For all you folks thinking that there is some other movie out there that is better than Forrest Gump, you’re wrong. Okay, fine, I’m a fangirl of the movie. But I have facts to back up my claim. Hang in there, and you may just become a believer (if you weren’t already – because c’mon – most of the world is already in agreement with me on this one, right?)
Now before I get into the story of Forrest Gump, I’m gonna geek out on a few elements of story that back up my claim. For all our sanity, I’ll try to limit myself (I could probably talk about the awesomeness of this movie for days, so you’re welcome).
AHHH THIS MOVIE IS SO GOOD.
Oh, and… If you’re one of the crazies who hasn’t seen this movie, (insert facepalm emoji here), do yourself a favor. Watch it. Seriously. It’s worth it. And this blog is not going to do it justice.
Depending on your knowledge of story elements, you may already know that the three main types of conflict that are present in story are: man vs. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. self. Another, more simplified way of putting it is “external vs. internal” conflict. Forrest Gump hits on all these like nobody’s business. I’ll point these out more in the “Character Transformation” section. Sit tight.
In this category alone, Forrest Gump would probably still win the best-movie-ever award. Themes are “an underlying topic of a discussion or a recurring idea in an artistic work.” (Thanks, vocabulary.com). Universal themes are themes that would ring true for people around the world – such as love or suffering – and generally focus on human nature or the human condition. Some of the UT’s that are present in FG are overcoming obstacles (“run, Forrest, run!” – which came in handy on more than one occasion), finding love (“I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.” – Forrest to Jenny, they both struggled to find love and acceptance in their lives), and life and death (each character faced with death has a unique outlook, and Forrest makes his own conclusions about life and death in the end – re: Lieutenant Dan’s destiny vs. Momma’s box of chocolates).
I could talk SO MUCH MORE about these themes and how they are played out in the movie, but I’ll specify more about both conflict and universal themes in the “Character Transformation” section.
Empathy (defined by vocabulary.com) – “the ability to identify with another’s feelings.”
Alright, y’all. This is a big one.
Empathy is my favorite part of being a storyteller. Everyday I get to help build bridges to help connect people on a deeper level. Empathy helps mend misunderstandings and open our hearts to people who are different than we are. It’s legit.
Forrest Gump takes a character that is a societal outsider and makes us love him. We connect with his feelings and experience, even though most of us will never experience his struggles personally. How do we develop this connection? The movie humanizes Forrest Gump as someone who is like us. He wants the same things that we want and struggles with some of the same things that we struggle with. The movie also gives us a glimpse of an unfamiliar world, the struggles of Forrest that we can’t relate to, to broaden our perspective into this other human’s life and experience. By showing us that Forrest is like us, we gain empathy. By showing us his unique struggles, we also gain empathy.
And (hopefully) our lives were impacted after watching the movie to be more understanding and accepting of people like Forrest, people different than we are.
And I’d be completely insane to not mention that Tom Hanks, the actor who plays “adult” Forrest in the movie, is one of the key reasons that our gain of empathy is successful. He is a believable and wonderful actor who is able to communicate sooo much in his voice and body language. (Side Note: It’s not difficult for “Forrest Gump” to be the best-movie-ever with the best-actor-ever, Tom Hanks. I mean, I don’t think the race is up for debate, but find me if you think anyone comes close to this uber-talented, versatile, inspiring creation.)
Examples of empathy run wild throughout the movie. With characters who are single parents, abuse victims, war survivors and more – you are sure to find a character who teaches you something about the human condition and opens up your heart.
Another reason Forrest Gump is the best movie, ever, is that it can reach the widest audience. No matter what type of movies you like, chances are your favorite genre is incorporated into this movie. (Well, except Sci-fy, but there are still some pretty cool visual effects in FG.) Forrest Gump has love, drama, humor, adventure, war, sports, history, entrepreneurship and politics. It’s literally jam-packed with genres.
For brevity’s sake, I’ll focus on one that I think makes this movie stand out. History.
I’m biased because I love history, but bear with me. I’m gonna geek out for a sec. This movie does an excellent job bouncing from micro to macro stories, using history as a common thread and narrative device to move things along. Micro stories focus on individual people, while macro stories focus on big picture narratives.
Forrest Gump uses history to jump between the micro and macro narratives and to give us a context of timeline, political climate, and American culture throughout the chronology of the film. While Forrest is narrating his life, he talks about his relationship to widely-known historical figures or events. He refers to JFK’s assassination, the integration of black students into a southern college, the war in Vietnam, Chinese Communism, and more. Oh, and he taught Elvis how to dance, gave John Lennon the lines to his “Imagine” song, accidentally uncovered the Watergate scandal, and was an early investor in “some fruit company” (Apple).
