Twenty years ago this week, Forrest Gump came out and the world went bonkers.
The feather, the run-Forrest-running, the reanimated corpses of presidents—we couldn't get enough. The film went on to win Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, Best Visual Effects, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Editing at the 67th Academy Awards, and I went on to listen to the soundtrack literally 1,746,999,201,484 times in the summer before 9th grade. But WHY did we freak out so hard? Could Forrest Gump really be that good? Is it really BETTER THAN PULP FICTION? I rewatched it to see what all the fuss was about.
We open with a feather, which is a metaphor. You see, because it's white, like Tom Hanks, and you want it to stay away from you, like the Vietnam War. Also this feather shot JFK.
After falling off of a disgusting bird somewhere, the feather floats over and lands on Tom Hanks's foot. Tom Hanks plays Forrest Gump, our hero, currently waiting for the bus with childlike wonder and also bothering this lady who is just trying to live. Gump picks up the feather (UGH, DON'T TOUCH IT) and presses it between the pages of Curious George, his favorite book. Congrats. Now your suitcase is infested with bird mites.
"Hello!" Gump says to the lady. "My name's Forrest. Forrest Gump. You want a chock-lit? I could eat about a million of these. My momma always said life is like a box of chock-lits. You never know what you're gonna get." I mean, you mostly know. They write it on the lid. The main ingredient is chock-lit. Also, that's why they give you that little chock-lit map that's like, "This one is a caramel. This one is some horrible burning strawberry paste."
Then the lady tells Gump that her feet hurt and she JUST WANTS TO GO HOME, so, naturally, he launches into his entire life story.
Small Gump goes to the doctor with his mom (Sally Field, who apparently gave birth to him when she was 10) to get fitted with some leg braces, because "his back's as crooked as a politician." Gump reminisces about his ancestral namesake, General Nathan Bedford Forrest, who was the first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan. Fortunately, Gump, much like that dirty feather, is too innocent to understand what racism is, so he thinks that the Klan was a sort of slumber party club where "they'd even put bedsheets on they horses and ride around."
Now, I guess that little rhetorical loophole (which serves the twofold goals of emphasizing Gump's naiveté and keeping this feelgood movie max digestible) is better than just not addressing how fucking racist Alabama was in the 1950s, but I can't help feeling like Gump was AGGRESSIVELY failed by the system. Like, no, he's not a brainiac, but he's CAPABLE OF UNDERSTANDING BASIC CONCEPTS. If he can follow the rules of ping-pong to the letter, he can grasp the idea that some white people think they're better than black people. Instead, apparently everyone just tapped out hard on Forrest's education, like, "Oh, he's a little slow. Let's NEVER TELL HIM ANYTHING."
Then, GAAAHHHH! FUCKING BERNARD SHOWS UP.
WILL YOU NEVER LEAVE ME BE, FELL GHOUL!?!?!
Bernard tells Sally Field that if she wants Gump to go to his school, she's going to have to build a giant S.O.S. sign out of rocks…IN HIS PANTS.
Actually, the interaction goes like this:
Bernard: "Is there a Mr. Gump, Mrs. Gump?"
Sally Field: "He's on vacation."
Bernard: [INTERMINABLE SEXUAL GRUNTING NOISE THAT WILL HAUNT LINDY WEST'S EVERY STEP FROM 1994 UNTIL THE GRAVE]
Later, Forrest is like, "Mom, what's vacation mean? Where daddy went?" and Sally Field goes, "Vacation's where you go somewhere and you don't ever come back."
AGAIN. UM. Maybe the issue here isn't that Forrest is a bumbling simpleton, it's that HIS MOM KEEPS TELLING HIM THAT LIFE IS CHOCOLATE AND VACATION MEANS THAT YOU NEVER COME BACK. Maybe he's just an average dude who's spent his whole life being lied to by weirdos about the definitions of basic words.
On the first day of school, Gump meets his school bus driver:
Gump: "Mama said not to be taking rides from strangers."
Bus Driver: "This is the bus to school."
