The Greatest films of all time: 80.Forrest Gump (1994) (USA)

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Introduction:

In climbing the ladder of cinema in time searching for originality and novelty in technicality so the film to have impact on others and survive, the chance of finding any great film not to surpass but to match the frontiers in the field would be less and less. From 1988 to 1994 there has been only one single film of “Schindler’s List” to consider one of the greatest. But the single year of 1994, it happened to release several good films such as “Pulp Fiction”, “Satantango”, “Il Postino”, “Shawshank Redemption”, “Three colors: White & Red”, “The Lion King”, “Four weddings and a funeral”, “Natural Born Killers”, “Leon: The Professional” etc. but still one file to be considered one of the greatest films of all time and that is “Forest Gump” with some originality and novel technicality.

Forrest Gump: Life is like a floating feather in air

The film opens with the camera following a flying feather over the city of Savannah, Georgia in early 1980’s that finally lands on the foot of Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) who is sitting on a bus stop bench. He picks up the feather and puts it in his briefcase that holds some other collected memorabilia items. He introduces himself as “Forrest Gump” to a black lady sitting beside him on the bench. He offers her some chocolate from a box and saying the popular quote of the film “My mamma always said: Life was like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’re going to get”. Then Forrest points and comments to the lady’s nice white sneaker, saying those must be comfortable and remembering lots of shoes that he wore and even the first one that takes us back to his boyhood in an orthopedic office with his mother (Sally Field). His first pairs of shoes were attached to leg braces for correction of his curved spine.     

Forrest in his memory flashbacks explains that his mother picked the name of Forrest for him after one of the heroes of the south in the civic war, General Forrest who started the club of “Ku Klux Clan” with the members covering their faces with a white mask looking like ghosts. His protective mother was not able to accept his boy’s low IQ and him attending special education school. So she sleeps with a school principal to accept Forrest in his school. He was raised by his single mother in a big house by a lake that was often full with many guests. On his first day to school on the school bus, he meets a beautiful little girl named Jenny (Hanna R. Hall) who will become his long-time friend, spending many moments together that the film flashbacks on some. One day while with Jenny, three boys on their bikes drop him then chase him, when Jenny tells him “Run Forrest run”. He starts running with all his power so his prostheses coming off and he runs faster away, passing through the town with the surprise of bystanders to Jenny’s house. Jenny who was living with his abusive father soon was transferred to his grandma’s house closer to Forrest’s home. The two continue with their tender friendship all the way through high school. One day again the same three boys now young men in their car start to chase Forrest that Jenny again encourages him to run and he again runs so fast passing through a college football field surprising the coaches that he runs faster than their players. So Forrest joins the university of Alabama football team and becomes the principal factor of the their victories.

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The life story of Forrest goes along with the history of United States from the 60’s at the time of the presidency of John F. Kennedy, when the blacks called “Coons” were denied entrance to the university of Alabama supported by its governor Wallace that Kennedy administration had to use the military force to interfere and allows racial equality. The governor Wallace with the support of his pro-segregation followers, critical of the federal government being a military dictatorship decided to run for the presidency to take care of the matters in his way, but he was shot in an assassination attempt, though he did not die. At this point the black lady at the bus stop bench leaves and gets on her bus and Forrest continues his story to another lady who has just joined them on the bench with her little son and discloses having been a college student at the time of Wallace assassination. Forrest tells her that Jenny (Robin Wright as adult Jenny) was in the college at the time as well and though they were apart, he would go and visit her at times.

 

One of these times of visit that the film shows while Forrest waiting to see Jenny in a rainy evening, when Jenny arrives in her boyfriend’s car, upset Forrest out of her protection starts beating forces the boyfriend to drive away. After protesting to him, Jenny takes Forrest to her house and her bedroom, dries him, takes off her clothes to sleep with him, but Forrest who still is little boy in the body of a man, shies away and Jenny realizes the fact of his nature and just cuddles with him. In a party for the celebration of the university of Alabama’s football team victory at the White House, Forrest being thirsty drinks all the free beers. When it is his time to be congratulated by Kennedy and when shakes his hands, and is asked how he feels, Forrest responds he “gotta pee” that makes the president and others chuckle. In continuation of retelling his life story that is a review of the modern American history, Forrest says that someone killed the nice president Kennedy in his car while driving at a parade in Dallas, then shortly after someone else killed his brother too, though he was in his kitchen.

