81 Days With Oscar And Me

Every Academy Award-Winning Movie, Back to Back, Starting With the First

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Forrest Gump

October 25th, 2009 · No Comments · 1994, Adaptation, Color, Drama, F-Word, Forrest Gump, Paramount Pictures, Robert Zemeckis, Robin Wright, Saddest Movie Of All Time, Tom Hanks

Forrest GumpAfter Schindler’s List ended a minute or two before midnight last night, I waited until the new day official began and then popped Forrest Gump into the DVD player.

I didn’t want to attempt sleep with visions of Schindler’s List jack-booting through my dreams.

Not that Forrest Gump is all sweetness and light. There is a sadness, a melancholy that permeates this movie – but wrapped in comedy, which makes the sadness stand out even more prominently. A movie like Ordinary People is sad throughout. So it’s merely depressing, and the message of such a movie can be lost as people reel under the emotional strain of watching it. But wrap sadness in comedy and you have what Mary Poppins calls a spoonful of sugar. The medicine goes down, the message is received, and people walk out of the theater profoundly changed.

I know my Top Five list is getting crowded. But Forrest Gump is another movie that belongs in that rarified group.

It’s also another movie that I consider perfect. In every way. Right down to its score, which chokes me up. And the soundtrack, which I own and play often. The songs represented on the soundtrack are the best ever recorded from 1950s through the 1990s. It must have cost the studio a fortune to license all these tunes. (NOTE: Spoilers throughout my blog. If you don’t want to know what happens in the movie, don’t read this. I mean it. I warned you.)

The narration is hilarious. And heart-wrenching. And absolutely mesmerizing. At times it precedes by a few seconds a line spoken by a character in the film. At other times, it offers an ironic counterpoint to the image on the screen.

Like Casablanca, another perfect movie, Forrest Gump is many films in one. It is one of the most gentle and bittersweet love stories ever made. It is also a history lesson, showing the life of one man from the 1950s through the present day, and all the key historical events throughout. It is also a sublime anti-war movie. And a movie, like It’s a Wonderful Life about serendipity and how one person’s life touches another, seemingly aimlessly, but the effects radiate outward. There’s a subplot about “Jen-ny,” Forrest’s unrequited love. And a subplot about “Lieutenant Dan,” and what becomes of his life after Vietnam.

And, despite the innovative, imaginative use of technology, it is a movie as simple as its protagonist.

The movie opens with incredibly wistful music and a single white feather that is casually, seemingly randomly, buffeted by the wind and passing cars until it comes to land at the feet of a man – Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) – sitting on a park bench holding a box of chocolates.

He begins to talk to a woman who walks to the bench and sits to wait for the bus.

And the story, told in flashback, begins.

There are too many favorite scenes and lines of dialogue (“Mama always aid life is alike a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get” and “Stupid is as stupid does” and “Run, Forrest, Run!”). But I’ll discuss a few of them as the movie plays on.

For example, at 38:13 into the movie, Jenny and Forrest stand on a bridge. He has just “rescued” her from groping men who wanted more than the song she sung from the stage. Jenny is upset with him.

JENNY: You can’t keep doing this all the time.
FORREST: I can’t help it. I love you.
JENNY: Forrest, you don’t know what love is.

But he does. And he demonstrates it, without fail, for the next two and a half hours. Forrest Gump, despite his low IQ, is the model of a loving human being, guileless and true. (Incidentally, toward the end of the movie, Forrest addresses Jenny’s statement that he doesn’t know what love is. More about that later.)

Just then, a man in a truck pulls up. Jenny asks, “Can I have a ride?” The man asks, “Where you going?” Jenny says, “I don’t care.” “Get in the truck” the man replies.

At that moment, 39:20 into the film, as Forrest watches Jenny’s exchange with the driver of the truck, this exchange occurs:

FORREST: So bye-bye Jenny. They sending me to Vietnam. It’s this whole other country.
JENNY (to driver): Just hang on a minute. (To Forrest) Listen, you promise me something, okay? Just, if you’re ever in trouble, don’t try to be brave. You just run, okay? You just run away.
FORREST: Okay. Jenny, I’ll write you all the time.
She gets in the truck.
FORREST (voiceover): And just like that, she was gone.

That exchange of dialogue defines these two characters: Forrest, a man who loves and stands by his beloved Jenny…and Jenny, a woman who runs, who refuses to stand by the one man who truly loves her. It is a dichotomy that drives the movie. Forrest does run…but it takes him right back to Jenny. Jenny runs…but it takes her to hell and back. Yet, eventually, when it’s too late, back to Forrest.