Throughout the movie, we find out how Forrest had a hand in America’s history and culture. We also get a nice visual tour of the country during Forrest’s three-year run-a-thon. Dang, all this FG talk is making me want to watch this movie again. Like, now.
Finally! The section has arrived for talking about character transformation. In most movies (maybe all movies?), at least one character goes through a transformation. Be it physical, relational, emotional or philosophical, the character undergoes some kind of transformation that displays growth, usually for the better. Let’s dive into some of the transformations that FG characters underwent. (Yay!) I’ll limit myself to three because – we ain’t got all day.
From Jenny’s first endearing meeting with Forrest on the school bus, we’re hooked. She notices that Forrest is different and asks if he is “stupid, or something,” but quickly accepts Forrest as her best friend. Jenny sneaks over to Forrest’s house because she’s scared – but Forrest doesn’t know why. We find out that her father has been abusing her. She is bounced around from home to home, always wishing she was somewhere new. She asks Forrest to pray with her, that God would make her a bird, “to fly far, far away from here.”
Almost her entire life Jenny runs away. She gets caught up in abusive relationships looking for love and acceptance. Forrest comes in and out of her life, but she always chooses someone or somewhere else. Even when she finally seeks him out, she runs away from Forrest after he shares that he loves her.
The beginning of the movie opens with Forrest sitting at a bus stop, on his way to Jenny’s apartment. This gives us a window into her eventual character transformation of finally acknowledging and accepting something she’s always known – that home, love, safety and acceptance is with Forrest. She reaches out to him and ends up moving back to their hometown of Greenbow, Alabama, with little Forrest.
She’d always accepted Forrest as a friend, but did not always appreciate his dedication to her. He was, after all, the only male figure in her life who treated her with respect, and she didn’t know what to do with that. We can assume that her diagnosis helps push her to back to Forrest (she tells him she’s “sick,” but the audience might assume she has HIV/AIDS). As she looks back on her life, she wishes that she would have been with Forrest during his adventures. She has regrets, but makes the most of the time she has left.
*Conflicts: Internal and external
*Universal themes: finding love, pain and struggle, rejection and acceptance, life and death
Man oh man, Lt. Dan. Where to start. He was introduced to us as the no-nonsense leader of Forrest’s and Bubba’s military unit in Vietnam. He was brave and smart, but wanted to die – like generations of his family had done – fighting for America.
He treated Forrest well, but didn’t think much of him. He was upset when Forrest saved his life. He thought Forrest didn’t understand him. He was outraged when Forrest received the Medal of Honor. He laughed at Forrest’s idea to become a shrimping boat captain (to honor Bubba’s memory), and jokingly offered to become his first mate.
But when the cigarette-flavored ladies called Forrest “stupid” on New Year’s Eve, Lt. Dan roared like a papa bear. He stood up for Forrest and was protective of him – something that he probably would not have done had he not experienced rejection and ridicule after losing his legs in the war.
After wishing for years that his life would have ended on the battleground, Lt. Dan ended up becoming Forrest’s first mate on the shrimping boat and found “peace with God.” He found joy again, found love, and even found new, magic legs.
*Conflicts: Internal and external
*Universal themes: life and death, acceptance and rejection, pain and struggle
Forrest is a character who embodies physical, relational, emotional AND philosophical transformation. He goes from walking with braces on his legs, to becoming a fast runner. He learns from his relationship with his mother how he would like to treat his own son (telling him he loves him before the first day of school instead of “don’t let anybody tell you you’re different.”) He grows emotionally as he learns to relate to the different people in his life. It seems so simple, but he has to advocate for himself that he “knows what love is” even though he’s “not a smart man.”
But the main transformation I want to focus on is philosophical. Forrest is constantly told what to do, how to act and what to think. From his mother who “did the best she could,” to Jenny who told him to not be brave and “just run away,” to Lt. Dan who said everything is part of a plan and “destiny” – Forrest mostly listened to what the people in his life told him. As a member of the audience, we don’t know if this information goes in one ear and out the other, if he agrees, disagrees or is indifferent to it.