Forrest mocks himself and the American colleges for giving diploma to football players like him after a few years of playing in their teams without much studying. Right after his graduation, he is approached by an army officer inviting him to think about his future by joining the army. The first day he gets on the bus along with other new privates, when he introduces himself as “Forrest Gump” to the bus driver, he screams at him like in the film “Full Metal Jacket” that “nobody gives a shit about your name, Maggot as you are now in the army and go grab a seat”. Like on the school bus that nobody let him to sit beside, on the army bus he was denied to sit beside anyone, except a young black man, named Benjamin or “Bubba” (Mykelti Williamson) with low IQ like him who was obsessed about shrimps as cooking and eating shrimps was for generation a custom in his family, so he knew everything about shrimping business that he was about to start one day.

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In the army boot camp, exactly like the Kubrick’s film “Full Metal Jacket”, the privates in lines are yelled at by the sergeant, though this time he calls Forrest smart and having an IQ of over 160. Then Forrest comments that the army was not hard at all as one needs just to tidy his bed, stand up still and answer to every question with “Yes, Drill Sergeant”. One night when lying in his bed in the training camp, a soldier peer shows him a girl magazine where he sees the photo of Jenny. He finds out the she is singing in a nude bar in Memphis, so at the first chance he travels down south to see Jenny again. He finds her on the stage nude covered by her guitar playing and singing the songs of Joan Baez, her idol under the nick name of Bobbie Dylan. When the med audience mock her performance, Forrest again jumps at them and grabs Jenny and take her out.

Jenny again resists being saved and tells him that he cannot keep saving her and he should let her be. She farewells him and gets on the first car, a truck that stops for her and asks the driver to take her wherever he goes. At this point while saying bye to Jenny, Forrest informs her that he is being sent to Vietnam. Jenny advises him again not to try to be brave in the war and just keep running to save his life. But Vietnam was totally different than what they were told, as the soldiers very comfortably drinking beers and barbequing, having a very good time to Forrest and Bubba’s surprise. Arriving at the war camp, the two meet their commander lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise) who was from a long generation of military family fighting in every single American war from the civil war on.

 

All the way from the training camp to the war zone even under the heavy rain in the day and night, Bubba kept talking about shrimps, all foods made of shrimp and shrimping business, even asking Forrest to join him in shrimp business after the war. After four months of constant rain of all kinds that Forrest describes them in detail, suddenly when the sun shines through, their platoon is ambushed by an intense firing. Forrest recalls what Jenny advised him and starts to run fast to save his life when he notices Bubba has been shot. So he runs back under the heavy fire of Vietnamese to rescue Bubba, but each time he finds another soldier having been shot before getting to Bubba, so he keeps carrying them to safety, including lieutenant Dan who did not want to be saved but left to be killed per his destiny like the rest of his generation. When Forrest finally reached Bubba and carried him to safety by the river Mekong beside the others, he died from his serious deep belly wound in his arms. Forrest sadly states that he lost his best friend who instead of being a shrimp boat captain, died young by the Mekong river in Vietnam.

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Reaching this point of the story, Forrest still on the bus stop bench has a white man listener to whom he tells about his own wound in the buttocks that he has been told to be caused by a million dollar bullet. But Forrest in satire says “the army must have kept the money” as he didn’t see any. He continues recalling that the best thing about his buttock wound was eating ice cream that he was offered as much as he could eat. Forrest is inaugurated by the president Johnson whom he tells about his buttock wound that surprisingly the president wanted to see it that Forrest in front of all the attendees in the White House and on the nation TV, pulls his pants down to show his wound. In his flashback in the hospital, lieutenant Dan is shown beside him having lost both of his legs and later on keeps blaming Forrest for not letting him die per his destiny and now ending up being a cripple. In hospital, Forrest receives back all the mail that he had been sending regularly to Jenny, showing that they were never read by her for not having a fixed address, but then being a hippie wondering from one man and place to another.

