Mama always said life was like a box of you-know-what's. You never knew what you were going to get. Yeah, well, you know what you're getting with Forrest Gump, the simpleton we've all come to know and love. It's to director Robert Zemekis's credit that he, screenwriter Eric Roth, and novelist Winston Groom created an endearingly slow-witted character we never laugh at but always with. Not since Lenny Small in Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men" has a character with such a low IQ come to be such a hero to so many.
Likable as the character is, however, this isn't to suggest that "Forrest Gump" the movie will appeal to everybody. One's liking or disliking the film may depend largely on one's acceptance or rejection of its two principal plot devices.
First, the movie attempts to reflect upon nearly thirty years of pop history, the turbulent era from the mid fifties to the mid eighties, complete with appropriate songs of the day. It was a period that saw the beginnings of the Cold War, the introduction of rock-and-roll, the conflict in Vietnam, the moon landing, the hippie movement, the counter cultures of sex and drugs, a growing divide between young and old, multitudinous peace demonstrations, Watergate, mistrust in government, and a shocking number of assassinations of American leaders. In considering these things, the movie offers us two contrasting points of view--that of the innocent, unaffected Forrest, who passes through every conceivable aspect of these years without ever being affected by or even noticing them; and the perspective of his only true love, Jenny Curran (Robin Wright), who becomes directly involved in the passing events as a college student, a hippie, a folk singer, a stripper, a protester, a militant, and finally a waitress.
While Forrest remains unconcerned about circumstances around him, he is mostly happy; and while Jenny becomes more occupied with her world, she becomes less happy. Some viewers may be reminded of Emily Dickinson's poem: "How happy is the little stone That rambles in the road alone, And doesn't care about careers, And exigencies never fears...Fulfilling absolute decree In casual simplicity." Others may find Forrest's naiveté less than inspiring and find the whole film insipid and vacuous.
The second device in the movie is even more abstract, seemingly thrown in by the filmmakers and put up for grabs. Namely, the film toys with the idea that the events of our lives may either be as capricious as a feather in the breeze or, conversely, that wherever that feather lands may have been destined by some unseen hand of fate. Note Lt. Dan's insistence on letting destiny take its course. I suppose we should be grateful in the end that the filmmakers included any ideas at all in the story, but it would have been more daring of them to take a more definite position rather than straddling the philosophical fence. In any case, it's left to the viewer to determine if "Forrest Gump" is merely an unpretentiously whimsical farce, a serious sociopolitical allegory, or an old-fashioned tearjerker. In the final analysis, maybe it's this very ambiguity that makes the film so popular.
Tom Hanks plays Forrest, an eternal optimist and amiable dunce with an IQ of 75. No matter where he goes, people either like him or shun him; there's no in-between. As his mama says, "You've got to do your best with what God gave you." He's sincere and caring, in spite of his slowness, and his heart is always in the right place. It's hard for audiences not to like him. The film's big gimmick is that as he blithely goes his way in life, he stumbles into every major event of the mid twentieth century. As a youth Forrest's mama (Sally Field) tries to straighten him out by making him wear braces on his legs; when he accidentally runs into a young Elvis, Forrest teaches him how to move his hips while barely moving his lower limbs, a gyration the singer soon uses to advantage. Later, Forrest loses the braces and becomes a world-class runner and champion football player, the latter explaining how he manages to earn a college degree, one of the few direct satirical jibes in the film.
From then on, the moviemakers digitally place him in old newsreel footage so he gets to meet and shake hands with Presidents Kennedy (to the tune of "Camelot"), Johnson, and Nixon. He's also present when Governor George Wallace tries to keep his schools from being integrated; joins the army and becomes a hero in Vietnam; meets his two best buddies, Bubba Blue (Mykelti Williamson) and Lt. Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise); becomes a millionaire in the shrimping business; uncovers the Watergate scandal; and so on. "Mama says, stupid is as stupid does."
