1994's Forrest Gump is like an inkblot test. Ask someone what they saw as the inner meaning of the movie, and you'll learn something about them, more so than about the movie. Because everyone who saw the movie interpreted it according to their own set of beliefs and values.
A Good-Hearted Simpleton's Journey Through Life
Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) is a man with a low IQ. The story opens with Forrest sitting on a bench waiting for a bus. He winds up telling the story of his life to others at the bus stop.
As a child in 1950s Alabama, Forrest (young Forrest played by Michael Conner Humphreys) has two strikes against him; his low IQ and the spine condition that requires him to wear leg braces. But overwhelming those disadvantages is the raising he gets from his strong-willed and loving mother (Sally Field), who tells him firmly that he's just as good as anyone.
In contrast, Forrest's best friend Jenny (Robin Wright, young Jenny played by Hanna R. Hall) is bright and beautiful, but the childhood trauma of her rearing by an abusive father scars her for life.
Baby Boomers, This Is Your Life
Probably one of the reasons Forrest Gump was such a hit was that it covered all the highlights that the baby boomers recall, Elvis Presley, school desegregation, Vietnam, hippies, the jogging craze, it's all here, and all scored by the music of the era.
A unique feature of the movie is that the film-makers have used news footage and inserted Forrest into it. When George Wallace is on the schoolhouse steps, reading his defiant statement to the troops who've come to desegregate the University of Alabama, there's Forrest right there. Over the course of his life, Forrest meets Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and we have the tape to prove it.
From College to War to Shrimping
Slow as he is, Forrest goes to college - he's a fast runner - and makes it to the university on a football scholarship. At graduation, he's approached by an Army recruiter, and soon Forrest is in Vietnam.
It's in the Army that Forrest makes two important friendships. His best friend Bubba (Mykelti Williamson) tells him of the wonders of shrimp fishing. And his platoon commander Lt. Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise) tells him of the importance of clean socks. Forrest agrees with Bubba that after they get out of the Army, the two of them will go into the shrimping business.
But combat changes things. It's in combat that Bubba is killed, and Lt. Dan survives, rescued along with most of the rest of the platoon by Forrest. It is for this action that Forrest wins the Medal of Honor. Lt. Dan loses both legs in the action and resents Forrest for saving his life, but in the end it is Forrest and Lt. Dan who go into the shrimping business and wind up wealthy as a result.
Through the years, Jenny appears and disappears from Forrest's life. It is through Jenny's story that the counterculture is relived. Jenny is the love of Forrest's life, and she loves him too, but her restless desire for fame and importance keeps sending her out into the wider world, with disastrous results.
Oh, and remember the running craze? Turns out Forrest started that, too.
And the meaning of it all is...well, you tell me.
Credits and Awards for Forrest Gump
Forrest Gump was directed by Robert Zemeckis and scripted by Eric Roth, based on the novel by Winston Groom.
Forrest Gump won six Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Director for Zemeckis, Best Actor for Tom Hanks, and Best Screenplay for Eric Roth.