When still in the military hospital in Vietnam, one day a soldier patient invites Forrest to play ping pong that he likes and ends up playing it well. He plays ping pong so much even alone against a board when there was no one to play with and even in his sleep. After leaving Vietnam, Forrest goes for a walk to the nation capital, Washington where he faces an anti-war demonstration right at the Lincoln square. He was invited by the huge crowd of the demonstrators to speak about the war in Vietnam that right at the start a policeman disconnects the speakers and though he keeps talking, nobody hears him. Before leaving the stage, suddenly he notices Jenny in the crowd who runs towards him, then both embrace each other while the crowd cheer. Jenny takes Forrest around and shows him places including a couple of armed groups, one a black group fighting for racial equality and another a white group. While there and when the white leader slaps Jenny, Forrest gets infuriated and attacks the man in her protection. Jenny tells Forrest how she was travelling around over the years when he was fighting in Vietnam, spending time with different groups of people to find herself in life. Jenny farewells him once again when Forrest gives her his war medal that Jenny asks why he is so good to her, that he responds “because you are my girl”.

The army instead of sending Forrest back to Vietnam, they send him to Soviet Union, then China to play ping pong, then to the Olympics. He soon becomes a national hero and appears on TV interviewed with John Lennon, whom Forrest comments that he was later on assassinated by a fan when asking for his autograph. When one evening during Christmas holidays, Forrest runs into the lieutenant Dan on the street and finds out he is still depressed and living in a hotel, he stays with him during the holidays. During the New Year Eve, they both met two girls whom they take to their hotel, but when one of the girls tries to make love with Forrest and he pushes her away and she calls him stupid, the Lieutenant Dan gets angry and throws both girls out.

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Soon the president Nixon after meeting with Forrest for being a ping pong champ, resigns from the presidency for the Watergate scandal. After this and the war being over, Forrest’s service in the army is terminated and he finally returns home. Remembering his promise to Bubba to buy a boat and get into shrimping business, he does so and names his boat “Jenny”, and the business “Bubba Gump Shrimp”. While Forrest alone on his shrimp boat on the water thinking of Jenny, the film shows her still wondering around from men to men and one evening after getting drugged up, she attempts to jump off a height and commit suicide that she changes her mind and starts crying, perhaps also thinking of Forrest. One day when he is about to dock his shrimp boat, he notices the lieutenant Dan sitting on the dock waiting for him. Forrest excited seeing Dan jumps into the water and swims to him, leaving his boat stranded. While Dan tells him that per his promise that whenever he buys his shrimp boat, he would be his first mate, the stranded boat runs into the nearby dock and breaks it. The two get together and start their new shrimp boat adventure with the lieutenant Dan very excited about the venture and when their boat as the only shrimp boat survived in a huge storm, they become very popular and their shrimp business booms.

When Forrest hears the news of his mama being sick and on the verge of dying, he jumps in the water from his boat and runs all the way back home to their house in Alabama. Getting to his mama, he asks her “why are you dying” that she responds “It’s my time…and I will miss you Forrest”. By this time there is another listener to his life story at the bus stop, an older lady who would not mind to miss her bus to listen to the rest of Forrest’s story. After his mama dies in a few days from cancer, Forrest hands the shrimp boat business to Dan and switches to fruit business. Still all the way thinking of Jenny, one day while cutting the grass, suddenly Jenny walks in and stays with him. One day when going for a walk together, they pass by Jenny father’s house where she was abused by him that upsets her and starts throwing rocks at the windows. Without uttering a word, Jenny’s realization of her present time misery and waste of life to that point all due to her early life adversaries are felt on the screen.

