My life as a movie lover began with Forrest Gump. Before Gump, I just watched the same popular action movies and franchises that everybody else did. The extreme popularity of Gump was unheard of in 1994 for a movie that did not fit in one of the clearly outlined genres that always made it big at the box office. I went into it without any expectations, only going because the movie was making a lot of money, which to mind at the time meant it must be good since enough people were paying money to see it.
Since Forrest Gump, I care about the movies I watch. I care about the characters they introduce me to. I care about worlds they take me to. I care about the perceptions they have about the world I live in. I don’t care anymore if they make any money or if a lot of other people like them. Since the majority of the films I blog about were made long before Forrest Gump, obviously I don’t care about when they were made. I don’t care about where they were made. I care about how they’re made and why they’re made.
The “how” of Forrest Gump: I knew about most of the historical backdrops we see in Forrest Gump through family or history classes, but I had never seen or read anything before that places a completely original and unexpected fictional character into those events, both fictionalizing them and giving us an important and realistic perspective into the real events at the very same time. Robert Zemeckis’ brilliant direction seamlessly mixes these important historical events (civil rights, Vietnam War, assassinations, AIDS epidemic) with sociological phenomena (Elvis, the hippy movement, smily-face t-shirts) and its fictional character front and center for everything. Just thinking about Forrest Gump from a technical screenwriting level is mind-blowing. Expecting audiences to believe that a fictional character has impacted all these long strings of events is not reasonable. Expecting them to believe that a mentally challenged character who couldn’t get into a public elementary school could impact them all is downright stupid. Then top this off with the knowledge that it was based on a horrendous novel that had Forrest as all I’ve described for the movie in addition to having him be a drug addict who hung around cannibals!
I don’t know of any movie that ever had more going against it than Forrest Gump. How it got made at all with all these things that look like deficiencies is incredible. How a masterpiece was created out of this seeming mess is still hard to believe 23 years later, but a masterpiece was made. Taking us into the world we know as only Forrest knows it allows us to take a journey with him. We take a wondrous journey into exciting things of the world, frightening things of the world, joyous, beautiful, and grief-filled experiences. We see the world filtered through the same three filters that Forrest thinks and evaluates life through, his relationships with God, his Momma, and Jenny.
The “why” of Forrest Gump. In 1994, Forrest Gump was necessary for the film industry. Around the same time as Pulp Fiction wildly combined many popular film genres into an audacious experience that nobody could have imagined before and The Shawshank Redemption asked us to get into touch with some of the deepest emotions and attitudes about justice, life, and freedom that we didn’t even know we had the capability for before, Forrest Gump was just as groundbreaking. Actually, maybe even more, since it did both of these things that Pulp Fiction and Shawshank did separately, changing and challenging the film industry dramatically.
The most important reason for Forrest Gump‘s success is its love. As Forrest tells Jenny, “I may not be a smart man but I know what love it,” he gives us a picture of what love is. He knows what love is because his Momma showed him. He knows what love is through his belief in a God who loves him. He knows what love is because he is able to give it to Jenny, to Bubba, to those who aren’t very lovable most of the time (Lt. Dan), and even when it means his own life is in danger. Since we enter Forrest’s world, we enter his vision of love. We learn what it means for him to know what love is, we see what love is to him. We see love itself personified through Gump, Forrest Gump.