You never know who you might sit next to on a bus stop bench. Could be a simple gardener or a business magnate. Perhaps a war vet or world-class athlete. He might be just a wandering stiff, a few croutons shy of a garden salad.
Or maybe—just maybe—he's all of the above.
Forrest Gump has never been the brightest bulb in Greenbow, Ala. Blessed with an IQ of 75, his eccentricities growing up stuck out even more than the leg braces he wore. His Mississippi mud-slow brain made him a big, almost defenseless, target.
'Course, that current runs wide and deep and strong, too. His mamma always told him that you "have to do the best with what God gave you." And so Forrest did—using his strength and skill and guileless charm to ultimately influence history itself.
When Forrest was confronted with a phalanx of rock-throwing bullies, his best friend, Jenny, told him to run. And so Forrest did—out of his leg braces, into college and, eventually, across America itself.
Bubba Blue told Forrest that he should really go into the shrimping business. And so Forrest did—becoming a rich man in the process.
But it wasn't all peas and carrots for the guy. He's dealt with loss. He's experienced disappointment. No one—not even Forrest Gump—escapes pain in this life.
Forrest's mamma always said that life is like a box of chocolates, but for Forrest, the unexpectedness of life is only half the story. For him, each bite is both sweet and bitter—a bit of heaven that can still burn your eyes.
In 1 Corinthians 1:25, the Apostle Paul tells us that "God's weakness is stronger than the greatest of human strength." And in Forrest—a protagonist with weak legs, a weak mind and few of the advantages that many of us take for granted—we see something of God's curious strength. Forrest rescues people from both physical and spiritual death. He risks his all for those he loves. When he makes a promise, he keeps it—even when there's no one, precisely, to keep it to.
It's important to note that Forrest's character didn't spring from a vacuum. His mother filled his head with positive platitudes that buoyed him throughout his life. And when it came time for him to leave her 24-7 care and go to school (a very hostile environment for anyone who looks and acts a little different), he thankfully met Jenny—a girl who became his best friend and more.
Forrest returns Jenny's friendship by becoming her defender and protector. Whenever she sinks into trouble (which is pretty much all the time), Forrest pulls her out. "I'm not a smart man," he tells her. "But I know what love is." And so he does. He loves the wandering girl with a tireless, sacrificial passion that we could all stand to emulate better.
Other instances of Forrest's outright decency include him picking up a book for an African-American student at the University of Alabama—the day the school was forced to accept blacks. And him giving money to Bubba's mother, allowing her to finally move up a bit in the world. And him throwing a lifeline to Lieutenant Dan, his one-time commander who lost both legs in Vietnam. If Forrest's life was that box of chocolates, he sure share his sweets a lot.
Forrest Gump is a surprisingly spiritual story, and I could monopolize the rest of the review writing about it. I could delve into how Forrest's love for Jenny echoes the relationship of Hosea and Gomer in the Old Testament. I could talk about the story's take on chance and fate. I could rattle on about the feather that floats through Forrest's life.
Forrest has a deep and unquestioning faith in God and heaven. He assumes folks who've died in his life have gone up to heaven, and he knows he'll get there too. Lieutenant Dan isn't so prone to such childlike belief. He complains that that's all any of his fellow wounded vets talk about, and he scoffs at the idea of "walking" with God in heaven. When he and Forrest begin trawling (unsuccessfully) for shrimp, Dan snidely suggests that Forrest pray. From then on, Forest goes to church every Sunday. He tells us that Dan would sometimes go with him, but that he always seemed to leave the praying up to Forrest. (We see Dan in the back of the sanctuary, drinking.)
"Where the h--- is this God of yours?" Dan snaps at Forrest while they're shrimping. "It's funny that Lieutenant Dan said that," Forrest narrates. "Cause right then, God showed up."
He comes in the guise of a storm, we're shown, and Dan challenges Him from the ship's mast, shouting into the wind. "You and me!" he hollers. "I'm right here!" (The scene echoes the biblical trickster Jacob wrestling with God in the wilderness—a fight that left Jacob with a limp. It's telling, perhaps, that Dan would later limp to Forrest's house on artificial legs.) Once the storm is over, Dan gives Forrest an overdue thank-you for saving his life, then dives into the ocean—a baptism of sorts.
"I think he made his peace with God," Forrest tells us.
As kids, Forrest and Jenny pray that God would turn Jenny into a bird so she could fly away from her abusive father. We learn that Forrest gives his church loads of money when he strikes it rich. On a talk show, Forrest talks about China's lack of churches with John Lennon. "No religion, too?" Lennon says.
It's revealed that Jenny was physically and sexually abused as a child: Forrest describes her father as a "loving man" who was always "kissing and touching" his daughters. The rest of her life echoes that tragic beginning.
