Image: Paramount Pictures
One of the most annoying things about getting older is looking back on some of your childhood favs and realizing they were ... not super great. We have different standards now! What we found endearing or entertaining as kids doesn't always hold up to our more mature scrutiny. Plus, we have all these life experiences that shade our perception now. That doesn't mean the things we loved as kids are necessarily bad. However, as adults we can look at the movies and TV shows we watched as kids through a different lens. And a lot of the time, we might not like what we see. For example, everyone loved the movie Forrest Gump, right? Tom Hanks! Historical plot points! Bubba! But have you re-watched it as an adult? Because yikes.
We would very likely walk into a burning building to save Tom Hanks, National Treasure. But Forrest Gump plays a LOT differently watching it as an adult. Some of the little things we found funny or touching are ... not exactly that anymore. And now that we're older and (arguably) smarter, it's easy to see how messed up some parts of the movie actually are! If you've recently watched it again after a long time, you might be wondering if you're the only one who thinks it's kind of messed up. Friends - you are not.
For most of the film, Tom Hank's character is just sort of meek and boring. He doesn't have much of a personality, and we never see him lose his temper or get mad at someone or even experience fear. He was treated like garbage by a lot of people for most of the movie, and he was just sort of like, "meh". The movie presents Forrest as laid back and oblivious, which does a huge disservice to people with intellectual disabilities. They have personalities, too! They have emotions and impulses and likes and dislikes. Forrest isn't an interesting character - he simply exists in interesting experiences.
For a guy who did so much cool stuff, have you noticed that Forrest Gump didn't even really ... do anything? Meaning he didn't actually choose to do any of it, or participate in any meaningful way. Forrest's life was literally a series of happy accidents, and he just sort of fell into these life-altering experiences. Which is fine, but then he ends up getting rewarded (handsomely!) for his "accomplishments". He doesn't work hard. He just happens upon situations in which he ends up succeeding, and ends up getting all the accolades. And we never really hear from Forrest about whether or not he actually wanted to do any of it! Because the movie takes away his choice and free will.
Forrest Gump, as a film, attempts to rewrite history and make Forrest the hapless hero in a lot of situations. Which is fine, we suppose. But in doing that, the film erases a lot of important accomplishments of black people throughout history. For example, Forrest is given credit for breaking the segregation barrier, a battle long-fought by the black community. He's given credit for uncovering Watergate, when in actuality a black security guard named Frank Willis. He's even given credit for teaching Elvis Presley his dance moves - Presley actually stole his moves from black artists of the time.
In the opening scene of the movie, Forrest is sitting on a bus stop bench, sharing stories and chocolate with whomever sits down next to him. He tries to strike up a conversation with a black woman who very clearly just wants to read her book in peace. And then he shares a heartwarming little anecdote about how he was related to and named after the guy who started the Ku Klux Klan. Just drops that little tidbit in a casual conversation. With a black woman. In the south. But Forrest is simple and doesn't know any better, so it's fine! Ignorance is the best defense.
Aside from Jenny and Lieutenant Dan, Forrest Gump has one good best friend: Bubba Blue. The two meet on a bus in the Army, and sort of just become each other's person. But given that Bubba is the only major black character in the film, you'd think the writers and director would have fleshed him out a bit. Instead, he's written as simple and lacking in personality, just like Forrest. Plus, they felt it necessary to make the actor Mykelti Williamson wear a lip prosthesis to make his lip bigger and more prominent, playing into the racist stereotype that black people have big lips. And all he ever talked about was shrimp. So naturally, they killed him off and Forrest took his idea for a shrimp restaurant and got stinking rich off it.
There's literally one good woman in the entire film, and it's Forrest's mom. All the other female characters are portrayed as incredibly damaged and manipulative, slutty women with substance abuse problems who treat the men like shit. Jenny's childhood is sort of addressed as an afterthought, and not as a reason why she suffers the way she does. She's used to contrast Forrest's innocence, and it plays into a damaging stereotype that men are good and women are bad.
Her traumatic childhood is hinted at early on, but we never dive deep into Jenny's story, and it does her a major disservice. Once you realize WHY Jenny runs from love and security, it makes sense. But rather than flesh out that story, we only see Jenny as she relates to all the things Forrest is doing. And her journey is secondary and made to look silly in comparison. She's clearly just trying to find herself and repair her damaged self, but Forrest doesn't see that and tries to help her in counterproductive ways.