Gump: "My name's Forrest, Forrest Gump."
Bus Driver: "Dorothy Harris."
Gump: "Now we ain't strangers no more." [gets on bus]
I think I see a couple of holes in your security system there, Mrs. Gump, but okey dokey.
Once aboard the school bus, Gump becomes acquainted with a great southern tradition: White people being hella territorial about bus seats. "This seeeyit's taayyykuuhn." "Cayn't sit heeeeyuuuhhhhh." But like a bolt from the heavens, JENNAY SHOWS UP TO SAVE THE DAY. She lets Forrest sit by her, and, kicking off their "adorable" decades-long abuse pattern of Jennay being a complete dickhead and Forrest accepting it because he feels like he has no other options, she immediately goes, "Are you stupid or something?"
"Mama says stupid is as stupid does."
HI. GUMP. WHAT does that mean. Dude, you gotta stop listening to your mom.
One day, some mean kids on bikes start throwing rocks at Gump because of his leg braces, so Jennay's like, "Run, Forrest! Ruuuuuuunnn!!!" (QUESTION. HOW DID THAT TAKE OFF AS A CATCHPHRASE.) Forrest runs so hard that his LEGS EXPLODE and his leg braces scatter all over the road, which I guess is supposed to be triumphant even though I'm pretty sure those things are expensive and it's not like Mrs. Gump is flush with leg-brace cash (or, as she calls it, "green chocolate").
"From that day on," Gump says, "if I was going somewhere, I was running."
Then we find out that Jennay has a horrible gross abusive dad.
Then miniature Forrest and Jennay shapeshift into Tom Hanks and Robin Wright, and then those same shithead kids come to throw rocks at Forrest again, only their bikes have shapeshifted into a truck!!! So Jennay's like, "Run, Forrest, ruuuuuuuuuuun!" again, and I guess you're supposed to be like "CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP CLAP OH HO HO A PHRASE I HAVE HEARD BEFORE! DEE-LIGHTFUL!!!" because everyone loves a call-back.
Forrest run-Forrest-runs right through a college football game and the football coaches are like, "Gwuuuuuhhhhhh!???!!?!?!" and they hire him to play football for their college even though he is clearly 45 years old. There's a brief Mr. Ernst cameo, Forrest invents desegregation, and then Forrest uses punching to save Jennay from intercourse. Gump: The College Years.
Jennay takes Forrest to her dorm room for sexual gratitude and is like, "I want to be famous. I want to be a singer like Joan Baez." And Forrest is like, "Is Joan Baez a kind of chock-lit?" And then Jennay's like "CHECK IT OUT! BEWBAYZ!" and shows him her bra, and Forrest passes the fuck out from boob-flu. Bewbayz is as bewbayz does.
Forrest gets to meet JFK because he's so good at football-running, and tells the president about his distended bladder. "Sometime later," Gump says, "for no particular reason, somebody shot that nice young president when he was riding in his car."
HOW DID YOU GRADUATE FROM COLLEGE? Also, could somebody answer, like, ONE of Forrest's questions? You're a college.
Then Gump joins the army, but on the army bus, eh-vuh-rayyee see-yuhht's tayyy-kuhhhn UH-GEEEEE-YIN!!!!! That's when Gump meets Bubba, who is secretly 100,000 live, writhing shrimp standing on each other's shoulders wearing a human suit. Literally the only thing Bubba does is list different shrimp preparations, which Forrest interprets as "best friendship."
One day, in army, someone throws a dirty magazine at Forrest and goes, "Hey, Gump! Get a load of the tits on her!"
Gump gets a load.
OH NO! IT'S JENNAY! THOSE ARE JENNAY'S TITS UPON WHICH GUMP IS GETTING A LOAD!!!
Clearly, Jennay needs Forrest's help. He finds her doing her naked Joan Baez act at a strip clurb, which is not going over that well because the patrons came to get a load of the tits on her, not listen to mediocre folk covers. So Forrest punches everyone. Jennay is a total dick about it. "You can't keep doing this, Forrest. You can't keep trying to rescue me all the time."