The golden moment that starts the waterfall tears for us is during Forrest’s monologue to Jenny’s grave. He opens up about his confusion over life and death. He says he doesn’t know who is right – Momma (“life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get,” or Lt. Dan (“everyone has a destiny”). Forrest concludes that “maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.” This is one of the only times that we see that Forrest is introspective and thinks about life’s big questions just as anyone else might. Truthfully, it isn’t surprising that he is questioning life and death. He watched his mother, best friend and wife die, after all.
And then he nonchalantly goes back to talking about the very straight-forward ways that he is taking care of their son – by making him breakfast, lunch and dinner, brushing his hair, etc. He starts crying when he reflects on how smart little Forrest is. (The main concern he had when he found out that he had a son was if he was smart.)
That last monologue was filled with truth bombs as well as simple, everyday life things that make your heart feel things. I mean, he leaves his son’s letter to Jenny (addressed “Mom” in the cutest handwriting) on her grave and doesn’t look at it. Little Forrest told him that he wasn’t supposed to read the letter, so he doesn’t. I MEAN HOW CUTE IS THAT. And how simple a display of love, respect and affection for his son. *Cue the tears*
*Conflict: Internal and External
*Universal themes: acceptance and rejection, love, family, overcoming obstacles, life and death (and so many more!)
Happy day, y’all. I’m about to wrap up my thoughts on this super awesome nothing-comes-close-to-it, movie. The Story.
You may have heard of common Story Arcs that are found throughout history in literature – Rags to Riches (think Cinderella), Overcoming the Monster (think Odyssey), Hero’s Journey (think Hobbit), Voyage and Return (think Alice in Wonderland), etc. Forrest Gump mostly resembles a Hero’s Journey since we are following one character’s story through obstacles and triumph. But, you guessed it, this movie incorporates many of these common arcs throughout. (Example: Jenny overcomes inner demons, Forrest goes to Vietnam and back, oh and becomes a ‘gazillionaire’).
For now, I’m going to focus more on the “underdog” narrative of Forrest’s Hero’s Journey (which also has hints of Rags to Riches).
This kid starts out with a crooked back and a low IQ, yet he becomes so so successful in basically anything he puts his mind to. He walks with braces on his legs, but then miraculously outruns the bullies at school. He runs right into an Alabama football practice and gets to go to college on scholarship (he’s really fast!). He runs to save his platoon on the battlefield, which earns him a Medal of Honor. He also runs across the country multiple times! (Side note: Forrest runs because he loved running. Jenny “runs” because she wanted to escape.)
Entrepreneurially, Forrest’s “Bubba Gump” shrimp company became a huge success. And he was an early investor in Apple – which we’re all jealous of, let’s be real. Oh, and he got to meet three Presidents (and even show off his million-dollar wound! “But the army must keep that money ‘cause I still haven’t seen a nickel of that million dollars” – Forrest quotes are the best quotes. Sorry, I’m a little obsessed with this movie if that isn’t already clear.)
Alright guys, for those of you who might use the absurd argument that FG can’t be the best movie, ever, because it doesn’t have a super happy ending, let me explain. I’m a sucker for a happy ending. Happy endings > sad endings.
But for the purposes of what makes a good movie (and not merely a happy audience member) I’m going to say two things:
- Happy endings aren’t always the “real” endings. Let’s be real – life sucks sometimes. Whose life is smooth and without pain, struggle and death? The experiences of love and loss that Forrest faces are some of the strongest forces of connection that we have with him.
- Forrest (and other characters) find renewed hope in the end. Even in the darkest of times, we can always find hope that gets us through. Lt. Dan finds love and new legs in the end. Jenny finds love and acceptance. Forrest gets to raise little Forrest.
And the feather that drops out of the Curious George book as Forrest sends his son on the school bus for the ending scene SO PERFECT. (The movie also opens with Forrest finding this feather right before he starts narrating his story).
AHH THIS MOVIE IS SO GOOD.
ENDING NOTE ON "FORREST GUMP"
Alright, y’all. I’m realizing there is just too much awesomeness about this movie to fit into a single post. Like, I didn’t even talk about Forrest’s best bud, Bubba. Or about how Forrest played ping-pong around the world. Or about all the different US Presidents he got to meet. (facepalm to myself).
I also didn’t even mention ALL THE AWARDS that this movie won. Six Academy Awards! (Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Editing, Best Visual Effects and Best Adaptation of a Screenplay). And lots of other awards that back up this claim of mine.
As you can see, there are a lot of things about this movie that were left out of the post. SO, I would LOVE to keep this conversation going! Please post your comments or questions and I’ll be happy to dive deeper into movie analysis mode.