You know, this movie is actually really, really strange. My thoughts about it are largely in the form of questions that I don't really have answers for, but ok, here goes nothing.
My friend Russ (oh, the world lost a brilliant humanist when Russ decided to search for the cure for cancer. I cry myself to sleep at night thinking about it. Come on Russ - any schmoe can cure cancer! Don't let your talents go to waste!) reads the movie in very explicit political terms, reading it as anti-liberal propaganda. He sees the film as clearly connected to what is wrong with America today. His interpretation is actually quite compelling, but unfortunately, he doesn't have a blog to tell you all about it.
I think his view of the movie as being about a certain kind of politics is a response to the fact that it's not about Forrest at all. I mean, really, it's about American history. This is made explicitly clear, to me, by the framing device of the floating feather - the movie opens with this feather drifting through the air, almost landing on some random guy, but settling on Forrest's shoe. He picks it up, saves it, and begins to tell his story. At the end of the movie, the feather is released back into the ether and floats away, and the story ends. I think that this is subtly pointing to the randomness of Forrest as focus - it could be anyone. The movie is a window into a certain time period, attempting to capture a vision of American history. And by golly, if modernity has taught us anything, it's that the best way to get at the whole is through the fragment - in this case, Forrest Gump. So the best way to understand American history is to look at one person's life story - conveniently enough, of course, Forrest happens to have been around (and very influential in) most of the major events of his time. Lucky us. The feather has fortuitously landed on the hero of our age. So gather round children, as Forrest Gump relates his life story.
Or so it seems, but actually, it's not really him telling his story at all. It's made to seem that way, but it's actually what we in the lit biz call "erlebte rede" (from zee German), where the author kind of tells the story from the character's perspective, but maintains control of the narrative, and is able to give information that the character lacks. Sort of like the author is "feeling" his/her way into the part of the character. This is particularly crucial to this movie, because after all, Forrest is a moron. The movie quite skillfully handles the task of supplementing Forrest's narrative with the requisite information needed to appreciate the greater context of his story. Telling us what's actually going on, in other words. For instance, when Forrest talks about Jenny's dad, saying that he's always hugging and kissing his daughters, we get a close-up of a bottle of booze in the father's hand. Or when Forrest tells us about "that nice young man who went on to do ____", we get documentary footage of these various celebrities. Here's something curious to consider - the people on the bus bench who are hearing this story lack this information. What does the story sound like to them? I suppose one could figure this out by just listening to the audio of the movie.
Note also that we get to see things that Forrest couldn't know - Seargent Dan's relatives dying in various wars, for instance, or Jenny's various misadventures (the fact that our view into Jenny's world is half-justified by Forrest allegedly having a psychic connection with her is fucking weak, by the way). But this only hammers in, for me, the point that this isn't about Forrest - watching a drugged up Jenny contemplate suicide serves a larger narrative arc. Note also that the tone remains consistent, even when we stich from related narrative to present action - when Forrest gets off the bench and goes to Jenny's house, we're no longer in the realm of memory.
Forrest's character is actually wildly inconsistent (much like the logic of the Extreme Right - ha!). I mean, try to characterize his idiocy. Go on, I dare you. For everything you come up with as a symptom, you can find a counter-example. His apparent inability to understand metaphor ("I thought I'd try out my sea legs." "But you don't have any legs!") is refuted by his famous box of chocolates quote, or his constant repetition of "Me and Jenny was like peas and carrots". His unquestioning obedience is refuted by his saving various people in times of trouble despite being explicitly told not to. His emotional simplicity is refuted by his understanding that Jenny does not love him - "I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is." What about his idyllic description of the scenery he sees as he runs cross-country? How out of character is that?
The Jenny issue brings me to another strange feature of the film, namely, the way it brings up and then totally ignores the sex issue. You get the scene of premature ejaculation, which establishes him as too stupid for sex, but in the end, he does manage to get Jenny pregnant. It's really strange, because idiots having sex is actually kind of a taboo topic, and the movie seems to take it on, but then ends up skating right past it. Cue psychoanalytic reading; the movie starts out with the absent father figure, and ends up with Forrest taking over the mother role, sobbing over a grave as he talks about bedtime stories with his son. ANY IDIOT CAN BE A MOTHER. Heh heh.
Another strange feature of the film - Forrest's unheard Vietnam speech. You let the guy narrate the entire goddamn movie, but then render him voiceless. Why? Note that this occurs almost exactly at the center of the film. The lacuna that is Vietnam. Intriguing. One can come up with a number of possible justifications for this, but none fully satisfy me.
It's also interesting to me that people generally see this movie as being extremely manipulative. Several of my students, discussing it today, talked about "what the makers of the movie wanted you to feel". I wonder if this is caused purely by the overt sentimentalism (and how funny it is that we are SO wary of sentiment these days, eh?) or the political message, or both, or something else about the way it handles narration?
There is this really fascinating way in which the tone of the movie is constantly teetering between sentimentality and cynicism. I mean, you can't help but laugh at Forrest (I also can't help but laugh when his mother prostitutes herself in order to get him into public school, but apparently not everyone finds this funny. My students seemed somewhat appalled by my glee. Ooops.) but at the same time, the movie does seem to be holding him up as a model for a superior kind of worldview. Or rather, a superior modus operandi. I mean, it's not accidental that he keeps repeating "stupid is as stupid does", and most of the "stupid" behavior in the movie is carried out by other characters.
Anyhow, it's an interesting film. I don't think I'd call it a good movie, but it's certainly fascinating fodder for thought.