We recently purchased the movie Forrest Gump on Blu Ray. This is a movie I was surprised that I didn’t own already. For the few that have been living in a cave or in a commune in Vermont, I’ll sum up the movie. Actually I’ll let Wikipedia do it: “The story depicts several decades in the life of Forrest Gump, a naive and slow-witted native of Alabama who witnesses, and in some cases influences, some of the defining events of the latter half of the 20th century.” That is a pretty succinct summary of the plot of the film. I have come to realize that all I need to know about a person can be summed up by how they feel about Forrest Gump.
In a lot of ways, the story is a parable of post-World War II America. I have to admit that I didn’t live through most of the events depicted in the movie. I wasn’t born until just about the time that Forrest starts his career in Ping-Pong for the Army. I’m certain for my parents this movie has a lot more resonance as they lived through all of it. While some might say that this is an oversimplification, I think that this film is a distillation of a very difficult time in our country where we were having growing pains after the Second World War. Throughout the film runs a thread of tragic death: Elvis, JFK, Martin Luther King, John Lennon, and more personally for Forrest his best good friend Bubba in Vietnam, his mama and the love of his life Jenny. The power of the movie comes from Forrest’s simple, matter-of-fact approach to the events he experiences. They are stripped of the all the baggage from decades of history and cults of personality, and become all the more poignant as a result. As an example, after rescuing his friend during a fire fight, Forrest says “Bubba was my best good friend. Even I know that ain’t something you can find just around the corner. Bubba was going to be a shrimpin’ boat captain, but instead he died right there by that river in Vietnam.” That sums up the loss of so many in that war, and in the wars before and since.
However, at the same time it deals with some very real-life issues for most people: war, racism, unrequited love, death, fate and destiny. Whether you lived through the time period or not, I think that everyone can relate to how it feels to leave home for the first time, or to love someone who doesn’t love you the same way. I think a lot of us know what it feels like to be made fun of and to be left out. I’ve always been someone who has never completely fit into any group either because of my background, world view, value system, hobbies or that intangible thing that some groups look for. I guess that is why it resonates for me. If you’ve always been one of the cool, popular kids, comfortable and confident in your own skin and never had trouble cutting away parts of your personality in order to fit in, then you don’t have the emotional and developmental wiring to understand this film. That doesn’t make you a bad person necessarily, but it does mean that you and I have been seated at opposite ends of the table for most of life, and are not going to have a lot to talk about. So whenever I hear that someone doesn’t like Forrest Gump, I pretty much know all I need to know.