One summer night in 2007, I never knew movies can have the power to providing meaning. I thought movies could only allow people to be entertained. I began flipping through channels on my television. Then, I proved myself wrong when I had come across Tom Hanks sitting on a bench talking to strangers about his spiritual journey. The movie was Forrest Gump, which immediately introduced to the world of movies. I knew I wanted to watch it again and again after watching it for the first time. After watching it dozens of times, I would always learn something new. Whether it has to do with American history or life lessons.
When it came out twenty years ago on this day, some people didn’t necessarily cared for its sentimental message. However, a lot of people loved it so much it became the most successful film of 1994, and ended up taking home six Academy Awards including Best Picture.
Everybody knows the story. Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks, in a performance of a lifetime), a man sitting on a bench in Savannah, Georgia. When strangers sit next to him, he begins to ponder about his past. He’s a person with an I.Q. of 75 who learns about life from his mother (Sally Field). She expects him to have “the same opportunities as everyone else”. On his first day of school, Forrest sits next to a girl named Jenny (Robin Wright) on the bus. Jenny asks, “Are you stupid or something?” Forrest says, “Mama says, ‘Stupid is as stupid does.'” They begin forming a bond (“We was like peas and carrots”); Jenny teaches him to run away from the bullies. When he becomes an adult, he becomes a part of many historic events including the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.
Robert Zemeckis captures this journey with a lot of heart and passion when Forrest is finding his true destiny. In one scene, Forrest asks ‘mama’ what his destiny is. She leaves it all to him to find it for himself. “Life is a like a box of chocolates,” says Mama. “You never what you’re going to get.” She uses it as a metaphor of how everyone has no idea where their future would lead to. We learn that he really wants to marry his childhood sweetheart, but he comes across plenty of encounters. He went to the University of Alabama to receive a scholarship from head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. After college, he goes into the military and befriends Bubba (Mykelti Williamson), a man with a passion for shrimp. He makes a pact with Bubba to be a part of a shrimping business. Bubba tells him there are tons of ways to cook shrimp.
However, in Vietnam, Forrest is saving his troop in combat after it rained for months. When he saves Bubba, he dies and leaves it all to Forrest to start the business without him. Who else would
be a part of the shrimping business other than Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise)? He felt cheated that Forrest rescued him rather than dying with honor. Because of this, he had a destiny to die in Vietnam like his ancestors “who fought and died in every single American war”. This causes Lt. Dan to have his legs amputated. This is where CGI comes in handy for Zemeckis. He captures the CGI as if you don’t even recognize it at all. During one of the film’s funniest scenes in which Forrest tells JFK he has to pee, it looks he is actually talking to him. I digress.
When he makes his shrimping boat, Forrest accepts Lt. Dan as his first mate. Later, he acknowledges Forrest for saving his life in Vietnam. Without him, Lt. Dan would be helpless.
After winning a Medal of Honor for saving his troop, Forrest becomes an influence to people. When he’s a guest on The Dick Cavett Show, alongside John Lennon, he talks about his experience being a part of the All-American ping-pong team in China. His discussion inspires Lennon to write his famous solo hit, Imagine.
Forrest: “In the land of China, people hardly got nothing at all.”
Lennon: “No possessions?”
Forrest: “And in China, they never go to church.”
Lennon: “No religion, too?”
Dick Cavett: “Hard to imagine”
Lennon: “Well it’s easy if you try, Dick.”
While on his life-long journey (becoming rich and famous), he always thinks about living a terrific life with Jenny. It shows flashbacks of her living the American dream, which leads her to becoming a drug addict and a part of the “hippies”. She has a destiny of “flying far; far far away” from all of the crap she had to endure as a child, especially when she always gets sexually abused by his father. There is this sense of “flight” that becomes symbolic throughout the film. Zemeckis opens up the movie with a white feather floating in the breeze with Alan Silvestri’s masterful score playing in the background. The feather lands on Forrest’s sneaker, and he puts it in his copy of his favorite children’s book Curious George. The feather blowing in the wind represents the way Forrest goes through his life journey. The iconic image shows up again at the end. This time, emphasizing that Forrest is at the right place at the right time. He married Jenny who would later die from an unknown disease (assumingly from HIV/AIDS). Forrest places his grave underneath the tree where they like to hang out at (symbolizing the innocence of life). He leaves her grave after explaining how his life has been. Suddenly, birds fly overhead notifying Jenny has found her destiny.
Not only did this movie made me appreciate movies but it made me appreciate Tom Hanks as an actor. I think no one else can play Forrest better than Hanks himself. He leads a phenomenal cast as a role so natural that it seems like I am watching a real person with the low I.Q. albeit big heart seeing history right from his own eyes. Whenever he’s funny, I laugh. Whenever he’s sad, I choke up. Whenever he rescues people, I root for him. I love his enthusiasm that he brings to the screen. This is what makes his performance unforgettable. This movie will be with me until I die.