Forrest Gump

Over at the New York Post, Sara Stewart penned an article about the classic movie Forrest Gump that shows she did not understand the movie. She basically went into watching it with a very clouded lens, and interpreted it completely from a modern, SJW-ish context. And she must also be completely unaware the movie is based on a book of the same name.

Let’s get into this. I pulled quotes from the movie from an online script publication.

For starters, its protagonist is the worst. Not because he’s mentally challenged in some never-defined way (although this type of role is one of the most cloying members of the Oscar Bait family), but because he’s a relentless narcissist.

I’m guessing you’ve never been around many, if any, people with autism.

In the book it’s made clear that Forrest is an “idiot savant”, meaning he’s also likely autistic. And one feature of autism is narcissism. So much so that narcissistic personality disorder and autism can actually be confused for each other.

My brother is autistic (Asperger’s specifically). And back over 20 years ago I worked in fast food with a man who was also on the spectrum – and he didn’t need to tell me for me to see it. And some characteristics of how an autist’s brain functions could be seen as “annoying” to others, such as engaging in seemingly pointless conversation. Or in the case of Forrest Gump, broadcasting his life story from a bench at a bus stop to anyone who would listen.

His first victim, a black woman who is very clearly not interested, keeps attempting to bury herself in her magazine while Forrest tries to remember his first pair of shoes. Out loud.

The poor lady’s side-eye is all the more understandable when he tells her the origins of his name: His ancestor is Nathan Bedford Forrest, Confederate army general and a founder of — I’m not making this up — the Ku Klux Klan. “The Forrest part was to remind me that, well, sometimes we all do things that don’t make no sense.”

No shit you’re not making that up. At the same time, I need to question the quality of your history education. Nathan Bedford Forrest (right) was a real man, a Lt. General in the Confederate Army. But he wasn’t one of the KKK’s founders. The first KKK was a small, fledgling group that he came upon one night and decided to join.

He would later become its first real leader (“Grand Wizard”), giving people the impression he founded the organization. That’s one detail where the movie fumbles.

Yes, Forrest Gump’s mother (Oscar winner Sally Field, no less) explains away the KKK by saying everybody just does random stuff sometimes. She might as well have said there were good people on both sides.

And of course, no discussion of white supremacy would be complete without a dig at the President.

Gump’s mother said the name was to remind him that “sometimes we all do things that don’t make no sense”. That’s not dismissive of the Klan, nor does it mean “everybody just does random stuff sometimes”. It speaks to the senseless acts of violence the Klan would become known for under Forrest’s leadership for the short time he led the group.

Though the violence against blacks in the South didn’t start with the Klan and didn’t stop when the Klan was successfully suppressed by Federal law enforcement in 1871, the Klan gave a name to which people could readily attach and associate the senseless acts of violence against blacks.

After its suppression, members of the Klan and sympathizers formed similar paramilitary groups under different names in the South. You can read about the Klan’s history on its Wikipedia page.

Forrest’s mama also gives him weirdly misleading advice. “Vacation is when you go somewhere and don’t ever come back,” she tells him at one point. Again, what?

That isn’t advice. And you completely forgot the context of that quote. Given the rest of your article, I’m starting to question whether you actually watched the movie.

Here’s the context. Earlier in the movie, Forrest’s mother is sitting in the principal’s office when the principal asks “Is there a Mr. Gump, Mrs. Gump?” In other words, where is his father? And she replies “He’s on vacation.”

When she’s reading Forrest a book at the end of the night, Forrest asks “What’s vacation mean?”, indicating that he’d overheard them. Needing to give some kind of answer, she says “Vacation’s when you go somewhere, and you don’t ever come back.”

But your misrepresentation of the movie doesn’t end there.

But Hal Ashby’s movie [“Being There”] was a brutal political and cultural satire; Zemeckis’ is an all-out, red, white and blue celebration of ignorance, making the argument that there’s more virtue to be found in following orders, being generally incurious and spouting aphorisms than in being politically active or ambitious in any way or, God forbid, adventurous (especially sexually).

Wow… talk about a very inaccurate derivation of the entire movie.

Because let’s talk about Forrest’s ostensible love interest, Jenny (Robin Wright, another great performer saddled with a misogynist dud of a role). The childhood friends are “like peas and carrots” (does anyone over the age of 5 actually like this culinary combo?), but once they’re adults, she goes on to try her hand at being a singer and a Vietnam War protester, both of which she’s punished for. The former sees her playing naked at a strip club, the latter, having a pinko boyfriend who hits her.

And you’re drastically overlooking one key aspect of Jenny’s life that in part explains the direction she goes. Again, did you actually watch the movie?

Jenny had an abusive and controlling father. And she often sought refuge in Forrest’s home at night so she could sleep peacefully. Sure she ends up bouncing between assholes in her teenage and adult years and not having that great of a life. In large part because she didn’t have that great of a start.

For all of Forrest’s faults, and being in a fatherless household, he at least had a somewhat stable upbringing. Jenny, most certainly, did not.