On the evening of July 4 after watching the fireworks by the lake at the backyard of his house, when Jenny walks upstairs to bed, Forrest asks her if she would marry him that she responds that he does not want to marry her. Then Forrest asks her why she does not love him and walks out. Later on while Forrest is in bed, Jenny joins him and they make love. The next morning Jenny runs away again, calling for a taxi and leaves Forrest. When Forrest wakes up and notices Jenny has left, for no reason decides to keep running, and he runs and runs all across Alabama then all the States from one ocean to the other. He keeps thinking about his mama and Jenny and when interviewed and asked by the reporters the reason of his running and if he runs for any cause, he responds that he just feels running without a cause.

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While running for over three years, Forrest helped some people with business ideas from what he told them for no good reason. Like Bhudda he finds followers who run with him and when after three years, he suddenly stops for being tired, the followers wonder what they supposed to do then. Continuing with telling his life story to the lady on the bus stop bench, he discloses to her that he is there to go to Jenny as she has invited him through a letter, that the lady informs him that the address is only a few blocks away that he could walk. Then Forrest runs and gets to Jenny’s house where she in her waitress uniform opens the door and welcomes him. While chatting and Jenny apologizes him for not being nice to him over years, someone knocks at the door and a woman drops off Jenny’s son. In his total surprise, Jenny discloses to him that his name is Forrest too after his father, that he wonders how his father’s name is Forrest that Jenny tells him that he is their son. Forrest in shock steps back that Jenny ensures him that he has not done anything wrong and asks him “Isn’t he beautiful?” that Forrest responds “He is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen”. Then he asks Jenny in tears if he is smart unlike him, that she assures him that he is very smart and top of his class.

Jenny encourages Forrest to go and talk to his son that he goes and sits with him. In the next scene, Jenny while sitting on a bench park while their son playing, discloses to Forrest that she is sick with a virus that the doctors don’t know what it is. Then Jenny asks him if he marries her that Forrest agrees and on their wedding day, lieutenant Dan surprisingly joins in their celebration. One morning when Jenny in bed resting and Forrest brings her breakfast, she asks how Vietnam was that he describes his observations of the nature, the sky, the stars, the ocean and the rise of sun everywhere in Vietnam and on his long runs that could hardly tell apart between the earth stops and heaven starts. Jenny tells him she wishes that she could have been with him, that he responds that she always was, then she tells him that she loves him.

Jenny dies on a Saturday morning and Forrest buries her under their tree in the backyard of his house and have her father’s house dmolished to the ground. At the end standing by her grave Forrest talks to her and tells her that their little Forrest is fine and how he takes care of him, plays ping pong and does a lot of fishing together. In grieve he also tells her “I don’t know if mama and the lieutenant Dan were right that all follow our destinies or just float around like a breeze”. The film ends with Forrest drops off his son at the school bus stop and a feather like in the opening scene by Forrest’s feet starts floating in the sky above.

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Forrest Gump: A Sweet Box of Chocolate                 

While the most popular quote of the film is “Life is like a box of chocolate. You’ll never know what you get”, in fact a box of chocolate is sweet anyhow and though one may like one type better than another, rarely anyone dislikes any box of chocolate. In reality for many people life is not a box of chocolate and sweet, but hard, bitter and not knowing what to get or comes at them, more like Forrest’s other quote life being “floating around like a breeze”. While the life in reality is not sweet like a box of chocolate for everyone, the film and the character of Forrest Gump is sweet. He is simple, honest, trustworthy and sweet, despite having a low IQ and come across to some as being stupid, and in fact the good virtues that last like him who never aged in the film like others. In this sense the film is poetical, philosophical and teaching us all a good life lesson to be like Forrest. At the same time the film is drama, melodrama, comedy, satirical, while spans over a few decades of American history and lives. This sweet story of a sweet character was very well depicted on the screen with a perfect direction and use of special and visual effects by Zemeckis without being overwhelming as the usual digital and special effects films are. If the film was made just a decade before and in early 1980’s where the story of the film in the present time goes on, it could have been certainly one of the top 10 or 20 greatest films of all time.      

