Saturday, May 20, 2006

Forrest Gump

1995 Oscar Winner Best Director, Actor, Effects, Writing (adapted) and Picture

Dir: Robert Zemeckis (Romancing the Stone; Back to the Future; Who Framed Roger Rabbit?; Cast Away; The Polar Express)

When two different people, without even consulting with each other, both say within the span of a week "I really should watch that movie again," then that's enough for me to do so. I had not seen Gump in many years, but the one time I did see it I remembered liking it more than my cynical predisposition would have predicted. On further review, maybe cynicism has something to it.

Forrest Gump is certainly a film to be reckoned with, with much to like about it. Hanks' performance is so unique that it still colors popular culture, the catch phrases as much about his delivery as their syntactical zing. On an off year in terms of Best Actor nominees, he is the proper choice. Sally Field is also fine in a supporting role as the bedrock mother. Robin Wright is not as good as her chraracter is written, and I think Gary Sinise overplays his role as the army lieutenant who must adjust to life as an amputee.

The effects mesmerized me when I saw them, but like all special effects this side of Star Wars they have not aged well. The tech is just too fast for these sorts of techiques to stand the test of time. Star Wars is the one exception because it essentially exhausted one technology, forcing the development of an entirely new medium. Gump talking to LBJ? We can do that sort of thing on our home computers ten year later (slight over statement, but I exaggerate to make a point).

And therein lies the flaw with the film. It puts a lock of stock in the novelty of this historical interpollation. But once we know where that is going, and fail to "oooh" and "aaah" at it, I found that it dragged the movie down. Often, I found myself marking time until Zemeckis returned to the backbone of the story, the narrative that so impressed me at first viewing.

The love story remains the brilliant element, itself worthy of consideration for best picture, although I think Paul would agree with me that the real winner should have been Ed Wood, and the rest of you would go for Pulp Fiction. The self dectructive tendencies of Robin Wright mirror the excesses of the time period under examination and erect a barrier to love and contentment. Gump is the embodiement of acceptance and humility, Jenny the personification of restless longing and recklessness. The script is correct in denying them any long term cohabitation, their only hope being a synthesis into something new. The story is unflinching and almost manipulative in building sentiment through our recognition of these two approaches to life. I found it then very moving then, and did once again. The history stuff is all secondary, something to smile at while we experience the love story.

One could make a political critique of the film, that it demonzies the counterculture and lionizes traditional families and simple, traditional southern ways. But to do so would be too simple itself. Gump is an archetype, a metaphor for one of the extremes of life. He is not a role model, as the magical nature of his life quickly confirms. This is a mythical tale, one of resolving dualities. If we have no place for such stories within our ideological apparatus, then our politics have negated one of the most important and hermeneutic narrative devices we have.

I applaud Forrest Gump for its story. I mourn the loss of the impact of its direction. Everyone should see it once, and then they may move on.



Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 5/20/2006 09:28:00 PM that...

I should watch this movie again. I did not much like it the first time I saw it, and it was not even because at the time I was fiercely defensive of Ed Wood or Pulp Fiction- I had seen neither. Rather I think I found the placement of Gump in famous historical situations rather cute, but limited, in much the same manner you did. Ultimately I find it not "hilarious" that Gump could moon the President and that it did substantively distract from the story, which was much better.
Some of it too is that I think the story stretches credibility a little bit as Gump does more and more famous things- I know, I know- thats the point of the movie. But I think in some sense s the oversaturation of the idiot savant narrative extended through sports, warfare, and economic success leads me to have less faith in Gump himself to overcome stuff and more of a canny eye towards whichever God in the sky has scripted his life (or the movie).
Maybe it is a stretch to critique the movie for upholding conservatism but lets not kid ourselves- this is a clear "work hard and good shit will happen to you" type of tale- the sort of narrative spun to make us imagine and think that hard work can overcome anything. Tell that to Willy Loman, who wasn't even retarded.
This year in film, my Best Picture order would start with Ed Wood, then go to Pulp Fiction, and then move on to Shawshank. Quiz Show is a personal (but slow) favorite of mine as well.  

Blogger paroske noted on 5/21/2006 06:32:00 PM that...

There is a tension between the "God intervenes" bit and the "work hard and you will be rewarded" bit. Gump often succeedes in spite of himself. He recues the platoon while searching for Bubba. He becomes a shrimp magnate after a hurricane wipes out the competition. He becomes a self help icon while running for his own personal benefit. It is the simplicity and purity of his interests that sticks with me more than the traditionalism of some work ethic narrative.

But yeah, the reliance on this history gimmick clouds that issue up. And why is it that after he did all of these things, was on TV for twenty years, was a national hero several times over, no one seems to remember him?


Blogger Paul Johnson noted on 5/22/2006 01:00:00 AM that...

Still, there is something that stuck with me that I once discussed in a philosophy class- if someone has good intentions, but continuously screws up and in doing so hurts people, shouldn't we condemn that behavior? It's by the grace of God (literally) that Gump doesn't fall down a tigerpit or trip and get beat up by bullies.
However in writing this I just stumbled into an interesting argument- that Gump could represent a pure stumbling moment of overidentification with systems that helps to break down power, or at least resist suffering. His adherence to his friendship with Bubba, for example, is the ultimate "buying in" of the team/brother theory that lies behind the comradery in our armed forces. His simple "I will shrimp" is an embrace of the purity of the market and thusly succeeds. Am I stretching?  

Blogger paroske noted on 5/22/2006 10:35:00 AM that...

You, Paul, have reached a juncture in the critical process. Once one moves beyond what is literally contained in the story and toward interpretation, then the critic beings to look for what they want to be there.

Are you stretching? Well, do you want to make a critique of the market? Or do you want to valorize it? Both readings are underdetermined by the film itself, and now you are in a world where you are provoking us to consider one merely plausible reading over another. Why did you choose that reading over some other? That is the real question.

Yes, you are stretching. But so is everybody else.


Blogger ronvon2 noted on 5/22/2006 10:45:00 AM that...

The final word on polysemy...