She makes out with a guy in a car who seems to be hurting her. But when Forrest pulls her out and punches the dude, she yells that she doesn't want his help. We see pictures of her in Playboy (and the camera sees the side of her breast, as well as getting a look at another model's bare breast). She becomes a stripper who plunks out folk tunes while naked on stage. (Portions of her backside and breasts are seen.) We see her get pretty friendly with several men, and the film suggests that her promiscuity and/or drug use eventually lead to her contracting AIDS.
Her relationship with Forrest is platonic in the beginning. But she changes all that when, in college, she takes off her bra and presses his hand to her breast. (Her back is turned to the camera.) It's implied that Forrest immediately has an orgasm. Forrest asks Jenny to marry him, but she says no—then sneaks into his room in the dead of night, tells him she loves him and has sex with him. (She snuggles in with him, taking off her nightgown, her back again to the camera.)
Dan makes out with a partially undressed woman, then forcefully tosses her aside, sending her sprawling. Another sexy lady tries to do the same with Forrest (but he pushes her away). In order to get Forrest into a "normal" school, his mamma has sex with the principal. Grunting and gasping is heard from the Gump house before we see the man leave, wiping his brow. (Young Forrest mimics the noises.) Much older, Forrest walks around naked in a shower room, his privates only obscured with a towel. We also see his rear on occasion.
Forrest fights in Vietnam, and some of his friends are wounded and killed there. He rescues several, covered in blood and gore. When one soldier dies, the camera focuses on his blood-coated hand. Lt. Dan's shattered legs look like hamburger. Other men fall in the face of gunfire (we sometimes see a mist of blood) or explosions (which blast the bodies out of view).
Jenny threatens to jump off a bridge, and later she climbs out on a balcony, nearly committing suicide there, too. She's roughly slapped by one of her boyfriends, and Forrest responds by pummeling the guy's face. He punches out another boyfriend of hers, too, and attacks a strip club patron who tried to grab at Jenny. Forrest is hit with rocks thrown by bullies, and is nearly run over by a truck. A boat crashes into a dock. We see news footage of bloody moments in history, several of them assassinations or assassination attempts on presidents.
Crude or Profane Language
Forrest attends an antiwar rally and remarks about how much the main speaker "liked to say the f-word." Onscreen, the obscenity is obscured in some way (by an acronym or by getting partially drowned out) in every instance except one. We also hear the s-word about 10 times (and it's printed on a bumper sticker). Somewhat milder outbursts include the words "b--ch," "b--tard," "d--n," "h---" and "a--." Crude and or racist comments include "t-ts," "retard," "n-gger" and other slurs. God's name is abused more than 20 times, almost all of the time with "d--n." Jesus' name is misused three or four times.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Jenny snorts coke, and we see her smear a mirror clean of the stuff. A male companion injects something into his vein. Her father totes a bottle of booze. After Dan loses his legs, he tries to lose himself in alcohol. We see him drinking constantly, telling Forrest to fetch him more. He and Forrest "celebrate" New Year's at a crowded bar. (Forrest drinks Dr. Pepper.) Empty bottles litter Dan's apartment.
Dam also smokes cigars. And others are shown lighting up, including Forrest's school bus driver.
"Do you ever dream, Forrest, about who you're gonna be?" Jenny asks.
"Aren't ... aren't I going to be me?" Forrest responds.
And throughout Forrest Gump, he is indeed always ... him. He's too slow to pretend to be smart. He's too honest to try to deceive. He believes in God, trusts his mother and knows that one's character is revealed not through thought, but deed. His sacrificial love is something to behold. He's exasperatingly, charmingly and, in the end, inspiringly himself. That's not something most of us can say.
Not all of his decisions are outstandingly upright and moral, of course. But when Forrest Gump goes awry—and it does go awry—it's usually because of the people surrounding Forrest, not he himself. Mamma prostitutes herself for a favor. Jenny sleeps with each and every guy who catches her eye, stripping and doing drugs and generally losing control of her life. Lt. Dan drinks with his right hand while flipping God off with his left.
In a storm of sin and trouble, Forrest sits in an eye of innocence. And most of the ick we see here serves as a worldly counterpoint to Forrest's own simple "righteousness." It's designed to be icky—but it is still ick.
AN IMAX UPDATE: Forrest Gump was released in 1994 to commercial and critical acclaim. It was the highest-grossing film of the year (its $329.7 million trumping The Lion King's $312.9 million), and it won six of the 13 Oscars it was nominated for, including Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), Best Actor (Tom Hanks) and Best Picture. For some, the film has not aged well: Its historical references can feel a little precious now, its sweet message and innocent hero out of step with our more jaded, satirical age. Yet the character and his character are still indelible 20 years later as the film gets re-released on giant IMAX screens, and several of Mrs. Gump's platitudes ("Stupid is as stupid does," "Life is like a box of chocolates") have wormed their way pretty deep into popular culture.