awarded the Medal of Honor by President Johnson. He plays table tennis for the U.S. Army team, where he meets President Nixon, before being discharged and founding the Bubba Gump Shrimp Corporation, with Dan as his first mate. Through each of his accomplishments and misadventures, his thoughts always return to Jenny, wondering what she might be doing at various moments.
One of the most influential, innovative aspects of the film is the integration of Forrest into pop culture and history, spanning the late ‘40s through the ‘80s. From interacting with Kennedy in archival footage, to participating in Vietnam, to assembling with the Black Panthers, to initiating the exposing of the Watergate scandal, he mixes with significant historical developments, occasionally in momentous ways. “Forrest, we have very different lives,” insists Jenny, as she similarly traverses through the various political and social movements of America, every few years reuniting with her childhood friend momentarily before vanishing again to become swept up in the next new cultural phase.
As the film examines destiny, second chances, religious implications, and the meaning of life through the eyes of a most uncommon hero, an exemplary, thematically synchronized soundtrack narrates the passing time with matching hits of the eras (this is nicely complemented with a triumphant suite by Alan Silvestri). There’s a sad melancholy to the whole affair, with Forrest’s life wandering toward uncanny successes as Jenny’s path spirals continually downward. He continues to follow her various careers, popping up to rescue her when he mistakenly thinks she needs help and guidance, due to her progressively more self-destructive choices. Tragedy befalls many of the people that encounter Gump, but humor permeates nearly every sequence, blending drama and comedy quite spectacularly.
A symbolic feather (characterizing the title character’s calm, nearly floating movement through a life of random possibilities, affected by chance elements and forces) and gentle piano music open and close “Forrest Gump,” a film that transcends mere comedy as the unforgettable characters pervade cinematic conscience. The dialogue is absolutely hilarious, frequently utilizing repetition of narration and actual character recitation to highlight the simplicity of Gump’s perspective, along with random shouts of impulsiveness to define Forrest’s ignorance and inexperience. There’s even an impeccable attention to details, makeup, and special effects that surpass most other films of the decade. Its timelessness, poignancy, and hilarity are infectiously powerful, marking “Forrest Gump” as an emotionally moving masterpiece, aptly directed by Robert Zemeckis, which would win countless accolades, including the Oscar for Best Picture, Director, Actor (Hanks), Screenplay (based on the book by Winston Groom), Editing, and Special Effects for 1994.
– Mike Massie