Today I celebrate the one-year anniversary of my movie blog, and in the spirit of endeavoring to find the meaning of life through the movies we watch only a momentous modern-day classic like Forrest Gump will do. Twenty-five years ago this cinematic landmark cleaned up at the Oscars with thirteen nominations and six wins, including best picture, best director for Robert Zemeckis, and best actor for Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump). This ever so imaginative film certainly deserves all these accolades, though why is this movie still so consequential all these years later? The core reason is because its compelling story gently glides us along the act of soul searching while drawing attention to the very essence of our human experience, what shapes us, and how we become who we are. Destiny vs. Fate: does the divine play a role, or not?
Spiritual undertones reign supreme in this picture. In fact, the first clue of rich religious symbolism occurs in the opening scene as a white-striped feather softly drifts through the air strategically landing at Forrest Gump’s feet. Of course he picks it up and safely tucks it away in his children’s book Curious George carefully situated in his suitcase. Feathers have long been known to represent spiritual significance in providing reassurance, guidance, and protection. It’s a sign from above intended to let its benefactor know they are not alone, and white-striped feathers in particular signify unexpected change in one’s career, relationships, place of residence… Since the director overtly positions this angelic hint at the onset of the film let’s examine the plot and explore whether a higher power is indeed at work.
Sitting on a bench in Savanna Georgia waiting for the Number 9 Bus – slow-witted Forrest Gump with an IQ=75 starts telling his rather amazing life story from childhood onward to a number of skeptical passersby. As the nostalgic tale unfurls viewers are willingly lured into the narrative. This film works well at immediately hooking audiences by neatly connecting them to the virtuous yet mentally challenged protagonist Forrest Gump by plopping Gump into historical American events that everyone can relate to (Vietnam War, Watergate, Hippy & Black Panthers Movements, Ping Pong Diplomacy, AIDs, Apple Products…). The story smartly by happenstance has Gump, who lives a seemingly trivial life witness incredible factual goings-on (Protests, Civil Rights Act Ending Segregation, Moon Landing) while intersecting with many notable people (Elvis, John Lennon, Dick Cavett…), notorious people (Nathan Bedford Forrest – KKK Founder, George Wallace) and even presidents (JFK, LBJ, Nixon) on his life’s journey. Structuring the film this way really adds to its uniqueness, while sparking continued interest in viewers who wait with anticipation on how the loose ends will thread together. Unassuming Gump somehow miraculously plays a substantial role in so many situations, even unknowingly partaking in creating the famous 70s Have a Nice Day Smiley Face T-Shirt and popular sayings on bumper stickers of the time. Yes, you guessed it, a lot of ‘Shit Happens’ in this movie!
Although Gump is portrayed as a simpleminded person, the goodness, decency, and optimism that runs through the film as he overcomes physical challenges, mental disparity, bullying, social awkwardness, war, loss, and heartbreak are emotional and very inspiring. I have seen this movie a number of times and I am always moved to tears, particularly at two very poignant segments: i) when Forrest gets deployed to Vietnam and quietly puts his head on his mum’s shoulder (Sally Field) as I know despite our best efforts parents can’t always protect their children and, ii) near the end of the movie when Forrest talks to the love of his life Jenny (Robin Wright) under the tree, as I know there are some things in life we just can’t change. Both scenes are so well acted by Hanks and each scenario make us think about outside forces that control our future (other people, ourselves, or something else). All the way through, the movie break-crumbs us with hints of divine intervention but balances chance and the decision-making process with a flutter of free will. This is a key element to contemplate while watching this film as it’s the ‘what-ifs’ that we ponder. Mirroring real-life the movie depicts how we often forget that for every bad choice we make, we participate in the process then suffer the unavoidable consequences. Cause and effect. The message here is that if an omnipotent entity offers up an opportunity it’s still our job to choose wisely. ‘Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re gonna get’ but how we react to it is our own. After all ‘stupid is as stupid does’ so act accordingly.
With Gump’s uncorrupted purity and sincerity this film placates America’s deeply conservative base but even the most liberal person would agree that doing the right thing matters. Sure life has its highs and lows, ups and downs, but on the spiritual front this movie taps into the power of manifestation (think → believe → achieve). For example, Forrest thinks about Jenny all the time – then she’s there. Time after time she leaves but then returns again, as if cosmic currents keep pulling her back into Forrest’s life. The power of thought works because in the end he gets what he wants – the girl! Gump shows us that you don’t have to be the sharpest tack on the board to grasp what love is, and when heartbroken he does what we all do. Run ourselves ragged with distracts until we find an answer we can live with. In short, he’s basically a dummy for love just like the rest of us. This movie also teaches us what friendship means as Forrest shows how his loyalty to his best good friend Bubba Blue(Mykelti Williamson) transcends death. Then there’s Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise), another side story that teaches us life doesn’t always turn out how we envision it will as it seems to have its own plan. But once peace with adverse realities settle, one can not only survive but thrive.
With so many subplots in this rather long flick (that flies by) what is the ultimate take-away of this icon film? Throughout the movie Forrest has many impressionable interludes in people’s lives, with each having quite a profound effect. The point is Forrest leaves a mark and impacts so many people he meets. Most of the time not even knowing how much he has influenced them. Just like real-life we may never know just how deeply we truly inspire others. On this point, I’m sure my Grade 12 Biology 30 teacher Mrs. Benda never knew how much I admired her intelligence and how I could see my own success through her accomplishments. That said, we need to be careful how we wield this sword as there is a dark side to this dagger. Just how we may never know the positive outcomes we impress upon others we also may never know if we broke people through our actions or inaction. That is what this film shows us. It imparts how we all have the potential to deeply affect others regardless of intelligence, race, occupation, gender, religion, social status…
When in doubt about the strength of your sway reflect on this African proverb, ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.’ ―Dalai Lama. To the point, whether or not we believe a deity puts people in our lives for a reason this movie shows we are all connected, This is why being kind is so very important. It’s all that really matters in the end, and if you play your cards right all good things stems from there. Just look at Forrest. Like a perfect song he reminds us that, ‘To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap, a time to kill, a time to heal, a time to laugh, a time to weep, a time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.’ He ought to know – he lived it all – packaged with a lot of humanity. NOTE: The music in this movie hugely plays into its success, setting the stage for each era/event Gump lives through, which arguably includes the greatest rock-music epoch ever – the 60s -70s. This film features 50 remarkable songs and is still one of the top selling movie soundtracks of all time. Including such greats as; The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, CCR, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jefferson Airplane, Fleetwood Mac, The Mamas & the Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, Elvis, Joan Baez, The Four Tops, Aretha Franklin, The 5th Dimension, The Doobie Brothers, Jackson Brown, The Supremes…, and of course The Byrds. After all Jenny did pray to turn into a bird so she could ‘fly, fly away’.
P.S. Like Gump, ‘I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze…maybe it’s both… happening at the same time.’ Also like Gump when I see a beautiful feather at my feet I pick it up and put it in a safe little case in my garage. Hey, call me crazy but if all those lovely plumes are a sign that I’m being guided towards my destiny and protected by a higher power I will take it. I need all the help I can get! On that point, a big thank you to my thousands upon thousands of viewers from over 70 countries worldwide (and climbing) for helping make my first year as a movie blogger a huge success. I love writing this movie blog and I truly appreciate the immense support and engagement I’ve had with so many interesting people through the fun forum of filmmaking. Start rolling out the red carpet, let’s get ready for year two!