Weekly Classics: Forrest Gump

Published September 28, 2012

Forrest Gump is a 1994 film directed by Robert Zemeckis which was adapted from a Winston Groom novel of the same name. Tom Hanks’ performance as Forrest Gump is one of the best in his incredible career, and one that surprised even Zemeckis, who confesses that Hanks’ characterisation exceeded his expectations in a film that “breaks every rule of movie making”.

The film opens with Forrest Gump sitting at a bus-stop, and as a floating feather lands on his shoes, he places it in his book. He holds a box of chocolates in his hand and is very neatly attired in a blue plaid shirt and off-white suit, except for a pair of extremely dirty Nikes. The muddy shoes draw your attention and you immediately know that they have a good story to tell.

Soon Gump starts an unsolicited conversation with a young nurse who comes to wait for her bus, and our suspicions about those shoes are confirmed. “My momma always said you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, where they go, where they've been,” says the friendly Gump to the indifferent looking girl, “I've worn lots of shoes, I bet if I think about it real hard I can remember my first pair of shoes.”

Through most of the film, Gump’s companions on the bench change, but he wistfully tells his tale in his southern drawl to anyone who will listen, peppering the story with lines that have since become some of the most quoted film dialogues in pop culture.

And so with his narration we are taken back right to Gump’s childhood. His younger version is played by Michael Humphreys. Humphreys’ actual accent provided Tom Hanks the inspiration for Gump’s signature southern drawl, and he plays the role very naturally. Forrest Gump was an only child of a loving, single mother, and had a very low IQ, as well as a curved spine which required special corrective leg-braces. Gump’s mother (Sally Field) doesn’t let this hold him back however, and insists to him that he is the same as everyone else. “Stupid is as stupid does” she tells him, and he remembers it like a mantra for the rest of his life.

On his first day of school Forrest Gump is introduced to the hostile world around him, and his journey as an individual begins. Shunned by his peers right from his first bus ride, he finds his only friend in a pretty little girl named Jenny (Hanna Hall, and later Robin Wright), who lets him sit next to him and accepts him for who he is right from the start.

Sally Field acts as Mrs Gump in a screenshot from the film.

Gump is a quiet, unassuming soul, and his simple mind grants him a sort of uncomplicated acceptance of his circumstances. Tom Hanks explains that since the character of Forrest Gump is so innocent, he only lives by those that he holds dearest, “Forrest really only believes in three things; he believes in God, he believes in his Momma, and he believes in Jenny – and anything other than that has to be filtered through those three things!”

Robin Wright acts opposite Hanks as his friend and grown-up love interest Jenny. - Film Still/File Photo

In his novel, Winston Groom chose to tell a kind of fable through this simple, incorruptible character’s interaction with the complex world. Forrest grows up in the 50’s and 60’s and Groom sets him on a journey through America’s “end of innocence” constantly setting this bright-eyed fool against the darkening face of his country.

Like any fable, the story is not realistic, and Gump seems to float ignorantly through disasters, fame and fortune – somehow brushing up against the greatest people and significant moments in modern American history, and actually causing some of them as well. Among others he meets Kennedy and Nixon, John Lennon and even the young Elvis – unwittingly giving him his signature dance moves when he twists on his braced legs to Elvis’s guitar.

Tom Hanks is seen meeting John F. Kennedy in a screenshot from the film. The special effects department utilised actual archival footage and carefully superimposed Hanks into the scene. The film actually had cutting edge technology for it's time and these feats (as well as the famed floating feather sequences) earned it an academy award for special effects.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time that Robert Zemeckis has directed a film where his principle character gives a famous rock-star their spark: in his film Back to the Future, Marty McFly travels to 1955 and performs Johnny B Goode with Chuck Berry’s cousin, prompting him to call Berry and say “You know that new sound you're looking for? Well, listen to this!” implying that Marty traveled back in time and gave Chuck Berry his own song.

His personal life is also full of surprises, and the film keeps us wondering what will happen next to him. In a series of events that are the product of fortune, perseverance, and serendipity Gumps goes to college, enlists in the Army, fights in Vietnam, becomes a ping-pong star, becomes rich, and even runs across America. Nothing changes him much, but he affects those around him profoundly; such as his army friend Bubba (and Bubba’s family), his platoon leader Lt. Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise), and indeed us.

The film is easy to watch, and an interesting tale that always holds your attention. Though it was widely praised, it was also criticised and debated over by many critics for the way it dealt with political themes and social attitudes. From general political and social commentary, to statements about God, celebrity, war, fortune, life and death the film encompasses many themes, and attempts therefore to tell an epic tale about life and humanity. Forrest Gump won a whopping six Oscars: Best (adapted) Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actor (Tom Hanks), Best Special Effects and Best Picture – and though awards and accolades can always be criticised, a film this interesting is definitely a worthy watch.

View Dawn.com’s weekly classics archive here.

 


Nadir Siddiqui is a photographer and interactive producer at Dawn.com. You can view some of his photography here.

Opinion

Editorial

A call for bloodshed
30 Nov, 2022

A call for bloodshed

The state has wasted precious time by not consolidating its success in pushing TTP out of its strongholds in the north.
Missing childhoods
30 Nov, 2022

Missing childhoods

THE fact is that despite some legal efforts to end the curse of child marriage taking place in Pakistan under the...
Unemployment concerns
30 Nov, 2022

Unemployment concerns

THE ILO finding that labour market recovery from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in Pakistan, as in many other...
Back to politics
Updated 29 Nov, 2022

Back to politics

PDM and PTI must realise that neither will get what they want if they keep fighting bitterly at every turn.
Election delay
29 Nov, 2022

Election delay

OF recent, leaders from the ruling PML-N have been dropping hints about a possible delay in general elections after...
Sugar woes
29 Nov, 2022

Sugar woes

IT’S that time of year again when cane growers get anxious over the delay in the commencement of the new sugar...