Friday, August 23, 2013

Stupid Is...

Film: Forrest Gump
Format: DVD from Rockford Public Library on laptop.

I really don’t like Forrest Gump at all. I don’t like the story, I don’t like the characters, I don’t like the premise. There’s only one character I like at all, and he gets killed. Where most people see a story of hope and a triumph of the human spirit, I see only the story of a guy who gets abused at virtually every turn of his life and is too stupid to realize any of it. Forrest Gump makes me angry, which is precisely why it’s taken me this long to get back to it. I didn’t like it the first time I saw it, didn’t like it the second time, and I didn’t like it today. As a matter of fact, I’d forgotten just how intensely I disliked this film, and I hated it more than I thought I would this time through.

A lot of people see wisdom in Forrest Gump. The most famous (and frequently misquoted) line is “My mama always said, ‘Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.’” Twenty years ago, that was a cultural touchstone, a modern American Zen koan that people used as inspiration. In reality, I always know what I’m going to get from a box of chocolates. That’s because I’m capable of reading the little chocolate road map under the lid. This isn’t wisdom; it’s illiteracy.

Forrest Gump is the story of a man of the same name (Tom Hanks) who evidently likes to sit at bus stops and relate his life story to complete strangers. Here’s a tip for you—if a guy with a bad haircut and a “boxxachoklits” starts narrating his life story to you through a mouthful of sweets, leave. Anyway, over the course of the film, we learn all about the extraordinary events of Forrest’s life. We learn that he taught Elvis Presley how to dance, was an All-American football player in college, which he got in because of his running talent and despite his borderline-retarded IQ, got the Medal of Honor in Vietnam, survived a hurricane and became a successful businessman, met three presidents, started the jogging craze, helped break the Watergate story, and more. Throughout all of this, it is apparent that Forrest never really understands anything that is going on around him. Ever.

So let’s talk about the other characters, since Forrest himself is pretty much covered by the previous paragraph. We can start with Jenny (Robin Wright). Jenny is the girl that Forrest spends the entire film in love with, mostly unrequited. It’s evident early on that Jenny is sexually abused by her father. She leaves Alabama as soon as she can and spends most of the film doing exactly what she wants regardless of anything else. She also manages to hook up with a bunch of guys who treat her exactly as her father did, gets involved in drug culture, spends some time as an erotic performer, and eventually dies of AIDS. In a sense, she’s the anti-Forrest. She gets caught up in a lot of the events of the time as well, but never in a positive way. Oh, and one night she takes advantage of Forrest and gets pregnant with his child (eventually played by a very young Haley Joel Osment).

So let’s talk about that for a second. After a lifetime of basically screwing up her life, she returns to Forrest, who takes care of her as best he can. One night, she sneaks into his room and has sex with him, and then vanishes, basically treating him as she always has—as something convenient for her when she needs it, and leaves when she wants to. As for the thankfully brief sex scene...this is supposed to be a sweet scene, something charming. But switch the roles here. Would it be sweet if a guy essentially raped a girl with a borderline-retarded IQ? No—we’d all look at it as rape. I can’t look at it any other way—she basically rapes him and then skedaddles until she gets in trouble again and comes crawling back.

Now let’s talk about Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise). Lieutenant Dan, which is exactly how Forrest refers to him constantly, is Forrest’s commanding officer in Vietnam, and he believes that his destiny to die on the field of battle, like one of his ancestors in every previous American war. He doesn’t of course—Forrest manages to save him—but Dan loses both his legs and becomes a very angry man, blaming Forrest for all his problems. I’ll amend an earlier statement. I don’t really like Lieutenant Dan as a character, but Gary Sinise is hardcore. This is the role that put him on the national stage, and he plays it for everything he’s worth.

And then there’s Bubba (Mykelti Williamson), Forrest’s best friend in the Army. All Bubba talks about is shrimp and the shrimp business. He and Forrest plan to go into business together after the war, but Bubba catches a bullet and Forrest can’t save him. Bubba is by far my favorite character in the film and he’s only in it for about half an hour.

Eh, whatever. The whole damn thing is sappy and it makes me mad.

There are parts of this film I absolutely cannot fault. It’s beautifully produced. It was also groundbreaking in its use of technology, putting Tom Hanks into archival footage. While this isn’t that impressive by today’s standards (remember, this film is nearly 20 years old), especially when the dubbing of these characters doesn’t at all match their mouth movements, it’s still pretty cool. The war scenes are excellent as well.

I can’t fault the film for its production quality, but I can for how manipulative and glurgy it is. I’ve really given this film a fair shake, having seen it when it was new, again a number of years later, and again tonight. And I hate it now more than I ever did. I’m done with it. Anyway, Weird Al Yankovic's version of the story is better.

Why to watch Forrest Gump: Many people find it both great and inspiring.
Why not to watch: It’s actually maudlin crap.


  1. So this film is something like the spiritual grandson of "Being There," given the commonalities between Forrest Gump and Chance the gardener. You had called me out on that Zen question in your review of "Being There," and I eventually responded with gusto, but I never heard a peep of a reaction from you about that. Did you read it?

    I didn't hate "Forrest Gump" as much as you did. In fact, I liked a lot of it. That said, I do agree the movie is stocked with disagreeable characters, Jenny the selfish user foremost among them. I also found it frustrating that Forrest's low IQ made him pretty much impervious to everything going on around him. Characters should have arcs; there should be some sort of development from the beginning to the end of the story. Forrest seems almost incapable of change, which is why it came as a relief when he cried at Jenny's grave: that moment revealed that Forrest really was capable, at least briefly, of experiencing something deeper and more self-transcendent than his usual happy-go-lucky mental fog.

    Anyway, mileage may vary.

    1. I honestly thought I had responded to that post. I did so in my mind at least. I see your point about Taoism being a better fit. That said, it wouldn't surprise me if, in typical Western fashion, Zen is what was intended by the poorly-informed.

      As for Forrest's arc or lack thereof, his low intelligence makes him, as you say, impervious to the world around him. As such, he has experiences, but they are nothing more than that--things that happen to him, with no more meaning or importance than anything else. I find that ultimately depressing.

  2. *stares at post*

    *slowly stands up*

    *begins applauding loudly and with great vehemence*

    Yes. THIS.

    "Why not to watch: It’s actually maudlin crap. "

    I don't need to bother writing about Forrest Gump now; you, sir, have said everything I could only hope to say.

  3. So as Annie Hall is to me, Forrest Gump is to you - a beloved Best Picture winner that we hate.

    Like the vast majority, I love this film. I think I've seen it three times as well (maybe four), and I've liked it every time.

    At least you knocked off your longest remaining film with this one.

    1. @sio--I live to serve. Happy to see I'm not the only hater.

      @Chip--Yup. Of course, I'm right on both counts, but that's neither here nor there. I've now seen Forrest Gump three times. I've given it ample chance to charm me, and it never has. So never again. Annie Hall, though, I'd watch again in a hot second.

  4. I liked it when I saw it in the theater, but I've never watched it again. I suspect I wouldn't like it now, for many of the reasons you've laid out.

    And I hated the Jenny character when I saw it.

    1. Jenny is pretty hateful. She's a hedonist throughout the film--there's no evidence that she ever really thinks of anyone other than herself and what she wants, even with what looks like activism at some point. She's completely selfish, and Forrest's love for her is just another indication of how dumb he really is.