We know, we know - the movie is called Forrest Gump, not Jenny Curran. He was obviously going to be the hero and get the happy ending. But they did Jenny wrong. She spends her life running from her traumatic childhood, she gets into drugs and contemplates suicide, and then ultimately is diagnosed with a fatal disease that ends her short and tragic life. The whole story line promotes the idea that women should be innocent or else they'll die. Don't have a lot of sex, ladies! Be perfect and pure like Forrest! Jenny pays the ultimate price for her "sins" in the movie.
Because of the way Forrest is portrayed, as a simple man who doesn't really understand life or emotions or anything, it's supposed to be sort of endearing that he continues to pursue Jenny even after she's rejected him. We're supposed to root for Forrest, and celebrate when Jenny finally breaks down and marries him. But the whole thing is sort of icky. No means no, unless you ask over and over again and then it means yes? We get why Jenny relents, she's dying after all and has a son to think about, but it's still bad. It is 100% acceptable for Jenny to love Forrest, just not in that way. But because Forrest doesn't understand emotional nuance, that way is the only way.
It's weird, you guys! It's weird and gross and borderline abusive. For literally the entire movie, Forrest Gump is essentially a child in an adult's body. In the scene where he and Jenny consummate their incredibly dysfunctional relationship, he looks terrified and confused. We're supposed to believe he wasn't capable of original thoughts or emotions for the whole movie, but suddenly accept that he's capable of consent? Then, of course, Jenny leaves and hides his son from him, playing right into the manipulative whore trope of the film.
Now, when we watched Forrest Gump for the first time, we were kids. So, not particularly tuned in to the political landscape. But watching it as an adult was a revelation. The movie leans VERY conservative. Which is fine! There's nothing wrong with that. But we do take issue with how the other side is portrayed. The left is angry, drug-addled, and abusive. We meet Jenny's "hippie" boyfriend and he literally immediately abuses her. The Black Panthers are yelling and aggressive. Soldiers - good. Hippies - baaaaaaaad.
The movie really centers around a time of turmoil and political upheaval in this country. The Vietnam War, the Civil Right Movement. And while the film uses these events as plot support, it never really gets to the meat of them. Forrest is just floating through this incredibly tumultuous time in history, not taking sides or voicing his support of one side or another. The one time we might get to hear his thoughts on something, when he's speaking at a protest of the war, his mic goes out and we don't get to hear what he says. Because ultimately, it's not important.
Forrest Gump goes through ... a lot. Many, many life-changing experiences! He's bullied, he plays college football, he fights in a horrific war, but becomes rich and famous. He loses his best friend and the love of his life. He loses his mom. And then he becomes a dad! Yet somehow, despite experiencing things in his life that would make or break anyone else, he never changes. He never develops. He is literally the exact same kid at the end of the movie as he was when he met Jenny on the bus. Forrest Gump is the most severely underdeveloped character in cinematic history.
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As with everything in Forrest's life, civil rights in the film is completely watered down and simplified. It misses a huge opportunity to highlight the struggle, and instead makes it seem as simple as picking up a book for someone or ignoring segregationists blocking black schoolchildren from entering the building. Maybe that worked for fictional Forrest Gump, but the film completely downplays and sanitizes literal centuries of struggle and reduces the fight for civil rights to a few simple catchphrases.
Is it the most quotable movie of all time? Possibly! When it first came out, you couldn't swing a dead cat without hitting someone quoting Forrest. "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get". "Stupid is as stupid does". And of course, "RUN, FORREST! RUUUUUUUUN!". The movie is 2 1/2 hours of the most banal cliches and quotables. They're meant to convey the depth and emotion lacking in the characters of the film. But in the end, the whole movie was basically one long quote that has long-since been played out.
Be honest - if someone who's never seen the movie asked you to describe what it was about, what would you say? War? Death? Love? There's no point to the movie! It spans some 40 years from start to finish, but never sticks with one story for long. So it's like a highlight reel, rather than a cohesive film. There are hippies, ping pong, some running, a farm. He mows the grass for a while? There's a cute kid. But what is the take away? What are you supposed to feel once it's over? We've seen it so many times, and we still have no idea.