Then Forrest is like, "Say bye bye, Jennay. They sending me to Vietnam. It's this whole other country." And Jennay is like, awwww, hugz. L8r!!!!
So Forrest goes to Vietnam. Right away, Gump and Bubba meet Lieutenant Dan "The Toolman" Taylor, an irascible shithead who will literally follow Gump around being awful until the end of his days. Lieutenant Dan tells Bubba not to get his lip caught on a trip-wire, which is kind of racist, tbh. Then he delivers his signature Lieutenant Dan sock lecture. LIEUTENANT DAN LOVES SOCKS. This becomes something of a tragic irony later.
The only thing Lieutenant Dan loves more than socks is getting blown up in a war. "Somebody in his family had fought and died in every single American war. I guess you could say he had a lot to live up to." (Again, I kind of feel like Forrest's problem isn't that he's stupid, it's that literally everyone he ever meets is a fucking weirdo who makes no sense.)
One day, everybody blows up, and Forrest finds Bubba dying in the jungle.
Bubba: "Forrest. I got one last thing to say."
Forrest: "What is it, Bubba?"
Bubba: "I forgot…shrimp…ceviche."
Forrest: "Bubba, please don't die!"
Then Forrest goes, "Bubba was going to be a shrimpin' boat captain, but instead he died right there by that river in Vietnam," and if you claim you didn't squeeze out at least ONE TEAR at that moment, then you're a lying sack of shrimp.
Gump gets shot in the butt while rescuing all his army friends from the exploding jungle, so he gets to go live in the hospital and eat ice cream 24/7. Turns out, Lieutenant Dan is in the bed next to him! ("FUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!" - Lieutenant Dan) Lieutenant Dan may have lost his legs, but he didn't lose his horrible attitude! He mostly hangs around and verbally abuses Forrest for being an eternally optimistic font of pure delight.
One day, Jennay sends back all the letters Gump wrote her from Vietnam in one huge bundle. Like, Jennay, you didn't need to SEND THEM BACK. You could have just thrown them in the garbage. You literally went to extra effort just to be a dickhead. Jennay sucks.
Gump picks up ping-pong while trying to kill time in the hospital, and it turns out he is a ping-pong wizard. Lieutenant Dan is so proud of Gump's pong-skills that he throws him out of bed in the middle of the night to scream in his face about how much he wants to die! And it's all Gump's fault: "You cheated me! I had a destiny. I was supposed to die in the field, with honor."
"This movie's kinda weird." - my kid.
(To be fair, though, the kids were fucking CAPTIVATED by Forrest Gump. The night before, I'd tried to make them watch Beetlejuice, and I basically had to chain them to the couch even though that movie is one billion times funnier, smarter, and more visually and narratively interesting than Forrest Gump. I didn't even MEAN for them to watch Gump with me, but they were instantly drawn in like Gelflings to that soul-juicing machine. I guess it's just structured for easy consumption, like junk food. Plus, it uses this storied filmmaking technique called TOM HANKS IS AN INTERGALACTIC TREASURE. [The real truth is that the headline of this post is a lie. I love Forrest Gump too, goddamnit. Tom Hanks for Hegemon of Earth and Space.])
Gump wins the Medal of Honor, affording him the opportunity to show Lyndon Johnson his butt-wound. Because talking to American presidents about his genitals is kind of his thing.
Then Gump accidentally wanders into an anti-war rally on the Mall in Washington, and Jennay is at the protest OF COURSE and she's like, "Forrest! Forrest!" and he's like, "Jennay!" and they run out into that stanky duck pond and hug. Then Jennay takes Gump to a Black Panther meeting, where her boyfriend Wesley (DIFFERENT WESLEY) slaps her in the face for no reason, so Gump is like GUUUUUUMP RAAAAAAGE and punches him with vigor. Wesley explains that it's actually Lyndon Johnson's fault that he beats women, so Jennay goes off with him in a bus.
