In a well-known romantic-comedy film Forrest Gump by Robert Zemeckis, the center of interest strengthens the representation of race in the historical context and its connection to modern society. This film addresses “so many iconic historical elements from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s that it has become a one of the most beloved films of all time” (Malcolm et al., “The Adaptation of Forrest Gump”). From Civil Rights Movement to Vietnam War, Forrest Gump encounters with major American historical events through his life journey and this film portrays it through an innocent, disadvantaged man’s lens. The film conveys significant life messages as audience travel through the late 20th century with Forrest Gump.
The story begins with the childhood through adulthood of the protagonist Forrest Gump as he lives an exceptional life while witnessing remarkable events in the late 20th century. Forrest Gump was born with low IQ compared to his peers, and he had to overcome a number of difficulties growing up. However, even with his disabilities, Gump focused only on positive aspects. With Gump’s extremely speedy running talent, the movie moves on to University of Alabama where Gump receives a football scholarship to attend college.
The setting of this film takes place in Alabama, a southern state that is known for one of the most conservative and patriarchal state of America. This is where the first historical incident occurs, which was Civil Rights Movement and desegregation of the United States. Two African American students were prevented from enrolling to school. Rallies at the front doors and President John F. Kennedy’s order of federal troops were depicted in the film. The issue of uncontrolled racism in the South were lightly brought up by Forrest Gump’s one dimensional viewpoint, however a quote by Gump, “Maybe just me, but College was some confusing times.” shows how complicated issue it was (Zemeckis, 1994).
After college, Forrest Gump joined in the Army where he is sent to Vietnam to fight. Vietnam War is a tragic war that occurred from 1954 to 1975, where 58,148 were killed (Hack, “Vietnam War”). Although Vietnam War was not explained in the film, Forrest Gump provides “valuable insight unhindered by biases and politics” through his simple mind (Malcolm et al., “The Adaptation of Forrest Gump”). A quote by Forrest Gump, “Sometimes when people go to Vietnam, they go home to their mommas without any legs. Sometimes they don’t go home at all. That’s a bad thing. That’s all I have to say about that.” exhibit his elementary understanding of Vietnam War (Zemeckis, 1994). While in Vietnam, Forrest meets and makes good relationships with people around him such as his close friend Bubba and Lieutenant Dan. Forrest’s honest, warm-hearted, and brave personality contributed to his success later in life.
There were some minor historical events embedded in this film along with major issues. For example, Forrest Gump becomes a national Ping Pong player, as a part of American team to visit China with his talent. In addition, Forrest Gump runs across the country, “inspired by Louis Michael Figueroa who ran from New Jersey to San Francisco for the American Cancer Society” (Malcolm et al., “The Adaptation of Forrest Gump”). Forrest Gump rebuilds and carves out his own life by putting his difficulties behind while remaining compassionate, loyal, and generous. With his life philosophy, Forrest Gump becomes a very successful billionaire. Forrest Gump gives back to the community and changes lives of many people along the way. Through his acts of kindness, the audience learns an important life lesson: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get” (Zemeckis, 1994).
In the industrial context, Forrest Gump is a good representation of late capitalism as well as postmodernism with many unique elements of the film (Scott 23). During the time period of 1990s, the use of computers in animation, Computer Graphics (CG), and Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) were widely used in the film industry (Dirks). There are multiple illustrations and technological effects that contributed to the success of this film. With the digital revolution, this is also an era in which computers became affordable, DVDs and VCRs were introduced and became popular (Dirks).
Forrest Gump film was “revolutionary” with its use of digital effects, oftentimes integrating the protagonist into actual historical scenes. For instance, Zemeckis and his crew used these techniques precisely to produce scenes interacting with dead historical figures. They changed the mouth, jaws, and cheeks movements, and added own voice actors (Scott 23). Furthermore, the ping-pong matches were completely made by CGI; there were no balls. It was produced to meet Forrest Gump’s ping pong paddles (Malcolm et al., “The Adaptation of Forrest Gump”). Its stunning, seamless visual assets were such a fresh approach to audience.
Forrest Gump gives valuable life lessons through textual domains such as symbolism. Huge theological implications were placed into some objects and common theme throughout the movie. The feather from the beginning of the movie is one of them. The feather floating in the air leads the audience into the film and in the closing scene as well. It symbolizes freedom and flight, often in a mental and spiritual sense (Malcolm et al., “The Adaptation of Forrest Gump”). It tells the audience that just like a feather, you can go anywhere wherever it takes you.
Another example of textual domain is running. From the beginning of the film, Forrest has been running; towards his only friend Jenny, away from teenagers who bullied him, to save fellow soldiers during war, and finally running to get the thought off of Jenny from his mind. Forrest Gump ran away from his difficulties and problems throughout the movie, however at the end, he decides to deal with them and stop running away (Malcolm et al., “The Adaptation of Forrest Gump”).
There are multiple symbolic actions and objects that portrayed Forrest Gump’s attitudes and beliefs. Shrimp business, box of chocolate, ping pong, and the book Curious George. From his extraordinary life, the audience learns to be a good friend to have a good friend, stay positive and open-minded, do what you love no matter what, and always try because you will never know what you are capable of (Messer).
- Els Malcolm, Charlotte MacDonald, Michaela Eaton-Kent. The Adaptation of Forrest Gump, 30 Mar. 2011, https://forrestgump227.wordpress.com/character-adaptation/. Accessed 28 Nov. 2018.
- “Forrest Gump”. N/D. http://runforrestrun.umwblogs.org/civil-rights/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2018.
- Hack, David. “Vietnam War Facts, Stats and Myths.” US Wings, 1994, www.uswings.com/about-us-wings/vietnam-war-facts/. Accessed 27 Nov. 2018.
- Messer, Lesly. “7 Life Lessons From ‘Forrest Gump’ on Its 20th Anniversary”. 6 July 2014. Web.
- https://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/life-lessons-forrest-gump-20th-anniversary/story?id=24417895 Accessed 30 Nov. 2018.
- Scott, Steven D. “‘Like a Box of Chocolates’: ‘Forrest Gump’ and Postmodernism.” Literature Film Quarterly, vol. 29, no. 1, Jan. 2001, p. 23. EBSCOhost, ezproxy2.library.colostate.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=cookie,ip,url,cpid&custid=s4640792&db=aph&AN=4299274&site=ehost-live. Accessed 26 Oct. 2018.
- Zemeckis, Robert. Forrest Gump. Director. Paramount Pictures. 6 July, 1994. Accessed 25 Oct. 2018.