In Forrest Gump, director Robert Zemeckis showed shrewdness and technical skill in turning morally dubious material into a uniquely poetic American comedy, whose phenomenal commercial success suggests that it touched a deep chord in the American public. The film’s hero is a retarded man, but one blessed with innate decency and courage. Forrest is simple, but his heart is always in the right place.
“Forrest Gump” implies that we, the viewers could be as good and patriotic citizens as Forrest Gump if only we could have the courage to be simple and naive. Veiled with cool technology, the film’s approach was so smart that viewers ignored its sanctimonious tone and that it packaged innocence as a higher state of being.
As a character, Forrest belongs to the same type of idiot savant that informed the 1966 French film, King of Hearts, Being There (1979), with an Oscarnominated role by Peter Sellers, and Rain Man (1988), which brought a second Oscar to Dustin Hoffman. Luckily, Forrest is embodied by Tom Hanks, the only star who could play the role without condescension. By 1994, a year after winning Best Actor for the AIDS drama “Philadelphia,” Hanks had become America’s favorite son.
Hanks plays a character who is limited in consciousness but not in feeling, hence facilitating the audience’s identification with him. As the glue that holds the episodic film together, Hanks never allows Forrest’s eccentricities to become a comic caricature.
Forrest’s charmed life leads him everywhere, from the White House, where Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon greet him amiably, to an Alabama boarding house, where he’s seen shaking hands with the yet unknown Elvis Presley.
A loose string of vignettes, presented at a brilliant pace by Zemeckis, the film establishes Forrest as an accidental emblem of his times: a timid boy whose slowness is balanced by a talent for running and a genuinely sweet nature. We follow Forrest from his childhood in the 1950s through the 1980s; along the way, he becomes a celebrity several times over, though no one remembers him from one instance to the next.
“Forrest Gump” served as a lyric poem to America as a country that ambles along happily while everything around it falls apart. Former President Reagan must have admired the movie: Forrest Gump ends up as a rich businessman proving that Reaganomics works.
Released on July 6, 1994, Forrest Gump was the top grossing film of the year, the first major success of Paramount after the studio was bought by Viacomb, earning over $677 million worldwide during its theatrical run.
Detailed Plot: Narrative Structure
Seated on a bench at a bus stop, Forrest Gump (Hanks) begins telling his life story to strangers sitting next to him. As a boy, he had to wear leg braces, which made him an object of ridicule and bullying. He lives with his mother (Sally Field), who tells him, “stupid is as stupid does.” His mother runs a rooming house and Forrest teaches one guest, a young Elvis Presley (Peter Dobson), a hip-swinging dance.
On a bus for first day of school, Forrest meets Jenny, with whom he falls in love. One day, while fleeing from his bullies, Forrest’s leg braces break apart and he discovers his ability to run very fast. Despite below-average intelligence, he earns athletic scholarship to the University of Alabama. While in college, he witnesses George Wallace, is named All-American football player, and gets to meet President Kennedy.
After graduating, Forrest enlists in the US Army, where he befriends former shrimp fisherman Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue (Mykelti Williamson). They are sent to Vietnam, and while on patrol their platoon is ambushed. Forrest saves four men in his platoon, including platoon leader First Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise), but Bubba is killed. Forrest is wounded and receives the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson. While recovering from injuries, Forrest meets Lieutenant Dan, whose both legs had been amputated, furious at Forrest for leaving him a “cripple,” and cheating him out of his destiny to die in battle.