I remember flipping through the movie channels in the early days of post-Doordarshan India. It was boring, bland and all Govinda. For a generation exhausted by mind-sapping programming, going through the Vilayati Saaman of our country-hopping relatives was always a fun time, especially when it included CDs of your favourite shows and films. It is thus, that I met young Forrest Gump.
21 Years of Running
Forrest Gump, the film recently marked the 21st year of its release. 21 years since “Run, Forrest, Run.”. The film was a huge commercial success on release in 1994, even going on to win six Academy Awards including Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture. Even as I shake off the dust on my Forrest Gump CD, I can see why adults and children alike laughed and cried with this film. I loved Forrest Gump too. Once. As an eight-year old with an unnatural love for Oreos, that is. But then, for no fault of my own, I grew up.
It is said, that the hallmark of a great film is to see how it stands up against the test of time. The Godfather, 12 Angry Men, All The President’s Men, Raging Bull and even Titanic (Only the third act though) have withstood well. Tom Hanks’ Forrest Gump however, has not. Twenty years later, Gump is neither as good, nor important as befits a Best Picture winner, or even as good as a kid would remember it to be, but is instead a whiny, gooey, overtly sentimental showcase for Nike running shoes.
Tear-jerking Sob fest
There are a lot of reasons why many, including me hate this Robert Zemeckis feature. The first, and foremost in my opinion is how emotionally manipulative and a tear-jerker it is, with a soundtrack that uses its rousing tenors as a tissue-seeking cue. It’s not bad for a film to wear its emotions readily on its sleeve. But personally, I would never vouch for a film where I pity the characters but, never empathize with them. The plot and story is contrived, the idea of deus ex machina ridden to unbelievably ridiculous and preposterous extents.
Lines like ‘Life is a box of chocolates……,’ which made me cry and reach out for a tissue, and a box of chocolates before, now sound corny and juvenile to my ears. It’s very, very simplistic as well, its treatment of issues such as the Vietnam War and Desegregation shallow and superficial with no nuance or subtlety, and used only to push its protagonist into every major historical event of the 20th century.
Plus, for a film that touches a lot of hot issues, it is also an increasingly conservative and passive film; a fact best reflected by its characters. Forrest is a simple-minded, God-fearing All-American from the Southern state of Alabama who follows the American code of success, by following orders from anyone, and everyone. Jenny on the other hand, the non-conformist childhood love, bears the many torments the film dumps on her character. Not only does she become a promiscuous hippie but, she snorts cocaine, joins an Anti-war rally and also, contemplates suicide, before dying of AIDS. For a film that wants us to empathize with the lead character, it is equally fickle about Jenny, indirectly implying the life of non-conformism (Okay. Maybe, that’s just me nitpicking but, it bothers me).
And the Oscar goes to……. Forrest Gump???!!!
Another big reason almost everyone picks on Forrest Gump is how it beat out two American greats to win Best Picture. The competition, The Shawshank Redemption and Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction, are as important and good as it was twenty years ago. Tarantino especially, has gone on to influence a whole generation of film makers today. And yet, they give the Oscar to Forrest Gump? With all due respect, this was the biggest tragedy at the Oscars since Rocky beat All the President’s Men and Taxi Driver. Twenty years later, people still remember Andy Dufresne and Ezekiel 25:17. Forrest Gump, on the other hand has been blown away by the wind of the time, much like the ridiculous feather that bookmarked the film.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a particularly bad film. But, I don’t remember many films that had me wincing and grimacing with every cheesy piece of dialogue. It did have a legitimately fine performance from Hanks though (Even though he would outdo it with Cast Away later), and it did have some genuinely heartbreaking moments (Forrest meeting his son) and a great character (Lieutenant Dan). And sure, I don’t fault anyone who has loved Forrest Gump, or Nicholas Sparks novels, for that matter. I did too. But, as a kid who grew up watching Forrest Gump, it has not aged well and is one, I’m unlikely to remember fondly.
P.S: Forrest Gump also beat Four Weddings and a Funeral at the Oscars that year. The only mildly good thing I can say about it winning that year.