With Halloween well on its way (out now actually), I had, of course, intended to write about a horror movie. From my title though, I obviously didn’t push though with this lofty proposition. I’m afraid the prospect of watching The Shining over and over (and I do promise I tried) scouring for sinister semiotics was just too much for this rather wimpy little writer. And so I chose for this week the antithesis of scary: Zemeckis’ Forrest Gump. (Although I suppose the number of apparent clichés packed into 142 minutes some people may deem frightening.)
Now I do believe that the majority of the movie-going public do like Forrest Gump. Yet, the bunch who do not are terribly vocal, and apparently seriously offended. Since I have a little time on my hands after scrapping that horror post, I thought I would look into exactly why.
For one thing, I suppose, the entire affair is quite blatantly gimmicky. CGI was a relatively uncharted and rather spectacular realm at the time. Here it is very well employed; even today you can’t quite get over the fact that Lieutenant Dan really does seem to have lost his legs. Impressive also is the way Mr Gump is plonked into various hallmarks of American history of the 20th century, shaking hands with a couple of Presidents along the way. Perhaps this in itself trivialises everything one ought (or really should not) feel proud of.
However, the sweet patriotism and sheer knee-slapping nostalgia that this quick little flight invokes is effective. I guess if ever there was a perfect time to push out a reflective little thing about a memorable century, it would be right near the end of it. As for the significant events in history that are chosen to punctuate the life of Gump, they too are quite expertly selected. Teaching a little Elvis Presley to dance, investing in the mysterious ‘fruit company’, all of these things are now recognised staples of pop culture. (Note particularly pop… as in popular.)
Perhaps this is the root of what bugs many to no end about Forrest Gump. Undoubtedly it is expertly crafted; only the best talent employed… but for what really? A feel-good, ironclad safey of a movie that caters to pretty much everyone under the sun. In other words: crass commercialism in the prettiest package you ever saw.
Here’s the thing though: it really isn’t.
It is undeniable that the backdrop of the film does indeed have a wide appeal, and it is also undeniable that it is a story steeped in a hefty load of sweet sentiment; but these facts frankly are only secondary. The heart of Forrest Gump is undoubtedly the titular hero himself, who stands out spectacularly in relief from one of the most thrilling centuries the world has ever known. This one single man, a fictional fellow and a rather surprising one at that, is something quite beyond our imaginations, probably because one has not and probably will never come across a character quite like Gump.
From Forrest Gump, a simple southern gentleman with a low IQ, we can actually learn very much. He possesses a gentle dignity and determination,an extraordinary strength of character that steers him safely through the rough seas of life. Forrest is confronted many a time with tragedy, but alleviates it with characterstic warmth and always with an astute understanding of the individuals around him. He epitomises actually the very essence of our own fantasies; our own convictions and ideals, and satisfies our inherent urge to be quietly extra-ordinary. Forrest is, in essence, all one really could hope for in a cinematic hero.
I thought I would leave you with the thought of the fluttering feather, not only a truly fitting symbol for Gump and the life he has led, but an insight also into the power of the image. The scope of comparison between the feather and Mr Forrest Gump himself is enormous. The two share countless endearing qualities; purity, strength and beauty are only some that come quickly to mind. However, one must not forget either that a feather aids a bird in flight, just as Forrest Gump has always offered both practical assistance and generosity of spirit to all those he has encountered.