alycewilson (alycewilson) wrote,

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A Simple Twist of Fate

I've been watching all the movies that won the Oscar for Best Picture. Next on my list was the 1994 winner, Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Robin Wright and Gary Sinise.

Forrest Gump is a drama with a fairy-tale quality about it. It chronicles the life of Forrest Gump, a man of below-average intelligence but with a deep sense of faith in himself and in human nature that leads him to have an impact at key moments of history.

The other nominees for Best Picture that year were Four Weddings and a Funeral, Pulp Fiction, Quiz Show and The Shawshank Redemption. In addition to Best Picture, Forrest Gump also won Best Actor in a Leading Role (Hanks); Best Director; Best Effects, Visual Effects; Best Film Editing; and Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium (Winston Groom's novel).

Forrest Gump poster

From his youngest days, no one expects much from Forrest, because of his intelligence. His mother (Field) supports him and encourages him, telling him that "Stupid is as stupid does." Forrest knows that he isn't smart, but he also carries his mother's advice with him and tries to do the best he can in every situation. Led by his heart, he reacts to the changing world around him and finds himself contributing to those changes, whether it's school desegregation, the Vietnam War, or various pop cultural trends.

Throughout it all, he is also guided by his love for his best childhood friend, the girl-next-door, Jenny. Their lives take very different paths. While Forrest is seemingly protected by his innocence, entering the military and receiving unexpected accolades, Jenny pursues a life in the counter culture, often falling into abusive or negative situations.

In the military, Forrest meets his "best good friend," Bubba (Mykelti Williamson), as well as his commander, Lieutenant Dan (Sinise). Forrest's experiences in Vietnam would shape the course of the rest of his life, both giving him some direction for a career (running a shrimp fishing business) and giving him a reluctant mentor in Lieutenant Dan.

Because so much of the joy of this movie comes from the twists, turns and revelations of the plot, I'll refrain from revealing any of them. I will say that, when I first watched this movie, shortly after it came out, I thought it was an enjoyable romp but wasn't sure if there was much of a point to it. Rewatching it now, I give credit to the filmmakers for their achievement.

While Forrest Gump can be appreciated for the surface-level aspects (fantastic use of settings, costuming, special effects) and for standard film characteristics (strong acting, an entertaining script, good storytelling), it also can be appreciated for deeper messages. Those deeper messages include not just the most obvious ones: trusting in yourself no matter what anyone tells you; not writing off people who are different or who have disabilities. It also explores the age-old debate about fate versus free will. Like the white feather in the opening credits that flies gently down through the sky and lands at Forrest's feet, his life drifts from moment to moment, seemingly accidental and yet, at the same time, guided by his actions.

Tom Hanks, who just the year before had won the Best Actor Oscar for Philadelphia, deserves his win for this film. His portrayal of Forrest is perfect for the movie; portraying both his simplicity and his gut-level understanding. Sinise was nominated for Best Supporting Actor but lost it to Martin Landau, who won for playing Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood. The complex role of Lieutenant Dan, who faces his own life challenges as his life intertwines with Forrest's, would be important not just to Sinise's acting career but would also inspire him to do charity work for wounded veterans. In addition, he has made many trips overseas to visit troops, who always greet him as "Lieutenant Dan."

In the commentary to the film, Zemeckis reveals that Hanks took his speaking pattern from the young actor, Michael Conner Humphreys, who played the young Forrest and who actually spoke that way. Hanks also did a little ad libbing on the set, which sometimes made it into the movie. His line from basic training, "My name is Forrest Gump. People call me Forrest Gump," was one of them.

The film, of course, made many technical advances, such as compositing historical film clips with new film, as well as using blue-screen technology to digitally remove legs from one of the actors.

More than that, it's an achievement in storytelling. The charm of Forrest Gump comes from discovering, with Forrest, that even someone from the most humble background can impact his or her world.

Rating: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)

Life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you're going to get.

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Tags: movies, oscars

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