Running is the theme of the movie. But not away from something (as Jenny runs); rather, toward something.

Here’s another key scene: At 48:10 into the movie, Forrest is lying in his tent with rain pelting down on him. He’s writing.

FORREST (voiceover): I even wrote Jenny and told her all about it. I sent her letters, not every day. But almost. I told her what I was doin’ and asked her what she was doin’ and told her I thought about her always.
JENNY emerges from a ramshackle trailer. She’s dressed like a hippie, and carries a guitar.
FORREST (voiceover): And how I was lookin’ forward to gettin’ a letter from her. Just as soon as she had the time.
JENNY hugs a long-haired guy and climbs into the back of a beat up VW bus.
FORREST (voiceover): I’d always let her know that I was okay. Then I’d sign each letter Love, Forrest Gump.

That scene really gets to me. The juxtaposition of Forrest’s narration with Jenny’s hippie ways is touching.

Yup, I’ll admit it. When this movie first came out, I bawled my eyes out. Even today, as I type this, I’m misting up. There’s something profoundly moving about Forrest Gump. I used to wonder if anyone felt as deeply about the movie – or about life – as I did.

Here’s another scene that’ll bring tears to your eyes. It’s at 55:34 into the movie:

FORREST (voiceover as he carries his wounded friend, Bubba, from the jungle), lying him down on the beach beside the other men he’d rescued): If I’da known this was going to be the last time me and Bubba was gonna talk, I’d thoughta somethin’ better to say.
FORREST (to Bubba): Hey Bubba.
BUBBA: Hey Forrest. Forrest, why’d this happen?
FORREST: You got shot.
FORREST (voiceover): Then, Bubba said somethin’ I won’t ever forget.
BUBBA: I wanna go home.
FORREST (voiceover): Bubba was my best good friend. And even I know that ain’t somethin’ you can find just around the corner. Bubba was gonna be a shrimpin’-boat captain. But, instead, he died right there by that river in Vietnam.
FORREST (back to the present, sitting on the bench): That’s all I have to say about that.

Wow.

The message that war is hell comes through loud and clear. Why? Because it was provided via a spoonful of sugar from a simple man named Forrest Gump.

Jenny pops back into Forrest’s life as he unwittingly speaks at an anti-war rally in Washington. He tells the audience his name is Forrest and suddenly a woman’s voice (at 1:07:03) shouts, “Forrest!” He runs to meet her and the audience cheers. It’s a schmaltzy moment. But Forrest’s narration transforms it into a tender moment:

FORREST (voiceover): It was the happiest moment of my life. Jenny and me was just like peas and carrots again.

Forrest and Jenny catch up on their lives. Suddenly, Forrest sees Jenny being attacked by a guy she’s been living with. Forrest immediately runs to her defense. Forrest kicks the guy’s ass.

FORREST: He should not be hitting you, Jenny.
JENNY: C’mon, Forrest.
JENNY exits.
FORREST (says to room full of people): Sorry I had a fight in the middle of your Black Panther party.
FORREST exits.
FORREST and JENNY walk slowly together on the sidewalk outside the White House.
JENNY: He doesn’t mean it when he does things like this. He doesn’t.
FORREST: I would never hurt you, Jenny.
JENNY: I know you wouldn’t, Forrest.

Shortly after that, at 1:10:10, the song “San Fransciso (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)” by Scott McKenzie starts to play. That song is one of the saddest ever recorded. It captures the spirit of the 1960s like no other – the futility and the melancholy, the misdirected anger and unfulfilled promises. It’s truly a sad song.

FORREST (voiceover): It was a very special night for the two of us. I didn’t want it to end.
FORREST (to Jenny): I wish you wouldn’t go, Jenny.

But…

FORREST (voiceover): And just like that, she was gone. Out of my life again.

Not long after that, Forrest is in New York City. He bumps into Lt. Dan, now in a wheelchair and bitter at the world. It’s New Year’s Eve.

By the way, one of the tenets of screenwriting is that things have to change, especially the protagonist. That’s called the character arc, or spine, of the story. But Forrest Gump doesn’t change. How can that be?

It can be because people around Forrest change. Because of Forrest. Jenny changes and returns home to Forrest. Lt. Dan changes and becomes a man no longer bitter at the world (“Forrest, I never thanked ya for savin’ my life”). Bubba’s mom changes and becomes wealthy because Forrest hands her a bunch of money that he promised Bubba he’d do.

“Bubba-Gump Shrimp. It’s a household name,” Forrest tells the people on the bench, who laugh at him because they think he’s kidding.

The scene between Forrest and his Mom is one of the 2-3 most touching in the movie. At 1:39:35 she says, “I’m dyin’ Forrest.”

