n Zelig, Woody Allen plays the title character who goes through life adapting to whatever and whoever is around him because, as he explains to his shrink, he just wants to be liked. At the end of his exploits he gives a speech about his adventurous life and says, “It just goes to show what you can do if you’re a complete idiot.” Allen’s film was a farce that nevertheless spoke certain truths about the human condition. But this is the nineties, where wisdom is only on the tongues of babes and the insane, the ridiculous is the sublime, and the new real man is the one that, in real life, everybody pities. Enter Forrest Gump.
That this film has broken new records for Paramount Pictures
tells much about the pulse of our nation. Wouldn’t life be a
lot more appealing and nice if a.) you didn’t have to go after
what you wanted, but rather it came to you and b.) your brain
couldn’t make any subtle distinctions and therefore you didn’t
have to learn any harder lesson other than the already obvious
fact that life is a mix of fate and choice? The one good thing
the film does do is illustrate the goodness in an adult of virtues
that come naturally to a child—courage, loyalty, and forgiveness
in the face of apology. Other than that, the film is an unmitigated
disaster in sheep’s clothing, or rather, lambskin.
The hero of Forrest Gump is the cinemagraphic negative of James Bond. His success is due not to physical prowess, cunning intellect, and sex appeal, but to the new Darwinism—survival of the dumbest. Forrest passively lets life happen to him while the screenwriter manipulates circumstances to his benefit. Everything he does is at someone else’s suggestion, yet everything he does turns to gold. Forrest does not set a goal and work hard to achieve his dreams. He picks up whatever boneheaded advice comes his way and his goofy good luck keeps hitting lucky sevens—making possible dreams he’s never had. He even introduces himself in reverse: “Forrest, Forrest Gump” as opposed to “Bond, James Bond.” His secret weapon is his stupidity, which keeps him in a perpetual state of innocence after everyone else has grown up.
Forrest’s life is not like a bowl of cherries (pits and all), but like a box of chocolates, because, “You never know what you’re going to get.” But Forrest’s simplicity guarantees that whatever he gets is going to be sweet and morally neutral for reasons that mutually support each other. He is too dumb to turn down a bad opportunity, and he is too dumb to later make any negative judgment about it. Thus he describes Vietnam as one would a summer camp (lots of nice foliage and some silly sideways rain), with bullets as terrifying and real to him as the non-poisonous snake that “just jumped up and bit me.” Adding authenticity and weight to the absurd is the absence of even one dead Vietcong soldier, and when Forrest gives his speech on the war at the D.C. rally, the plug is conveniently pulled so that neither the hawks nor the doves in the audience can be offended. Morally profound themes are neither, says the screenplay, so long as you’re willing to unplug your oversensitive brain.
Every ten minutes Forrest chimes, “Stupid is as stupid does,” a piece of wisdom that never falls on the ears of his beloved Jenny, whose actions are by far the stupidest of anyone in the whole movie. Jenny gets stoned. Jenny gets laid. When Jenny betrays Forrest and then comes back after he becomes a billionaire, the only motive Forrest can figure is that she missed him or else that she is so tired. When she dies of what is clearly AIDS, the script never allows the possibility that her son or even Forrest might be infected. True love is blind, says the screenplay—and deaf and dumb as well.
This film is the perfect visual media tool. It gives the American audience the perfect justification for armchair indifference. It tells us to let life happen to you as it will and you will be happy. For most Americans that means working forty hours a week and watching television for fifty hours a week (no joke). Anything that commands that much attention must be pretty damn exciting, and now the last thirty years has become even more exciting because Forrest Gump was in most of that television footage. We just didn’t know who he was until now.
The feather of Destiny (for an explanation of this symbol, see Richard Bach’s book of the same name and same theme, complete with the single feather against the heavens on the book’s cover) descends onto our simpleton Curious George and, after touching his son with presumably a similar but hopefully smarter fate, blows up and out into our faces. This is our cue: go out, and be like Gump. Perform useless things eagerly, look back on them casually, and yes, Dumbo, you really can fly with this magic feather. For Forrest Gump, the unexamined life is the only one worth living.
The only other good thing about the film is that Gary Sinise does another fine job living up to his typecast. As in Of Mice And Men, Mr. Sinise performs well playing next to the character of an idiot. I kept waiting for Forrest to ask, “Tell me about da wabbits.” And I kept hoping that Lieutenant Dan would tell him about the rabbits—and then blow his head off.