29 January 2007

Forrest Gump

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.


Anonymous said...

ur an idiot. forrest gump is the best movie ever made. ur a homo

culture_vulture said...

wow. ur right. rereading that entry, i'm clearly an idiot. and a homo. thank you for enlightening me.


Anonymous said...

cute picture faggot. probly the gayest thing ive ever seen. forrest gump would whoop ur ass

culture_vulture said...


yes. i'm the cutest faggot on the block. and there's a definite likelihood that forrest gump would - or rather could, because it doesn't really seem like the kind of thing he'd do - cause me physical harm, IF HE FUCKING EXISTED. Lucky for me, I guess, that he doesn't. Whew. What a relief.

Anonymous said...

So you think this a bad movie just because Forrest Gump seems so unreal? Of course he is unreal, and just because the movie gives us another insight to American History in a different way you don't like it?

I would like to see what kind of movies you like since you apparently feel like the movies have to be real and don't make any mistakes.

culture_vulture said...

I have no idea where you got that impression (or why this particular blog post of mine generates, not only so much traffic, but also so much ire).

When I wrote this post, I was trying to point out some INTERESTING things about the movie. The way that it appears to be from Forrest's perspective but isn't, the way that it's both highly sentimentalized and cynical, the way that Forrest is an "idiot" but it's hard to explain how, etc. Many people think of the movie as just a somewhat schmaltzy, simplistic film. I was trying to point out that there's actually a lot going on under the surface, and some of it is really kind of curious.

Do I like the movie? I did, when I first saw it when it came out. Watching it again years later, I thought it was kind of cheesy and not that great. But overall, I don't really have a strong opinion on it either way. I don't think it gives you much insight into history (I mean, I guess it depends what you mean by insight). But the point of this post wasn't to criticize it, or say that it's good or bad. It was just to point out some strange characteristics of the film, without making any value judgements (oh, though I do say that the alleged psychic connection between Forest and Jenny is fucking weak, and I stand by that - it's a simplistic, cheesy plot device and it's not even really necessary to the story).

If you're curious about movies I do like, read other posts. Recently, for instance, I wrote about a movie called Kinamand which I really liked, even though it's not realistic.
I really liked Red Cliffs.
I really liked An Education:
In general, I just talk about things I like and don't like. I try to steer away from absolute claims like this IS good or bad, and stick with here's why I liked or didn't like it. I don't always do that as well as I'd like, but then again, it's a blog - the premise is that it's my opinion.

There are lots of things I like. I don't demand that all things be realistic, or that they don't make mistakes. Sheesh.

Meghan Lounes said...

ur a freaking idiot. making fun of forrest? i love forrest and i would to have forrest be the father of my children. he is a darling. i think u r a stupid liberal and this post proves ur stupidty. ur more of an idiot than forrest. fag ass.

Axel said...

It's funny and interesting to see how you interpret the movie.

First when you said (or you friend said, don't know if you agree) that it is made to represent what's wrong with america. (by the way, i'm not american, so i might not have the same point of view to the story as (maybe) you). I was talking about Forrest Gump, not so long ago, with a good friend that surprised me by saying he saw the movie as representing the American Dream propaganda, the way that Gump, even though being stupid, accomplishes more than anyone. It was an interesting point, and now I see that others see it the other way!

For LIEUTENANT Dan's relatives, Gump knows that either because Dan told him, or he just knows. But, unlike you said, this information is not supplemented by the author, as Gump says "... in every, single, american war". So he knows it all right, and it might reinforce the idae of Gump being somewhat omniscient (in a certain way, because he's also a moron!).

Talking about the Antiwar speech, I think it was cut so we didn't have to listen to the story again. It's made clear Forrest would have told the same Vietnam sorry as he says "and that's all I have to say about that" twice when he finishes the story (and the bench and during the demonstration), and when Jenny and him are taking a walk, right before they come across her old house, he's heard talking about every kind of rain there is in Vietnam.
But I think, making him voiceless was not really about him, but more a way of making fun of the demonstrators, as they don't know which jack to put in, or Abbie Hoffman saying "you said it all" but he didn't hear him, and the "GUMP!" thing.

I could go on about this movie, that I consider to be one of my favorites. I just wanted to share some of my thoughts with you.

To all the fucks commenting here, with no more to say but "faggot", grow up, really.
You're what's wrong with our modern world.

May I remind you, stupid is as stupid does.

Axel said...

Oh by the way, you seem to know the movie pretty well, maybe you or your friend could give me closure on something that has been bothering me for a few years!

If you can recall, after Jenny sings Blowing in the Wind, they go on a bridge. Music is heard from the Strip club, and we can hear "la lalala lalala lalala". I always thought I knew this song, but I just can't put a name on it.
Can you help me ?