FORREST: Why are you dyin’ Momma?
MRS. GUMP: It’s my time. It’s just my time. Oh, now, don’t you be afraid, sweetheart. Death is just a part of life, something we’re all destined to do. I didn’t know it but I was destined to be your Momma. I did the best I could.
FORREST: You did good, Momma.
MRS. GUMP: Well, I happen to believe you make your own destiny. You have to do the best with what God gave you.
FORREST: What’s my destiny, Momma.
MRS. GUMP. You’re gonna have to figure that out for yourself. Life is box of chocolates, Forrest. You never know what you’re gonna get.
FORREST (voiceover): Momma, always had a way of explaining things so I could understand them.
MRS. GUMP: I will miss you, Forrest.
FORREST (voiceover): She had got the cancer, and died on a Tuesday. I bought her a new hat, with little flowers on it.

Forrest makes a fortune with his shrimpin’ boat and through investments in Apple Computer. But he never stops thinking about Jenny.

At 1:44:11 into the movie, Jenny returns.

FORREST (voiceover): And then, she was there.
JENNY: Hello Forrest.
FORREST: Hello Jenny.
They hug on the lawn of Forrest’s house.
FORREST (voiceover): Jenny came back and stayed with me. Maybe it was because she had nowhere else to go. Or maybe it was because she was so tired ’cause she went to bed and slept and slept like she hadn’t slept in years. It was wonderful having her home. Every day we’d take a walk and I’d jabber on like a monkey in a tree. And she’d listen about ping-pongin’ and shrimpin’ and momma making a trip up to heaven. I did all the talkin’. Jenny, most the times, was real quiet.
JENNY suddenly spots the house where she grew up and strides up to it. She stares at it. Then picks up rock after rock and throws it at the house, breaking a window. Finally, she collapses on the ground sobbing.
FORREST (voiceover): Sometimes, there’s just not enough rocks.

The scenes of Forrest and Jenny are beyond heart-wrenching, especially this one (which starts at 1:48:37):

FORREST: Will you marry me? I’d make a good husband, Jenny.
JENNY: You would, Forrest.
FORREST: But you won’t marry me.
JENNY: You don’t wanna marry me.
FORREST: Why don’t you love me, Jenny? I’m not a smart man. But I know what love is.

That gets me every time. It is Forrest’s answer to the statement Jenny made many years previous in their lives. I mean, come on. What woman wouldn’t want a guy with that kind of devotion and commitment?

Lots of ’em. I knew a few.

But Jenny leaves again, drives off in a cab while Forrest sleeps. He is heartbroken. Again.

So he takes off running. And runs coast to coast. For over three years. In the end, he says, “I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now.”

And he does.

As emotional as the movie has been to this point, it saved the biggest emotions for the last 20-30 minutes, which are the saddest I’ve ever seen in any movie.

After introducing Forrest to his son, a son he didn’t know he had, she tells him that she’s sick, has some kind of virus that doctors can’t do anything about. Forrest tells her to come home to his house.

FORREST: I’ll take care of you, if you’re sick.
JENNY: Would you marry me, Forrest?
FORREST: Okay.

The rest of the movie is almost too sad to watch. Seriously.

After Forrest and Jenny and Little Forrest begin to build their lives together, making Forrest happy for the first time in his life. Until (2:09:13)…

FORREST (to Jenny’s grave): You died on a Saturday morning. I had you placed here, under our tree…I miss you, Jenny. If there’s anything you need, I won’t be far away.

At this point, I need to type what Forrest says after he tells a particularly sad story: That’s all I have to say about that.

The Cast
Tom Hanks (1956- )………………………….Forrest Gump
Robin Wright (1966- )………………………..Jenny Curran
Gary Sinise (1955- )…………………………..Lt. Dan Taylor
Mykelti Williamson (1957- )………………..Pvt. Benjamin Buford ‘Bubba’ Blue
Sally Field (1946- )……………………………Mrs. Gump
Rebecca Williams (?-?)………………………..Nurse at Park Bench
Michael Conner Humphreys (1985- )…….Young Forrest Gump
Harold G. Herthum (1929-1998)………….Doctor
Haley Joel Osment (1988- )…………………Forrest Gump Jr.

Directed By:
Robert Zemeckis, 1951-

Written By:
Winston Groom, 1944- (novel)
Eric Roth, 1945- (screenplay)

Forrest Gump was nominated for a mammoth 13 Academy Awards and won six: Best Actor in a Leading Role (Tom Hanks), Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), Best Effects, Visual Effects (hell yes!), Best Film Editing, Best Picture, Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Eric Roth).

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