For 1 Year, 100 Movies, contributor/filmmaker Trey Hock is watching all of AFI’s 100 Years, 100 Movies list (compiled in 2007) in one year. His reactions to each film are recorded here twice a week until the year (and list) is up!
Forrest. Forrest Gump. It is time that we talked. I know a lot of people who love this film, and, though it troubles me, I can see why. This film pushes every single emotional and nostalgic button in the arsenal, leaving only the most stalwart and clearheaded to come through unscathed.
Still I hold no special hatred for a film just because it is overly sentimental or cloying. I am not a fan of “Steel Magnolias,” but I bear it – and those who love it – no ill will. But “Forrest Gump” is a different animal, and one that should not only be criticized, but the forces that move to create such a film should be fought and dismantled.
I will get to a more critical analysis of what I believe “Forrest Gump” actually means later. For the moment we shall start with the story.
As you all know Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) is a simpleton from small town Alabama, who manages to participate in almost every single important cultural or social event from the early60s on through the 80s. His achievements include creating Elvis’ signature hip swing, fighting in the Vietnam conflict, inadvertently writing John Lennon’s “Imagine” as well as the slogans “Have a Nice Day” and “Shit Happens,” investing in Apple early on, marrying a woman with HIV, and meeting three U.S. Presidents. There are others, but I’m sure you all know that already.
Though Gump participates in these events, he moves through them with a complete lack of cynicism and without a scar. Gump is pushed from one moment to the next as if fated to be there, but his movement through time is that of a leaf on water. Director Robert Zemeckis uses an equally heavy-handed visual metaphor to open “Forrest Gump.” (Sound starts at 6 seconds)
Oh the feather as it blows from one point to the next, flitting this way and that, but still arriving at its destination on time and intact. Just make sure not to point the camera at all of the muddied and broken feathers that line the boulevards of Savannah, Georgia.
Zemeckis also overuses special effects to place his protagonist into the chosen historical moments. Often this has sad or shameful results. Here are two examples: (Sound starts at 5 seconds)
This moment may inspire a chuckle, but feels awkward when Kennedy’s assassination is mentioned in the next breath. The next moment is Gump’s heroic rescue of Bubba from the jungles of Vietnam:
I’m sorry, but this looks terrible and you don’t outrun napalm. There would have been ways to make this more convincing, but Zemeckis would have been forced to let go of his cherished special effects.
“Forrest Gump” is also a love story between Gump and Jenny (Robin Wright), his wayward girlfriend. These two rarely share the same space together and their relationship is awkward. It is a credit to Hanks and Wright that we feel anything could possibly happen between this hottie and this imbecile. For a more convincing love story between an attractive woman and a mentally handicapped man go see “Pumpkin,” which I think makes a condemning response to “Gump.”
By the time he got to “Forrest Gump,” Zemeckis had lost his edge. The cultural criticism, if there is any present in “Gump,” lacks any bite. This is not the Zemeckis of “Used Cars.” Instead Zemeckis falls into a condemnable pattern that would continue in his later works, that of telling the viewer what the film itself means: (Sound starts at 5 seconds)
Boo Robert Zemeckis, boo. You made “Back to the Future.” You did also make “Back to the Future III,” but “Back to the Future” at least was really good. You can make good movies. Why are you giving us this trite summation of an already completely accessible film?
Not that “Gump” is without poignant moments. Here is a fine example, when Gump remembers his journey for his dying wife:
This moment is very nice, but it is one of the few moments that is allowed to exist without being overworked, and forced.
Many others have speculated as to what “Gump” is. Roger Ebert loved the film and thought it was a modern fable or dream. Quentin Tarantino, as he lost in every category in which “Pulp Fiction” faced “Gump,” speculated that “Gump” was a dark comedy which saw a mentally challenged adult succeed in everything while others around him failed. I think that both thoughts have some merit, but to me this film is generational wish fulfillment and a tragic rewriting of history.
Gump himself is presented as an everyman, as this next scene hammers home:
Mrs. Gump (Sally Field) repeats over and over that Forrest is just like everyone else until it drones in our mind like a hive of bees. But this is not Christian of The Pilgrim’s Progress, a person that is allegorically everybody. No, Gump is a generational everyman. He’s overwhelmingly anchored by his moment in history, and it would be more appropriate to say that Forrest Gump is an every-baby-boomer.
So what does this mean? Well, if we take Forrest Gump and instead replace the generation of baby boomers, we get a narrative that claims all major achievements from the early 60s for a generation that was largely not responsible for them. Boomers were not the ones to land on the moon, or create rock n’ roll. That was the Silent Generation. But “Forrest Gump” says from the mouth of the boomers, “You thought we were crippled, and dumb, but hey, look, we did everything.” Boomers did fight in Vietnam, but I feel that it sets a dangerous historical precedent to so freely bend to whims or wishes of a single generation. I want the X’ers to have done everything, but they didn’t.
Even if you don’t completely believe my analysis, I think that you will appreciate this: As the film takes hold of history for its protagonist, so did “Forrest Gump” sweep the Academy Awards in 1994, in spite of the upcoming new generation of filmmakers, which were represented by Quentin Tarantino and “Pulp Fiction.” So I claim that “Forrest Gump” is a dangerous film that not only wishes to claim for a generation the achievements which preceded that generation, but wants to limit the ability of future generations to make their mark.
Hyperbole? Perhaps. But mull it over and I think you may find more than a grain of truth in the analysis.
Next up #75 “In the Heat of the Night” (1967)
For links to #80 – 89, click on 1 Year, 100 Movies #80 The Apartment (1960)
For links to #90 – 100, click on 1 Year, 100 Movies #90 Swing Time (1936)