Thursday, September 16, 2010
Forrest Gump (1994) On Further Review
"Life is like a box of chocolates. A cheap, thoughtless, perfunctory
gift that nobody ever asks for. Unreturnable because all you get back is another box of chocolates. So you're stuck with this undefinable whipped mint crap that you mindlessly wolf down when there's nothing else left to eat. Sure, once in a while there's a peanut butter cup or an English toffee. But they're gone too fast and the taste is... fleeting. So, you end up with nothing but broken bits filled with hardened jelly and teeth-shattering nuts. And if you're desperate enough to eat those, all you got left is an empty box filled with useless brown paper wrappers."
--The Cigarette Smoking Man From X-Files
Our contributor from Australia, Reg, returns to the fold with his take on the Oscar winning, restaurant-spawning film Forrest Gump. As you can guess the film is really too well known to be a true Unseen Film, however it is not immune from being considered over-hyped and overdone for our On Further Review series. With that in mind I leave you with Reg as he continues his thoughts on the film responsible for birthing a restaurant where I got one of the best steak dinners I’ve ever had.
Forrest Gump, paean to the American Dream, or hymn to conservatism, anti-intellectualism, and unquestioning obedience to Those Who Know What's Best For The Country?
Well, on the surface, it could easily be dismissed as a frothy nostalgia-fest, with no larger intent than an excuse for a "Hits Of The Sixties And Seventies" soundtrack album, and the trial of some new film editing techniques. But to my eyes, there has always been something slightly darker going on. Certainly, Winston Groom's novel, upon which the fillum is based, had greater ambition than that. Groom's Forrest is a darkly satirical baby-boomer-equivalent of Voltaire's Candide, and like Candide, is subjected to more pain at the hands of society than Bruce Campbell was at the hands of Sam Raimi. His unquestioning acceptance of that pain, in the book, becomes a sad comment on the sheep-like conformity of modern society.
The film almost completely loses Groom's black humour. It perhaps only survives in the character of Lieutenant Dan, a man so bound up in a family tradition of dying for the country that that is his only goal in life. He thus despises Forrest not for his stupidity, but for saving his life, therefore preventing him from achieving his destiny. And praise is due to Gary Sinise for a performance which actually subtly shifts the character's bitterness at his destiny being thwarted to his becoming the only real note of cynicism in the film. One could almost see the character as an onscreen embodiment of Groom's reaction to the finished film.
The reason I find the film distasteful though is that Forrest doesn't ever really suffer, except at the hands of one character; the smart, liberal, and free thinking Jenny...and upon her head, all the sufferings in the world are heaped. So the unquestioning and malleable Forrest sails through life unscathed, except by Jenny's constantly seeking more than he can offer. Meanwhile Jenny is punished for seeking more; with abusive relationships, with poverty, and eventually, with a painful death resulting directly from her free-thinking lifestyle. She only achieves a kind of implied redemption when she returns to big, dumb, loveable Forrest.
As above, so below. All the social problems in America are caused by questioning, free thinking liberals, and if only they'd return to the arms of loving conformity, everything would be fine.
A good friend of mine (who is by no means a liberal, but is a music lover), once pointed to the interaction between Forrest and John Lennon as his least favorite scene in the whole film, and I do see his point. If this were a music blog rather than a film blog, I could probably write an On Further Review piece of a similar length to this one on John Lennon's Imagine and why I think it's one of the most
disingenuous songs ever written. The suggestion that it was inspired by a child-man's view of Mao-ist China is utterly egregious. Lennon was a liberal, but any suggestion that he viewed Red China through rose-coloured glasses, (which I imagine would just make it Even Redder China,) is somewhat rebutted by even a cursory listen to The Beatles' Revolution. Of course, in keeping with thematic consistency, Forrest's narration then has to go on to mention how the liberal Lennon will later suffer. I don't seem to remember the encounter with Elvis earlier in the film going on to point out how The King essentially consumed himself to death.
Forrest Gump is a very well made film. Technically, it is very clever and the acting is, for the most part, quite outstanding as well. I've long held the view that Tom Hanks is the modern day answer to Jimmy Stewart and if so, this is his Harvey, but I'm afraid I do look at it now and think "This is the film that could have inspired Glenn Beck."