After I wrote Why I Hate Forrest Gump (1994) with the Heat of a Thousand Suns, I thought I’d written all there was to be said about my feelings about the movie. But then something happened recently that made me want to revisit it in a big way.
2019 marked the 25th anniversary of Forrest Gump. To mark it, there were a flood of articles commemorating its release. But many people didn’t just take a fond, nostalgic look back at the film; they defended it against its detractors. There’s nothing wrong with defending a movie based on the fact that you enjoyed it; the problem is when you start casting aspersions on the critics, or argue that people shouldn’t get hung up on all the legitimately questionable parts of the movie and instead should simply enjoy it on a purely cinematic basis.
As someone who detests the movie with every fiber of my being, I couldn’t just sit idly by in 2019 and keep reading articles along the likes of, “It’s not that the movie has any issues; it’s these darned, meddling ‘woke’ kids,” or, “Everyone in the whole, wide world really loves this film; it’s only these tiny minority of cinema geeks/academic snobs/jerks who enjoy taking down sacred cows.”
No. Hell to the no.
Forrest Gump isn’t suddenly undergoing assault by an elite minority or a new generation of “woke” millennials. The movie has always had its share of critics right from the very beginning. It’s just that it opened to so much acclaim that the criticism was buried under all the slavish praise. (Ask Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption fans how much they love Forrest Gump.) Plus, Tom Hanks was at the peak of his career when he made that movie and it was impossible to express how much you hated it; people would just give you the evil eye, call you a troll or dryly ask you how many bodies you had buried in your basement. Because of all this, I had to come back and revisit Forrest Gump to counter the bogus myth being spun that there’s something new or different about the criticism being leveled against this film.
Another reason why I had to revisit the movie was to complain about something I hadn’t talked about in Why I Hate Forrest Gump with the Heat of a Thousand Suns. When I wrote that piece, I hadn’t explored another major criticism that other people have had about the movie, because I didn’t really get where they were coming from. People were upset about the film’s theme of a moron who stumbles his way through life achieving the type of success that most of us can only dream of. I understood what the critics meant in a basic sense, but for me, this was more an issue of clumsy writing. I didn’t see it as anything more than that, so I didn’t understand why this theme was so upsetting to some people.
It wasn’t until 2019 when I finally got why people were so angry. This theme of an idiot with no talent or effort becoming a legendary American hero and icon for us to look up to and admire was just one more expression of the wall-to-wall populist propaganda that is Forrest Gump. But to understand how and why, we first have to look at certain trends that have been emerging in American culture over the years.
Love how much you’ve bashed Forrest Gump and yet, you haven’t even mentioned the bad visual effects xD.
As a Pulitzer-Prize treatise on American history and a character, the movie indeed fails. For me, the lack of depth in the topics it covers (Vietnam, AIDS, Watergate, child abuse, drugs, hippies) really sinks it.
As straight-up entertainment? Not bad honestly.
The lack of depth was purposeful. The whole point of glossing over everything was to downplay the historical significance of those events and the people behind them. In a different rant about this film, I talk about how much of the movie was historical revisionism as an answer to the romanticism surrounding the so-called Baby Boomer years.
The TLDR version of that rant is that Forrest Gump is a Rightwing reactionary film trying to destroy the legacy of the Baby Boomers by peddling an alternate historical version in which their accomplishments were written off and the entire period was dominated by the accomplishments of an imaginary Rightwing All American folk hero: https://filmsdeconstructed.wordpress.com/2017/06/26/why-i-hate-forrest-gump-with-the-heat-of-a-thousand-suns/.
Yes, I have read that rant. I’m just merely saying that I don’t love the film either, but for sort-of-different reasons. It treats all the historical moments depicted with a light touch. Still don’t hate it, but I do get why many people do.
On a scale of 1-5, I’d give it a 2.5 maybe.