Later in life, she becomes… experimental. LSD. Cocaine. One scene shows her sniffing some lines of coke and then, after looking at herself in a mirror, stepping out onto a balcony and nearly falling over to the busy street below.

She eventually comes crawling back to her hometown in Alabama, and when Forrest takes her in, she has pity sex with him after being told he’s “not a smart man, but I know what love is.”

Re-watch this scene and feel all the icky chills as Jenny rather unenthusiastically strips off her nightgown to sleep with a man whose emotional intelligence still appears to be around age 10.

She doesn’t exactly come crawling back to where they grew up. Jenny returned to Alabama as part of wanting to clean up her life. She’d hit rock bottom, nearly committing suicide while in a cocaine-induced high, and wanted to, basically, start over. Throughout her life, Forrest was more-or-less a known stable point. During her youth, she could rely on Forrest as a retreat from her father, so she knew she would be able to rely on him as a starting-over point.

It’s during that stay that Forrest works up the courage to propose marriage to her. His mother is gone, his father was completely absent from his life, provided he was even alive. Aside from Lt Dan, Jenny was the only living connection he really had. And it’s during that proposal that Forrest says that line: “I’m not a smart man, but I know what love is.”

I wouldn’t exactly call it “pity sex” either. And given the nightgown Jenny was wearing and how she took it off, I’d like to see you try to do that “enthusiastically”.

For good measure, she gets pregnant, doesn’t tell Forrest about it until their son (a tiny Haley Joel Osment) is several years old and then conveniently dies of AIDS.

Conveniently dies of AIDS? That’s a rather… cold and incomplete way of describing it. For one, THEY GOT MARRIED! A bit of time passes between when Forrest meets his son and Jenny dies. They appeared to live a somewhat happy life, about as normal as possible, until she succumbed to her illness.

At the same time, Jenny didn’t tell Forrest she was pregnant to protect him, not even wanting to seek out child support from him, even though that would have more than guaranteed a very comfortable living given Forrest’s wealth. And we see that Jenny made the right decision given how Forrest reacts upon learning he’s a father. That scene, along with the night Forrest proposed to Jenny, also showed that Forrest understood his mental limitations in asking whether his son is smart, or like him.

The film’s treatment of race, following Forrest’s name origin, isn’t any better. In one of many brushes with history, Forrest is there when Alabama Gov. George Wallace rails against integrating schools. When a redneck hisses at Forrest that they want to let “coons” into their schools, his initial response is, “When raccoons try to get onto our back porch, Mama just chases ’em off with a broom.” Hilarious!

Okay this reduction pisses me off royally. Here’s the full scene in question:

Forrest asked one of the students standing nearby what was going on. He misinterpreted what was said, “Coons are tryin’ to get into school,” as raccoons trying to get into the school building. Raccoons are commonly called “coons” in rural areas, still are even today, and they’re known for trying to get into houses and farm buildings.

He also couldn’t at first see what was going on, so until the student clarified he was referring to the black students, “Not raccoons, you idiot, n*****s,” he didn’t know what the student was referring to. And likely still didn’t even after that given what happens next: when one of the black students drops a book, Forrest runs up to pick up the book and hands it back to the student.

Talk about a blatant misrepresentation of that scene, Sara! It sounds like you’re trying to treat Forrest as a white supremacist or old-fashioned southern racist when the movie clearly shows he was not.

At the same time, the movie’s treatment of race went on how race was largely treated in the United States during the depicted eras. Something you seem to casually forget. Again, what was the quality of your history education?

He blithely goes through his war buddy Bubba’s family history of slavery with a montage of black women serving shrimp to white men. And when he strikes it rich with his shrimping business — which was entirely the late Bubba’s idea — he pats himself on the back for giving Bubba’s family a cut of the proceeds.

And he started the business – the Bubba-Gump Shrimp Co. – to honor Bubba’s memory! You know, the friend who DIED IN HIS ARMS! The friend he would’ve started the business with had he lived! The friend to whom he made a promise to start that business!

And it was in Bubba’s memory that he decided to send to Bubba’s family a very large amount of money, “Bubba’s share” of the company, enough that Bubba’s mom “didn’t have to work in nobody’s kitchen no more”. A scene, by the way, in which Bubba’s mom, a black woman, was being served shrimp by a white servant!

Seriously your attempts to paint the movie as racist are falling very, very flat.

He’s  less concerned with politics: When reporters ask him if he’s running for world peace, or the environment or any other cause, he shrugs it off: “I just felt like running.”

He has an IQ of 70! Why would you expect someone with an IQ of 70 to be concerned with politics to any degree? And yes, he got up and started running for the hell of it. Just jumped off the bench on his front porch and started running. And kept running. And running. And running.

Yes, just for the hell of it.

Sometimes we all do things that don’t make no sense. That actually describes a lot of what Forrest does, hence why he continually has to field being called “dumb or just plain stupid”.

