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.



Imran’s lesson
Updated 15 May, 2022

Imran’s lesson

Patronage of the security and intelligence apparatus exacts a heavy price and almost never delivers any long-term dividends.
15 May, 2022

Small mercies

AT a time when Pakistan is getting closer to the brink with its foreign currency reserves dropping to just around...
15 May, 2022

Child sexual abuse

IT is interesting that despite the strictures of society and political leaders on community evils, there is little...
Updated 14 May, 2022

Severe water crisis

The current situation is just another reminder that Pakistan may become the most water-stressed nation in the region by 2040.
Updated 14 May, 2022

Yasin Malik’s trial

Muslim bloc needs to do more to press home the point to India that its brutal policies in occupied Kashmir are unacceptable.
Updated 14 May, 2022

Fake markers

RECENT reports reveal that the two children in KP who had contracted polio this year, had fake marks on their hands....