I truly appreciate your perspective and the amount of time and effort you put into writing this. I do find it interesting that your intense “hate” of this film makes me think you may have missed the true, heartfelt and perhaps the true intent/message that was brilliantly delivered. Hate is exactly the opposite feeling this movie helped me to see. I am not a religious person in any way, but Forrest Gump gave me a current day guide in the way we need to love and care about ALL people in our own lives. Forrest seemed to care little about money or politics, but simply showed us the most important part of life, LOVE. None of today’s/yesterday’s biases/prejudices or opinions entered his life in any way… not racism, sexism, xenophobia or any form of hatred affected his actions in life. Forrest was always content and happy with whatever hand he was dealt in life, even though it was clear that others’ attitudes or opinions did leave him wanting more. Not more of any of the unimportant little things in life like money or politics, but simply love. Yes, we can learn a lot from these actions and I do not feel any of this was political or belittling of class decisions so many others seem to make in life. If a simple southern man from Alabama can so easily learn the most simple form of love, why not me too?
I haven’t seen the movie in 20 years, but wasn’t Forest an autistic, world-class ping-pong player prodigy?
I’m unsure of what you mean by this question. Forrest Gump becomes a prodigy because one of the key aspects of the movie’s narrative is that he is a “Mary Sue” who is either at the center of every major milestone or pop cultural event in Baby Boomer history, or eclipses the achievements of notable figures at that time. So, Forrest is made into a “prodigy” because ping-pong was one of those cultural phenomenons that defined the Boomer years (it was huge in the 1970s) and he had to be shoe-horned into it somehow as a legendary player.
I think Rune is trying to say that by being a world class ping pong prodigy he is not in fact part of the mediocracy that you’re ranting about.
Yes, it would make him part of the mediocracy, because making a big deal out of a grown man becoming a ping pong “prodigy” is setting a low bar in terms of personal accomplishment. In real life, ping pong prodigies were all children and young teens. So, what is to be admired about a grown adult accomplishing what people half his age were doing on a regular basis?
Spot on! Loved your article.
It seems to happen all over the world, and that humanity is moving towards a future like the one portrayed in the movie “Idiocracy”.
A week ago I wondered what if Steve Jobs have done the “Think different” commercial today? Who the great people will be? Some idiot YouTuber? Someone from “the Kardashian’s”?
The question is what we can do about it?
A cathartic read. Thanks for writing this.
I was one of those people who detested Forrest Gump upon its release; I thought it was the most anti-intellectual movie I’d seen. You can imagine how popular I was at parties. 🙂
I love every word you wrote here. I’m one of the intellectual types who can’t stand the way anti-intellectualism and mediocrity are promoted, and I hated Forrest Gump. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to transmute my visceral disgust into the thoughtful analysis you’ve presented here, but I have to say, you’ve nailed it, and you’ve written one of the most thoughtful commentaries I’ve seen on what ails us as a society overall. I was born in the early 1960s (so too young to be a hippie), and in recent years I’ve felt nostalgia for that time, but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was I was missing exactly. It was a sense that there were things to strive for, that there were standards of achievement and ideals to live up to — not the same as being a boring member of the Establishment, exactly, because iconoclasts and visionaries were part of it too; it was just a sense that excellence could be achieved and was worth going after. I think what I’m missing is precisely the cultural celebration of meritocracy. Thank you for laying it out so clearly.
Thank you very much for your kind words, and it’s great to find a kindred spirit out there who sees where I’m coming from with this movie.
BTW, if you thought this analysis was great, wait till you see the third one I’m planning on this film (yes, I hate it enough to want to write about it again). Not only is this movie anti-intellectual and anti-meritocracy, it’s also anti-American. Putting a fictional hero like Forrest Gump up as the quintessential American hero flies in the face of American identity and culture. What made America great is that it was a country that allowed exceptional individuals from all walks of life to rise above all of those limitations that were imposed on them in other countries.
This movie literally taught audiences the polar opposite of what it means to be an American–that we didn’t become a great country because we worshipped and rewarded exceptional people but because Americans are a mediocre people who were blessed with divine grace and pure dumb luck just by virtue of being American. It’s amazing to me that so many Americans, who tearfully embrace this movie as “patriots”, don’t understand how much it’s actually gaslighting them into accepting a demeaning, insulting version of American identity that is telling them that if it weren’t for “divinity” and “luck,” they would be as stupid, lazy and untalented as Forrest.