Forrest becomes an incredibly famous international ping-pong star (yes, a thing, I'm sure) and goes on Dick Cavett where he meets John Lennon.
Gump: "In the land of China, people hardly got nothing at all."
Lennon: "No possessions?"
Gump: "And in China they never go to church."
Lennon: "No religion too?"
Cavett: "I can't imagine."
Lennon: "It's easy if you try, Dick."
This is the most terrible scene ever to appear in any film.
Gump reunites with Lieutenant Dan and vows to use his ping-pong endorsement money to fulfill Bubba's dream of being a shrimp boat captain. Lieutenant Dan, for some reason, is HELLA SKEPTICAL that this dude who's already met three presidents, won a Congressional Medal of Honor, wrote John Lennon's "Imagine," blew the whistle on Watergate, and made tens of thousands of dollars PLAYING PING-PONG could possibly achieve the famously insurmountable dream of buying a medium-sized boat in Alabama and riding around on it looking for shrimp. "If you're ever a shrimp boat captain, that's the day I'm an astronaut."
DUDE. HE IS THE MOST SUCCESSFUL MAN IN THE WORLD.
Meanwhile, Jennay is off somewhere having a shitty attitude because of the '70s.
So, Gump moves back to Alabama to do the shrimp-boat thing, but it turns out that catching shrimp is his only weakness. He fucking sucks at it. He mostly catches garbage. But then, one day, there's Lieutenant Dan sitting on the dock! He wants to join the shrimpin' crew! Gump gets so excited that he jumps into the water, allowing the boat to run rogue and destroy the entire marina. This is never spoken of again.
Lieutenant Dan doesn't turn out to be much help with catching shrimp, so Gump starts going to church every Sunday while Lieutenant Dan sits in the back glaring at people and drinking whiskey. Then, one day, his prayers are answered! An ENORMOUS HURRICANE comes and destroys the entire Louisiana shrimping industry!!!!! EXCEPT FOR THEIR BOAT!
YAY! YAY! YAY FOR IMPOVERISHED BLACK PEOPLE WHOSE HOMES, LIVELIHOODS, AND FUTURES HAVE BEEN OBLITERATED! BECAUSE NOW THESE TWO RANDO WHITE DUDES WHO ARE LITERALLY JUST DOING THIS AS A HOBBY CAN BECOME FUCKING BILLIONAIRES! YAAAAAAAYYYYY!!!
Then Lieutenant Dan finally becomes nice and thanks Forrest for saving him from blowing up to death in Vietnam. Then Forrest gets a call that his mom is dying, so he swims home. Then she dies. Then Lieutenant Dan invests the Bubba Gump Shrimp money in Apple Computers, so Forrest is able to buy his church a funky new bass player and Bubba's mom gets a white slave. Then Jennay comes home to visit, buys him new shoes, does sex with him, and then leaves again. So Forrest runs back and forth across the country a few times.
And then we're caught up!!! We're back on the bus bench! Forrest is like, "Yep, I got this letter that I should come visit Jennay, so I'm on my way to her apartment," and the people on the bench are like, "FUCKING FINALLY, MY FAMILY THINKS I'M DEAD," and then some old lady gives him directions and it's denouement o'clock.
He shows up at Jennay's house and she introduces him to her new kid.
Jennay: "His name's Forrest."
Forrest: "Like me!"
Jennay: "I named him after his daddy."
Forrest: "He got a daddy named Forrest too?"
Jennay: "You're his daddy, Forrest."
Not the COOLEST way to deliver that news, but I get it. You're Jennay.
They get married and she wears the WORST WEDDING DRESS and she tells Forrest she has HIV. But they don't say HIV. They just say "a virus."
And then they have this Meaningful Conversation about life's majesty:
Forrest: "Sometimes, when I was running, I couldn't tell where heaven stopped and the earth began."
Jennay: "I wish I could have been there with you."
Forrest: "You were. [But you were really high and you don't remember]."
Then Jennay dies and turns into a feather and THE WHOLE MOVIE STARTS OVER AGAIN FROM THE BEGINNING.