I had first watched Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994) as a teenager, and loved it back then. A recent re-watch has changed my opinion. For one thing, the film surpassed Pulp Fiction and Shawshank Redemption in Oscars. But since awards rarely define greatness, let’s skip that part. What really bothers me is the conservative undertone of the film.
The film follows Tom Hanks as a dimwitted, directionless man, following a conservative and obedient life. Throughout the film, in numerous ways, Forrest crosses path with his love interest Jenny, who actively pursues her goals, joins the counterculture movement, participates in anti-war rallies, and dies prematurely of AIDS. The protagonist has an anti-intellectual stance throughout, quite literally how he finds solution to everything by ‘running away’ and sends out a message that it is best to be passive and ignorant. Such dodging and weaving gives nihilism, stoicism and existentialism a bad name. Life is not a box of chocolates! If at all, it is a box of absurdities.
The film over-glorifies Vietnam war through humor, exactly how Argo treats the Iranian revolution. In one of the scenes where the protagonist has an opportunity to speak up against the atrocities of the Vietnam war, a microphone malfunction occurs – which to some, might be a nihilistic experience, but to me – turns out to be a no-brainer. The film boils down into the a sequence of raising social problems without the intention of dealing with them. It even treats issues like war, civil strife, and political assassinations as colorful backdrops for the protagonist’s charmed life.
Some critics have claimed that Hanks didn’t deserve a second consecutive best actor Oscar for the film. Despite my differences with the subject matter, I beg to differ with such criticism. Hanks performance is possibly the only good thing about the film. He gives a great deal of humanity to what would have been a tasteless character otherwise. He is like the white feather which perhaps symbolizes the unbearable lightness of being, the randomness of one’s experiences. Forrest’s love for Jenny is well depicted with depth of grace and a charming sweetness. As an actor, he ends up doing exactly what he is told to do, in this overly sentimental film. As late Roger Ebert said, “Hanks’ performance is a breathtaking balancing act between comedy and sadness.”