Anyone, really, who sets foot in the political protest arena is a loser, from Jenny’s abusive boyfriend to the bloviating Black Panthers they meet, to the amputee veteran Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise, yet another fine actor doing his best), who’s portrayed as a hot mess until he stops being so gosh-darned angry about the war that put him in a wheelchair. Once he makes “his peace with God,” he turns up with new titanium legs, a partner and a big smile. See, everything’s better if you just go along and don’t complain so much!

Setting aside that you included Jenny’s abusive boyfriends in that list, let’s go over the other two. First, the Black Panthers are barely shown in the movie. One scene from what I can find. I also do not recall there being any indication they were portrayed inaccurately. Though they definitely accurately portrayed what Vietnam protesters called those in the military when Wesley calls Forrest a “baby killer”.

Now let’s talk about Lt Dan.

First of all, he’s not “angry about the war that put him in a wheelchair.” He’s angry that he didn’t die in Vietnam like he was “supposed to”:

You cheated me. I had a destiny. I was supposed to die in the field! With honor! That was my destiny! And you cheated me out of it! You understand what I’m saying, Gump? This wasn’t supposed to happen. Not to me. I had a destiny. I was Lieutenant Dan Tyler.

And yes, he spent the next several years basically wallowing in self-pity over his disability. But he discovers new purpose in life when he joins Forrest as the first mate on his shrimp trawler. Though he did display bouts of temporary insanity even then, such as when they were going through the hurricane. The hurricane that would wipe out virtually all of their competition and allow them to make “more money than Davy Crocket”.

But to look at Lt Dan’s progression in life, to the point where he gets “new legs”, and say “everything’s better if you just go along and don’t complain so much”… How did you deduce that from the movie?

Lt Dan’s disability paralleled Forrest’s disability with the leg braces in many ways. Like Forrest eventually ran himself out of the braces and away from his adversaries – something he had to do a lot – Dan eventually overcame his own adversities, namely the chasm of self-pity he flung himself into after his medical discharge.

Rather than “living off the government tit”, he started making something of himself as Forrest’s business partner, to the point where both of them “don’t have to worry about money no more.” He easily could’ve lived and died a bitter, broken veteran. Instead he turned himself around and lived a prosperous life after becoming Forrest’s business partner.

Now does that sound like someone who just stayed in line?

The movie even makes a case for the virtues of bullying: Being chased both as a child and a teen by awful classmates makes Forrest a terrific runner, and eventually gets him a football scholarship to college. It’s a perfect illustration of the retro belief that being bullied builds character.

Yes having to run from bullies made him a good runner. But to say that means his bullying got him onto the college football team is… even Elastigirl couldn’t stretch that far!

You’re also overlooking one key detail: “Bear” Bryant was the only reason he was able to turn running away from bullies into a ticket to college. He was conveniently sitting in the stands when he runs into the football stadium to escape bullies chasing him in a truck.

It was pure chance. He got lucky. Indeed luck defines a lot of his fortunes in life.

And finally, oy, the sayings. “Stupid is as stupid does” does not, at its core, really mean anything. “That’s all I have to say about that” is kind of rich coming from a guy nobody asked in the first place.

The first quote, “stupid is as stupid does”, was Forrest’s retort to people calling him stupid. Which happened a lot. And on the second, again, you’re rather dismissive of a guy with a mental disability.

But the “Gump” quote that’s best known, the one about life, is especially vapid. Every box of chocolates comes with a guide — so you only “never know what you’re going to get” if you don’t learn how to read.

Ever bought a box of hand-selected chocolates from a chocolatier, or received one as a gift?

For me, I last purchased a box of chocolates from a chocolatier over 10 years ago at Chocolaterie Stam in West Des Moines, Iowa, at Valley West Mall. The chocolates we selected were put in a plain box. No labels for anything as to what any of the chocolates were, though we did get a reference card with them so we could tell what we had as we went through them. But the chocolates weren’t neatly arranged with labels on the lid showing what was where.

Mass produced boxes of chocolates didn’t really become commonplace until the 1950s, about the same time that a lot of things once considered luxuries started becoming commonplace in society. Forrest’s mother coined the phrase that Forrest repeated through the movie. She would’ve lived through the 1920s. When you typically bought a box of chocolates from a chocolatier, hand selecting what you wanted, not a mass produced box of chocolates at a grocer.

So no, you didn’t know what you were getting when you received a box of chocolates in that era.

* * * * *

Now there is plenty about Forrest Gump that warrants criticism. But Sara didn’t criticize the movie. She completely, and I believe willfully and knowingly misrepresented the movie and everything that happens therein. As I’ve shown above, the movie is not how she portrays it.

I’ll leave you with this from the original book, which also sums up the movie pretty well, too:

I may be a idiot, but most of the time, anyway, I tried to do the right thing– an dreams is jus dreams, ain’t they? So whatever else has happened, I am figgerin this: I can always look back an say, at least I ain’t led no hum-drum life.

You know what I mean?

And this little gem from Gump & Co., the sequel to the original book:

So I tole him a little bit about my checkered career, an after he listened for a while, Tom Hanks says, “Well, Mr. Gump, you are sure a curious feller. Sounds like somebody ought to make a movie of your life’s story.”