To start off Celluloid Cinema, I have decided to write about my favorite film, Forrest Gump. It is not a perfect film like Vertigo or Citizen Kane, but it is the movie that I will put on for background noise any time that I see it on air (which seems like every day on TBS).
The film was released in the summer of 1994 and competed with films in the box office such as Jurassic Park (which was in its 69th week), Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, and TheLion King. However, this did not affect Forrest Gump as it ended up running away with the box office crown for the year with a whopping $329 million.
For a film that has been this successful, we must recognize the cast and crew. Eric Roth (the writer of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, another film whose story follows a character for decades of his life) adapted the film’s story from a 1986 book of the same name. After several directors became attached to the movie, Robert Zemeckis, the mentee of fellow USC alum Steven Spielberg, finally filled the role. A few years after completing the Back to the Future trilogy, Zemeckis would embark on a project that would win him an Academy Award. Tom Hanks, last year’s Oscar winner, filled the lead role and was cast opposite of Robin Wright, from the cult hit The Princess Bride (I promise, it’s not a kissing movie).
Let’s finally get to the film now. Upon first glance the film would be described as a comedic film where a man of low intelligence wades through significant points of American history, and in the end marries the woman of his dreams and has a son. Of course, there has to be more to this film than that to warrant the attention that this film receives right? What makes this film so phenomenal in my opinion is the way that it deals with the theme of the American Dream and how it impacts the four central characters of Forrest, Jenny, Bubba, and Lieutenant Dan.
Forrest and Jenny go together like peas and carrots, but they represent opposite ends of the American lifestyle. Forrest personifies the idea of the American dream that has been drilled into our mind by society and is something that we hope is true. That is, no matter what obstacles are in your way due to birth you can still rise to the top. Forrest represents the Football playing, All American award winning GI who became a billionaire off of his own ingenuity, despite not being smart enough to attend public school. Forrest’s life and actions show that if you act like an “American” by playing sports, serving your country in war, or investing smartly, you too can improve your life. In contrast we have Jenny, who lived a lifestyle that rebelled against American beliefs. She sexualized herself, protested against the government, and abused drugs. These choices did not give her a prosperous life, but a shorter one instead. Now the question that remains is whether actions create these outcomes, or if luck played into the equation.
Forrest was able to get into college due to genetically having strong legs. He got the idea for the shrimp company Bubba Gump from a friend, and received money to start the company from genetics and sports. The company became successful because of a storm of biblical proportions. Finally, he made millions from the stock market when his business partner invested in a fruit company. From this perspective, success fell in his lap. Now does that mean that Jenny was just unlucky? She was abused by her father, had to use her body to have her music heard, abused by her boyfriend, and dealt with suicidal tendencies. Due to the events that happened in each character’s life, it is apparent that Forrest would be successful while Jenny struggled. At face value the film projects that the American Dream exists. After further investigation, we see that the film shows this is not true, but rather, luck determines where you end up in life (like a feather in the wind).
Bubba and Lieutenant Dan serve as counter examples to the American Dream because the family history they inherit determine both characters fates. Bubba is the product of generations of racial abuse in America, which leads to him being poor, uneducated, and under the supervision of white people. In a brief montage sequence, we see generations of Bubba’s family serving food to their white counterparts without any appearance of moving up in the world. Because his family is unable to better themselves in their current state, Bubba’s best choice in life would be to join the military and eventually start a business. Ironically, Bubba ends up following the orders of his white master (Lieutenant in this case) and dies in the same social position that he was born into in life, fulfilling his family’s destiny. In a similar position, Lieutenant Dan also has a family destiny to uphold, which is coincidently told through a montage of generations of his family dying on the battlefield.
Lieutenant Dan was fully ready to embrace his fate and settle for the position in life he was born into until outside forces intervened. Lieutenant Dan was able to change his destiny, after he faced decades of pain and suffering. These two characters show that the American Dream is unrealistic because the standing of one’s family determines their fate.
I really like the way the theme is dealt with in the film, but what really places it on the top of my list is the depth of the lead characters. Many people dislike Jenny because she appears to be a horrible person that has only brought Forrest grief, but in reality, she cared about Forrest and was afraid to hurt him. I think her attitude toward Forrest can best be summed up in the scene where she tells Forrest that he does not know what love is. I think this makes it clear that Jenny thinks Forrest cannot comprehend the idea of love, meaning that if she showed him love, she runs the risk of abusing him the same way she was as a child. We may think that it is silly for Jenny to not realize that Forrest can understand emotions; we as an audience are guilty of the same thing and are not aware of it until the end of the film. Throughout the story, Forrest is painted as someone who drifts into various historical moments without any idea of what is going on. This illusion is shattered when Forrest, concerned for his son, asks Jenny, “Is he smart? Or like [me?].” At this point, we as an audience discover that Forrest knows his intelligence level, and he does not want his son to suffer the same fate.
This post turned out to be a tad lengthier than I expected, but these are all the reasons why Forrest Gump is my favorite film. Next time you watch it on TBS or Netflix, consider these thematic elements of the American Dream that I discussed.
Thank you for reading the first post of Celluloid Cinema! Please feel free to share your thoughts below and return again soon, I promise they will not always be this long.