The constant misunderstandings and coincidences may remind one of the Python's "Life of Brian," where every innocuous action the hero makes leads to a major, unforeseen, and wholly ironic consequence. All the while, Forrest keeps "rescuing" Jenny from the attentions of her many male admirers as both he and she go their own ways afterwards. He's in love with Jenny, but she tells him he doesn't know what love is. It's easy to see the contradiction in that sentiment as Forrest is the only one in the story who does, indeed, love everyone; or at the very least bears no grudge against anyone. And, then, there's all that dying--the Kennedys, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, and the other casualties of War. "Mama said dying is a part of life." I forewarned you it's a tearjerker, but a thoughtful one, and at almost two-and-a-half hours it goes on for maybe twenty minutes longer than it should, seeming a little redundant toward the very end.
The folks at Paramount Home Video present all of this in a fine 2.35:1 ratio anamorphic DVD transfer. Colors are deep and rich, definition is sharp and clear, and only some very minor grain is noticeable, I assume at the beginnings of reels. The photography and scenery are particularly well rendered in natural, vibrant, but not overly glossy tones.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is actually pretty ordinary sounding until the Vietnam War sequence, where it suddenly comes to life with a shattering frequency and dynamic range. I thought the surround speakers remained relatively calm and subdued throughout the film but found either they were lending only a mild sense of ambiance to background music or not playing at all. I suspected the latter but found the absence of surround information pleasing to the ear. When I pressed my ear to a rear speaker (something I wouldn't normally do), I found there was almost nothing coming out at all except during the opening and closing credits and only faintly at other times, like during the Vietnam sequence. A measurement with a sound-pressure meter indicated a difference of about twenty-five decibels between front and rear speaker output during the loudest passages, which translates to hearing almost no difference at all from the center listening position. Apparently, the mild sense of ambiance I was hearing the rest of the time was coming mostly from the sound of the front speakers reflecting off the walls and ceiling. Still, it's darned good, if mainly front-channel, sound. On the other hand, the Dolby Surround in the French language track synthesizes quite a lot of monaural information for the rear channels.
Because the film is so well appreciated by so many filmgoers, Paramount offer it in a Special Edition two-disc set with a suitable accompaniment of bonus items. Disc one contains the widescreen movie itself; English and French spoken languages; English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing; and two separate audio commentaries, one with director Robert Zemeckis, producer Steve Starkey, and production designer Rick Carter and another with producer Wendy Finerman; it concludes with an oddly skimpy nineteen scene selections. Disc two contains a thirty-minute documentary, "Through the Eyes of Forrest Gump," made about the time of the film's production in 1994. It affords numerous interviews with the stars and crew, and it goes behind the scenes to look at a few of the film's special digital effects. Next, there are five featurettes that are fun and informative. They include segments on screen tests, production design, sound design, visual effects, and make-up. Yes, we get to learn how they created those mobs of people at the Washington Monument using only a small group of extras, and, of course, we see how Gary Sinise digitally lost his legs. Fascinating stuff. Lastly, there's an attractive photo gallery and a pair of widescreen theatrical trailers.
"Forrest Gump" won Oscars for just about everything in sight: Best Picture, Director (Zemeckis), Actor (Hanks), Writing (Roth), Film Editing (Arthur Schmidt), and Visual Effects (Ken Ralston, George Murphy, Stephen Rosenbaum, and Allen Hall); and what it didn't win, it was nominated for: Art Direction, Set Decoration, Cinematography, Supporting Actor (Sinise), Makeup, Music, Sound, and Sound Effects.
"Mama said you've got to put the past behind you." Maybe that's why Forrest runs so much, from one end of the country to the other, time and again. Life has a way of leveling things out for each of us. As Emerson wrote, "For everything you have missed, you have gained something else; and for everything you gain, you lose something." Forrest may be dumb, but he ain't stupid.
"Have a nice day."