The film is based on the novel of the same name by Eric Roth who wrote the script for the film as well but with some changes. The film encouraged Roth to keep writing scripts for other films in later years such as “The Insider” in 1999, “Munich” in 2005, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in 2008 and “A Star is Born” in 2018 that all earned him Oscar nominations. Robert Zemeckis who started filmmaking in 1980s with “Romancing Stone” in 1984, then the science-fiction comedy “Back to the Future” trilogy and in 1988 “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”, then “Death Becomes Her” in 1992, goes on to make more films with visual effects that’s his expertise and interest after “Forrest Gump” such as “The Polar Express” in 2004, “Monster House” in 2006, “Bewulf” in 2007, “A Christmas Carol” in 2009 and “Welcome to Marwen” in 2018. Well known as a visual expert in films with quite a few inventions such as the use of the insertion of computer graphics into live-action footage, and pioneering performance capture techniques, Zemeckis applied his technical skills in “Forrest Gump” to make a comedy, melodrama and historical film that was warm, tender, sincere and honest than anything else, so to be one of the most audience loving films of all time.  

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Applying “Computer Generated Imagery” Zemeckis with the assistance of Ken Ralston collaged the past real personage footages of US presidents with the present actors such as Tom Hanks in the role of Forrest Gump, meeting in White House and shake the hands of presidents as if they all happened in real life. Several other visual techniques such as chroma key, image wraping, morphing and rotoscoping were also used to create such virtual images. The computer generated imagery was also used for removal of Gary Sinise’s legs as lieutenant Dan, and also for the anti-war rally at Lincoln Memorial where only 1,500 extras were used but filmed a few times to put them technically in different corners to give the visual impression of a much larger crowd.

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Received generally positive by the critics except a few, the film was hailed by Roger Ebert: “I’ve never met anyone like Forrest Gump in a movie before, and for that matter I’ve never seen a movie quite like ‘Forrest Gump.’ Any attempt to describe him will risk making the movie seem more conventional than it is, but let me try. It’s a comedy, I guess. Or maybe a drama. Or a dream…What a magical movie”. Peter Travers of the Rolling Stone commended on Forrest Gump personality “everything we admire in the American character – honest, brave, and loyal with a heart of gold”. Capturing more the hearts of audience worldwide, Forrest Gump ranked 71 in the first edition of 100 best American films in 1998 and 76 in its second edition of 2007. The film was only the second in box office hit to “ The Lion King” in 1994 and sold $677.9 Million from a budget of $55 million. With 32-song soundtrack from different artists of 50-70’s, the soundtrack reached a peak of number 2 on the Billboard album chart and sold $ 12 million alone. Winning 6 academy awards for the best picture, best director, best actor, best adapted screenplay, best film editing and best visual effects, “Forrest Gump” in beat “Pulp Fiction”, “Quiz Show” and “The Shawshank Redemption” and Robert Zemeckis defeated Woody Allen, Quentin Tarantino, Robert Redford and Krzysztof Kieslowski in direction.

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Conclusion:

In closing remarks “Forrest Gump” one more time will be redefined based on the following criteria:  

  1. Originality: “Forrest Gump” is original in its story subject through retelling the life story of a simple, low intelligent man, spanning across three decades of the American politics and lives, never done before in one single film. Moreover the film is poetic and philosophical while a satirical comedy and melodrama. One of the most loved films of all time more by the general public across the globe, the film is a story about love and more so about life itself to live it more simple, sincere and honest. It is also original in affecting the hearts and minds and a lesson how to live life from a so called “stupid” man.
  2. Technicality: While the film hinges mainly on its story across decades of American history, its technicality of visual and special effects described above so to collage the real life footage events with the present time events in the film including Forrest Gump has made the film a visual mastery as well. Moreover the performance of Tom Hanks at his best is another aspect of the technicality of the film.
  3. Impact Factor: The influence of “Forrest Gump” has been on more than anything else on the hearts and also minds of ordinary people that according to many admissions, the film has changed or influenced their lives greatly. The film has also impacted Eric Roth to write more scripts for the screen and Zemeckis to make more films, though none reached this film achievement. The influence of the film on other films and filmmakers are innumerable and hard to evaluate.
  4. Survival: “Forrest Gump” has survived well to this very day in its still true message on love, life and living, and still a fun to watch film that while brings on smile and laughter, it brings tears to the eyes.

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