If “It was twenty years ago today that Sergeant Pepper taught his band to play,” as the Beatles sang close to fifty years ago, it is also twenty years ago that the movie which would redefine how we look at the mentally challenged, lovable character that Tom Hanks embodied in the movie, “Forrest Gump.” The wonderful thing about the movie, or should I say, one of the wonderful things about the movie was the central question about destiny. Is it something that just happens or are we supposed to be driving our own destiny? The movie never answers the question. It is left to hang in our collective consciences for all eternity.
What is it about that movie that still renders us vulnerable? I believe that it is the way that the main character, Forrest (named after ancestor Nathan Bedford Forrest of KKK fame) Gump progresses through his life. He goes to elementary and high school, joins the football team in college and becomes an all-star, he joins the military and by accident almost, gets the Congressional Medal of Honor, the hghest award given to a military man. He falls in love and it never waivers, no matter how badly he is treated by his girl. He makes friends for life, including Lieutenant Dan, a character in the movie who is everything that Forrest is not, he is cantankerous, swarthy, and, when he loses both of his legs in combat, he is rightfully bitter. Forrest loves him, but he does not love Forrest until the end of the movie. The two of them go shrimp fishing and live through a hurricane on their boat. Forrest’s boat is the only one that survives the hurricane and Lieutenant Dan uses his business acumen to make them rich, when he parlays Apple stock into their investment portfolio.
As you probably know, Forrest finds his girl, Jennie, suffering from HIV. He marries and then buries her, along with his mother, played by Sally Field in one of her greatest roles. She constantly reminds him the “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know which one you’ll get.” When he asks her about destiny, she gently tells him that he will have to figure it out for himself. He gains a son. He moves into his mother’s house, which is a beautiful mansion. And, as I said, he gets married.
When Frank Capra released “It’s a Wonderful Life,” he did not release it at Christmastime. He released it as a “B” movie in the summer. He never thought that it would amount to too much. It is probably the most popular Christmas movie of all time, even though it is not really about Christmas, it just ends on that note. When “Forrest Gump” came out the producers did everything that they could to make it successful, including a little trick of editing which placed Forrest Gump on a newsreel with the long dead President Kennedy. Instead of passing judgement on Kennedy, the film incorporates him into it. It was a brilliant piece of editing.
So, where am I going with this. Simply I am trying to note what has already been stated, that there is a question of destiny and it is never answered. But, at the end, Forrest says that destiny is a little bit of both, a question and an answer. We are left watching a feather floating on the wind, not picking a apot where it will go just floating aimlessly. The question of destiny is never really answered. That puts us at the point that we were at in the beginning of the movie, but it does something else that makes its twentieth birthday memorable; it makes us think.