If I had to pick out five films in all of film history that have had the most cultural impact, Forrest Gump would be one of the top two. Whether you like the film or not, it’s hard to deny the cultural impact that the film has had. For instance, the film came out twenty-three years ago, and if I were to just write “Life is like a box of chocolates”, I can guarantee that you finished that statement in your head with “you never know what you’re gonna get.” And, that you said that statement in your head with a southern accent. Am I wrong?
I’m going to dive in deep, right off the bat. Let’s talk about that feather. When the film opens, we are watching a feather blowing in the wind. The feather eventually makes its way down towards the ground, landing on our main character of Forrest Gump, played by the always pleasant Tom Hanks. He then places the feather on a page in the book he has with him, Curious George. At the end of the film, his son is bringing the book to show and tell, and as Forrest opens the book, the feather falls out and is shortly after picked up by the breeze, and we follow the feather again through the sky. Now, of course, this isn’t just an ordinary feather. It means something. But, what does it mean?
Well, the feather is a symbol of innocence, in a way. It also becomes a symbol for humans and human nature. This symbolism is really solidified with a line spoken by Forrest, as he is speaking towards the end of the film: “I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.” That feather becomes a symbol for humans going through their life and how they go through their lives.
You could go as far as to argue that this film really isn’t about the character of Forrest Gump. You could argue that it’s more about human nature and how the events around us and how we handle those events shapes us and shapes our path in life. It’s about the way that we handle the life that is presented to us. And this point is really emphasized in this film simply due to the time in American history that it is taking place; so much happened in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Take our main character of Forrest. Anytime that he was presented with a pivotal moment in his life, he took the positive view of things. He didn’t let the negative stuff affect him. Lieutenant Dan and Jenny on the other hand, did the opposite. Lieutenant Dan had a preconceived notion of how his life was going to turn out. He was going to die on the battlefield, like his father before him and his father before him and his father before him. However, that preconceived notion did not count on one of his men saving his life. How he handled that situation shaped him into the person that he eventually became.
Now, I want to take a minute to talk about the character of Jenny in this context. Jenny was literally influenced by every single major event that happened in America from the 60s and 70s. She had these things, these large cultural milestones, thrust upon her, and she seemed to succumb to every single one of them. How she handled these events shaped the person that she becomes in the end which, in my own opinion, really isn’t a great person. Yes, she had a horrible childhood with a father who beat her and did lord knows what else to her. I get that. From there, though, she never really seems to get better. She continuously uses Forrest throughout the film, knowing full well that he loves her, as he has told her this several times. Then, she invites him to her place after so many years to reveal that they had a kid together. Oh, and to reveal that she’s sick and probably going to die. Cool. The question really becomes, had she not been sick, would she have reached out to Forrest? Would she have told him that he had a son? Would she have married Forrest? Or, was it more about comfort and stability for her in the last leg of her life, and then the peace of mind to know that her son would be taken care of after she’s gone? I’d like to think that she’s better than that but, let’s be real. She’s not. But, Forrest seemed to be truly happy in the end, and I suppose that is all that matters.
This film is an interesting one, I think, due to one big reason: every other character seems to be more interesting than our main character. Don’t get me wrong: the character of Forrest Gump is great. However, he doesn’t really seem to have any character flaws (unless you count being too trusting and having a bunch of faith in people a character flaw). He doesn’t do anything that makes us dislike him. He doesn’t say anything that makes us disagree with him. He’s an all-around likeable guy. And, had he been the only character in the film, it would have been incredibly boring to watch. The characters around Forrest, the other people in his life, that’s what makes the story intriguing. Well, that and the fact that this whole story occurs during a very eventful period in American history. There was just so much going on, from the introduction of rock music, to the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, the rise of the Black Panthers, which brings a lot of options for events that can happen to these characters.
Okay, enough about characters and the symbolism of a single feather. Let’s talk technical. Don Burgess was the cinematographer on this film, and damnnit, if he didn’t do a beautiful job.
(Pardon the amount of examples below. I just couldn’t choose which to show. There’s so many wonderful examples of Burgess’s talent.)
Alan Silvestri’s score for this film is unbelievably beautiful. It fits within each scene perfectly. It’s a light hearted theme, whimsical. The musical theme is much like the film itself.
The performances of every single actor in this film, well, they’re remarkable, the most obvious one being Tom Hanks. He won the Academy Award for his endearing portrayal of Forrest Gump. But his performance is not the only one worth mentioning. Robin Wright as Jenny, Mykelti Williamson as Bubba, Sally Fields as Mrs. Gump, and Gary Sinise as Lieutenant Dan, each had a magnificent performance. If there was a way to award all of them, I would petition for it to happen.
I’m wondering if the fact that this film has been such a huge cultural impact and is, pretty much, ingrained in our society, if that has come back on itself. Has that been what has caused the hate? I looked up some of the arguments against this film, why it is viewed as so bad. Some of the “reasons” are frustrating. I haven’t really been able to find a solid argument against the film. So, please, if you have one, share. I would love to hear your side of it and discuss.