Let’s Talk About… ‘Forrest Gump’ (1994)

Film #58 in FilmExodus’ AFI 100 Movies

Every week FilmExodus does a review/analysis of a different cinematic masterpiece from AFI’s 100 Movies 2007 updated list. For a complete overview and how you can participate, click here.

[Ed. Note: This is not a typical AFI review. There’s no point in giving a plot summary because I know you know what happens. A mentally handicapped man who can run faster than a slow dog, gets into a whole bunch of wacky shenanigans and eventually contracts AIDS (or at the very least gonorrhea) from his ex. Ping pong and shrimp are involved. I’m also not going to talk about Tom Hank‘s now legendary performance. In fact, as you’ll eventually figure out, I really had no desire in reviewing Forrest Gump. I’m much more interested in its place in pop culture and why it’s socially acceptable to shit on it now, even though everyone used to love it.

So sit back, relax and get settled in for 1500 words of idiotic ramblings and half thoughts that tangentially connect to the film in question. Enjoy.]

Hello, my name is Sailor Monsoon and I’m a recovering contrarian. It’s been over a decade since I rejected a film based solely on the fact it was popular. If the public opinion about something zigged, I zagged. I was so concerned about being labeled a “sheep”, I would stubbornly dismiss anything I deemed overrated just to separate myself from group think, which I vehemently dislike with a passion.

Which essentially meant anything I considered too beloved or popular became a target for me to shit on. I was a hipster before they had labels. One of the biggest objects of my vitriol was Forrest Gump, a movie who’s mere existence used to piss me off. I used to consider it a tick of celluloid that burrowed its way into pop culture so deep, everyone and their mother’s were quoting it ad nauseam. It was like Zemeckis and Co. distilled everything I loathed about music at the time down to a blueprint to create the cinematic equivalent of an impossible-to-get-out-of-your-head catchy ass earworm. It was everywhere, everyone loved it and I hated it.

If you were alive in the early 90’s, you heard one or more of these quotes everyday until you jabbed yourself in the ears or you rode the wave till it crashed on the beach of Bud-weis-er frogs, yo quiero Taco Bell and Wassup. And the lifeguards would all be wearing JNCO jeans and a Talk To The Hand t-shirts.

The 90’s were fucking terrible.

But it’s over exposure was not the reason I hated it. I could put up with the constant quotes and parodies (which seemed to go on for at least five years straight) and I even gave the films story a pass, despite it being so saccharine, insulin sales went up 200% after its release. And if it was released in any other year, I could forgive it winning the Oscar for best picture because lets face it, the Academy is never right but Forrest Gump wasn’t released in ’95 where its competition would’ve been Braveheart or Apollo 13 or even in ’96 with Fargo and the English Patient being Its award seeking rivals.

No. It was released in ’94 alongside arguably the most important film of the decade. The Academy is known for its fuck ups, with many a list dedicated to their many blunders: Star Wars losing to Annie Hall, Citizen Kane losing to How Green Was My Valley, Hitchcock, Chaplin, Kurosawa and Kubrick never winning for directing and Space Jam receiving exactly zero nominations but Forrest Gump beating Pulp Fiction is one of their most egregious.

Hindsight is unfortunately 20/20. You can never predict what films are going to be cultural phenomenons and the Academy could never have known Pulp Fiction would go on to ultimately shape the entire decade but everyone knew it was a big deal. Reservoir Dogs hit the world like an atom bomb. It, along with a handful of other films, proved that independent cinema was a strong competitor to the Hollywood machine.

Everyone and their brother was eagerly anticipating Tarantino‘s follow up. Was he a one hit wunderkind that got lucky or was he the real deal? If Reservoir Dogs was an atom bomb, Pulp Fiction was, to quote Jules Winfield, “Superfly T.N.T., the fucking Guns of the Navarone!” Which is another way of saying– a massive fucking explosion.

The film was proof positive that Tarantino was the real deal. Its laissez-faire attitude to dialogue and plot, as well as its unique (for the time) structure was mind blowing for audiences. I don’t think moviegoers realized that characters in a film were allowed to talk about anything; that they didn’t have to constantly remind the viewer about the plot or were created as exposition dumps. The film unravels its plot on its own time but wants you to hang out in the mean time. It was revolutionary.

Which brings us to Forrest Gump.

A film I hated simply because it was popular and was beloved amongst enough people, that it won a stupid fucking award I don’t even care about in the first place. The Oscars are a ridiculous ceremony that amounts to little more than a circle jerk between the rich and beautiful (As well as derpy face Matt Damon) but every year I watch and every year I complain that they didn’t get it “right.”

Forrest Gump, along with films like the English Patient and Shakespeare in Love became easy targets because they stole an award from a much more deserving film but the truth of the matter is, they didn’t steal anything. They won because they were the most popular amongst the voters. Simple as that.

With the exception of Tom Hooper, nobody sets out to make an Oscar winning film. Actors might take roles they know will get them prestige and producers will pick scripts they think will get award buzz but directors are storytellers. They (for the most part) pick projects that speak to them on either an emotional or intellectual level. Zemeckis didn’t make Forrest Gump to win anything. He adapted a book he enjoyed.

That’s it.

But yet we shit on it because Pulp Fiction should’ve won or The Shawshank Redemption should’ve won. We’re not judging it objectively or even subjectively. We’re condemning it because of a sin that it was never guilty in committing in the first place. It didn’t steal anything and whether it deserves it is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter because nobody loves Forrest Gump more because it won and Pulp Fiction didn’t fade into obscurity because it lost nor did Shawshank.

Forrest Gump is a perfectly fine film.

Besides it’s Oscar win, the biggest complaint you could make is that it’s overbearingly sentimental. For a film that tackles war, death, suicide, racism, venereal disease and prostitution, it never once feels real. There’s no dramatic heft to the story. It just seems to float from scene to scene like the feather at the end of the film. But the film isn’t shooting for realism.

This is a fantasy.

Gump’s adventures are not too dissimilar from a folktale or legend. Narratively, it’s exactly like Homer’s Odyssey: He goes place to place, often ending up in extraordinary situations but is constantly helping people along the way. The only difference being that Gump has no cyclopes (cyclopi?) and the Odyssey has no Black Panther Parties.

The performances are all universally great and it has, inarguably one of the greatest soundtracks of all time. To use the parlance of our times, “these all be hot bangers.” It’s a charming film that might be overrated but is ultimately a victim of its own popularity. It’s neither the worst Oscar winner nor the least deserving.

Forrest Gump may not have deserved the Oscar but it definitely doesn’t deserve the hate.