The film Forrest Gump represents the ultimate American dream in a land of opportunity. It is a history lesson that takes the viewer from Alabama, where Forrest Gump, an improbable modern hero and idiot savant, was born, across America, and back again to the fishing village of Bayou La Batre on the Gulf coast. Governor George Wallace is once again seen standing in the schoolhouse door as he vows "segregation now, segregation forever"; Coach Paul "Bear"Bryant, the legendary University of Alabama football coach, recognizing how Forrest can run, makes him a Crimson Tide gridiron star. Eventually Forrest comes home again to his sweet home Alabama (represented also in song) and makes a fortune in a shrimping business. He had promised his "best good friend," Bubba, that he would go into business with him when the two boys returned from the war. But Bubba was killed and didn't return, so Gump gives half of the million dollars he makes to his friend's family in the small fishing village of Bayou La Batre.
Based upon the novel by Winston Groom, Eric Roth transformed the book into a screenplay that grossed over $636 million dollars and also won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1994. The film affirms possibility and hope: no matter how grim things may seem, it is possible, as Gump says, "to put the past behind you and move on." He shows that a gimpy kid in leg braces can become a football hero, win a Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in Vietnam, become a Ping Pong champion, crisscross America from sea to shining sea, and marry his childhood sweetheart, who bears him a son to carry on the father's good name.
In spite of the film's positive message, life, as portrayed in Forrest Gump, is not "just a box of chocolates." It is more than candy-coated sentimentality. The viewer witnesses the assassination attempt on George Wallace, and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy; the struggles over civil rights; and the war in Vietnam. Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise) portrays the bitter horror of what it is like to lose both legs and live as a cripple. Jenny (Robin Wright), born in poverty and molested by her father, becomes a stripper and a slut, a drug addict caught up in the counterculture of love-ins and psychedelics, flower power and antiwar demonstrations. Though Jenny becomes pregnant with Forrest's child and eventually marries him, she lives a short, unhappy life that is only a questionable testimony to the overriding power of love. Forrest tells her "I'm not a smart man, but I know what love is"—but it isn't enough to save her life or that of his friend, Bubba, or to prevent Lieutenant Dan from losing his legs. At the beginning of the film, a feather floating in the wind lands at Forrest's feet; he picks it up and places it in his worn copy of Curious George, the book his mother used to read to him. At the end of the film, he passes the book on to his son with the feather intact. "What's my destiny?" Forrest once asked his mama. Forrest Gump shows that every man and woman, idiot or President of the United States may be blown about by the whims of chance or fate, but that it is still possible to prevail.
In addition to the Oscar for Best Film, Forrest Gump earned five more Academy Awards. Tom Hanks was voted Best Actor for his masterful portrayal of Gump, and Robert Zemeckis was awarded the Oscar for Best Director. The film also won awards for Film Editing, Best Adapted Screenplay, and for Visual Effects. It is the masterful visual effects that enabled Forrest to shake the hand of President John F. Kennedy, have Lyndon B. Johnson place a Congressional Medal around his neck, meet Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, not to mention John Lennon, Dick Cavett, Bob Hope, Captain Kangaroo, and Chairman Mao. Elvis Presley, the King, even learns to swivel his hips by watching little crippled Forrest dance.
Although some critics are not enchanted with the fantastic Gump, the movie affirms the values that Americans hold dear. Forrest's mother exemplifies the ideals associated with motherhood. Over and over, Forrest repeats: "As my Mama always said," and his words reverberate almost as a refrain throughout the movie. "Don't ever let anybody tell you're they're better than you," she tells her boy, even though he has an IQ of 75. Life, after all, is a box of chocolates. Even if "you never know what you're going to get," Forrest Gump gives people hope.
Groom, Winston. Forrest Gump. Garden City, Doubleday, 1986.