Remembering ‘Forrest Gump’, an American Fable of Hope and Love

While there is no doubt in my mind that ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994) deserved to win the Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director, awards that went to ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994) and Robert Zemeckis, there is also no doubt in my mind that ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994) is a fine film; beautifully acted, well-directed with superb visual effects. A fable that is also a sweeping journey through fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties America, it is as much a study of pop culture as it is a superb character study of a mentally challenged young man who like a feather on the wind, finds himself in the most unlikely situations in recent American history.

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I am not sure if Tom Hanks ever really gets his due for his miraculous performance as Gump, for that lovely sing song delivery in which a one syllable word becomes two. Listening to him becomes infectious, watching his body language constantly interesting and the joy that can suddenly erupt on his face is lovely. The genuine, beatific look on his face when he sees Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) waiting for him on the deck is heartbreaking in its purity of love. His understanding of his intellectual limitations hits him in full force when he meets his son for the first time, there is horror that the little tyke might be like him. Hanks gives one of the cinema’s greatest performances and deservedly won his second consecutive Academy Award for Best Actor.

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Forrest will encounter Elvis Presley, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, John Lennon, become part of the Civil Rights Movement, a war hero in Vietnam, a world class ping pong player and then an obscenely wealthy shrimp tycoon. To most of the glory he is oblivious, his main focus his beloved mother and his precious love Jenny (Robin Wright), who finally becomes his wife after she bears his child and is dying of AIDS. Hanks portrays all of this with a look of bemusement, though sometimes his face is entirely blank. It is a perfect performance, original, creative and present in every scene he is in. Fearless, Forrest will run into combat to save his friends, he pulls a guy out of a car and punches him out when he thinks Jenny is in danger, and he agrees to take in his son knowing Jenny is dying. The heartache he displays in the scene at her grave is shattering, yet so subtle and beautiful, true love, the purest of love. The kind that wants nothing in return.

Watching the making of footage on the Blu Ray, one gets an idea of how Hanks shaped the character from the first time he read the script through production, a true evolution. Gary Sinise is outstanding as Lt. Dan, Gump’s commanding officer who becomes his best friend, and despite losing both legs finds his salvation on the ocean with Forrest, building a shrimp empire. The look of love he gives Forrest when he speaks to him at his wedding is filled deep emotion and goodness, it is truly beautiful. He is finally a man at peace.

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Robert Zemeckis was by this time a major filmmaker, his ‘Back to the Future’ (1985) and ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit?’ (1987) establishing him as such, but the success of ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994) put him into the upper stratosphere of directors. In addition to the Academy Award, he would win the DGA and Golden Globe, but not a single critics award, all of which went to Quentin Tarantino for ‘Pulp Fiction’ (1994).
Nominated for thirteen Academy Awards, one short of the record of fourteen, ‘Forrest Gump (1994) was the shoo in long before Oscar night. It did not disappoint, winning six in all including Hanks’ second consecutive Best Actor award.

The film remains a lovely picture, made with genuine love for the story, and allowing the actors to do exceptional work. If there was a disappointment in all the success it would be the lack of attention for the women, as Sally Field and Robin Wright were exceptional. There are critics who disparage the film, but for me it remains an American masterpiece.

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