Forrest Gump: An Undying Flame
Forrest Gump is more than a famous movie; it is more than a conglomeration of memorable quotes, such as “Run, Forrest, run;” it is more than just another Tom Hanks film. It will undoubtedly go down in history as one of America’s greatest films. It is a well-rounded movie that achieves this through several aspects: use of historical events, use of music that fits the time period, use of excellent framework and directing, and fantastic character development and the connections that they shared. It is impossible to talk about just one of these aspects because they intertwine so intricately to make this movie.
The Use of Historical Events is Impeccable
Forrest’s life in the film acts like a timeline of the past century of our country’s history. The movie practically begins with a reference to Birth of a Nation as shown above, one of the first feature length films. It was a nice choice because of the movie’s inadvertent central theme of racism, which when paired with Forrest’s upbringing in the deep south, can give a better understanding of how he was raised. Scenes like this are riddled throughout the movie: meeting Elvis Presley, participating in the George Wallace protest, the war in Vietnam, the assassination of President Kennedy, the hippie movement in California, the cocaine scene during the seventies, and the Watergate Scandal. Incorporating these events into the plot line gives the audience a sense of realism. In a way, the movie is not only about Forrest, but about America during these troubled times and how an individual operated in them. Pairing Forrest’s life with actual events makes the audience want to believe that this actually happened, or at least something like this could have happened. This is, arguably, what we all want in films; to believe in a reality that is not our own. We want to escape the modernity of our day to day lives and be part of something more grand than we are, and one can argue that this film does just that. Most people are relatively familiar with these historical events and will most likely continue to do so in the future. We learned about these things all throughout public schooling. The fact that these events are so ingrained within us, lets us project part of ourselves into the film, which is essential of a movie that will stand the test of time.
The Music Tethers the Film to Reality
What better way can we give ourselves completely to a film than with something that we are faced with everyday? Politics and historical events are in our everyday lives, but so is music, and this film pairs music with history excellently to give the audience a fuller grasp of the period. Most people, when they hear an older song, can at least recognize what era it’s from. This was definitely evident in Forrest Gump. When “All Along the Watchtower” begins to play while Forrest and the rest of his unit are trekking through Vietnam, it just fit and really brought home the time period. It felt like that song could have randomly been on the radio while the characters were going on with their lives. People twenty years from now will immediately understand what time period this movie is from due to the music correctly paired with America’s timeline. For example, the most recent production of The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald with Leonardo DiCaprio used contemporary music to interact with people in a way that will speak to them now, which in the film’s defense, works- now. In twenty years, though, people will only see that it didn’t fit the time period of the roaring twenties. It will not age well. It has already been over twenty years since Forrest Gump was released and the component of music still works.
Narrative Discourse is Constantly at Work
None of this would be possible without a frame for these characteristics to act in. The director, Robert Zemeckis, created a work of art with his use of narrative discourse. Narrative discourse is defined in Tom Gunning’s essay D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film as “the succession of events, real or fictitious, that are the subject of this discourse and which could be studied without regard to the medium, linguistic, or other in which they are expressed”(340). This is a long winded way to say “the means of expression of a story…”(340). He used shots to develop characters and further the plot in a way that, if you’re not looking for it, you won’t see it because it feels smooth and natural. There is a close up in the beginning, for example, of Forrest’s face while he is thinking. Although he is simply recalling a memory from his childhood, he scrunched up his face as if he was trying very hard. Besides a slightly apparent speech impediment, this is the first glimpse the audience has into Forrest’s intellect. Another example is when Forrest is in the field with Jenny and they are praying. Jenny chants, “Dear God, please make me me a bird, so I can fly far, far far away from here.” Afterward there is a pull out shot with a flock of birds flying out of the field into the clear blue sky. This is excellent foreshadowing of Jenny’s tendency to run from her problems. This same symbolism is used again after she had died when birds flew away from her grave site, suggesting that she had escaped her sickness. It is these stylistic choices that give the film an air of worthiness to be carried through the years. It makes it entertaining enough to keep watching, generation after generation.
The Music Speaks For the Characters
Music, again, plays a large part in this film. Not just when being paired with the times and exemplifying the period, but when being used as another method of storytelling. It is a large part of the aesthetic of the scene. The songs used are meant to cue the audience as to what is occurring with the characters and their surroundings. One example is when the audience is being introduced to Lieutenant Dan, Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” begins to play on the radio in the background. This is obviously a nod toward his stature in the army and the respect he demands. Another example is when, again, Forrest and his unit are trekking through Vietnam while things are peaceful and the song “For What It’s Worth” starts to play. Once the lyric “stop, look, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s goin’ down” plays, the music abruptly ends and the unit is attacked by the Viet Cong with a flurry of bullets.
Forrest, as a narrator, does not generally tell the story that well, which makes sense when taking into consideration his level of intellect. The music acts as another form of narration, providing this film another level of uniqueness and allowing it to age better.
When Characters Become Family
The characters in a book or film are something that have the potential to be carried with a person for the rest of their lives. Professor Robert Cowgill once told me of a professor he once had who he said held up a book and said, “These characters are more real to me than any of you are.” If this is properly done in a film, it has successfully achieved immortality. Forrest and the companions he makes throughout the course of the film share a unique connection in that they all represent a part of Forrest. Lieutenant Dan loses his legs in the war: Forrest grows up with leg braces and limited mobility. Bubba, like Forrest, was not very smart. Jenny always felt the need to run from her problems. Forrest literally spent three years of his life running from his. Actually running. Across the country. These characters learned from Forrest, despite his lack of intellect. He fought through and found a way to conquer all of the problems life sent his way. He ran right out of his braces. He became a millionaire even though he was not very smart. And although he did run away, he found his way back to himself. His friends learned to better themselves through Forrest. It’s a beautiful and talented thing to construct such a relationship. One hopes to affect someone’s life the way Forrest affected those around him.
Forrest is an Exemplary Man
We are all faced with this magnanimous question at some point, whether while we are faceless faces walking through a crowd or while we are staring up at the ceiling at three in the morning trying to get to sleep; does it all matter? What the hell’s it all for? Forrest is a good example of why. All of the things he accomplished in his life and all of the people he helped and befriended as previously mentioned in his life, he accomplished just by living it. He is a pure example of that why. That is why this film will last.
This. Will. Last.
There are things we take with us in life, whether it is book, painting, car model, or film. This is worthy of being a companion film. This is a movie that one can keep coming back to year after year. It’s difficult not tear up when Forrest says “I miss you, Jenny” to her gravestone. Someone will always cringe at Lieutenant Dan’s mangled legs. Analysts will never not pick apart a scene in this movie and note how well and artistic it was done because this movie was a work of art. It is worth taking notes on the importance of Forrest Gump.
Gunning, Tom. “D.W. Griffith and the Origins of American Narrative Film.” 1991. Film Theory and Criticism. 8th ed. New York: Oxford UP, 2016. 341. Print.
What do you think? Leave a comment.