Entirely how this film passed me by I will never know. I remember seeing the distinctive white case in just about every VHS collection in friends’ houses when I was growing up, but for some reason I never saw it myself. Robert Zemeckis’ most famous film could have been a saccharine mess in the hands of a lesser director but instead carries some real narrative heft, though still occasionally strays into over-sentimentality.
If you – somehow – also haven’t seen the film then I’ll spare you spoilers, but the condensed plot of the two and a half hour run time is the life of Tom Hanks’ eponymous character, spanning from his childhood in the 1940s to the film’s conclusion in the 1980s. Gump finds himself at several famous events from the time, including meeting Elvis, JFK, and Jon Lennon. Notably almost everyone that he meets seems to end up dying. These famous encounters are only a sideshow however, with the main narrative being Forrest’s lifelong love for his childhood friend Jenny, and his attempts to be with her across the years.
Somewhat unsurprisingly for such a well loved film I enjoyed it a lot, and found myself moved especially by the film’s conclusion underneath Gump’s childhood tree. As well as being moving it was really quite funny, with almost all the laughs coming from Hanks’ justly-lauded performance. The editing of Arthur Schmidt also deserves praise, with effectively placed jump cuts breaking the unobtrusive style of most of the film.
I do take issue with the film on a few areas however. For one thing the way in which Gump resolves conflict – namely, violence – is never addressed, nor are many of its characters fleshed out beyond pantomime-esque roles. That said, the main three characters of Gump, Jenny and the legless wonder Liutenant Dan (played by Gary Sinise) are wonderfully complete. My primary gripe with the film is its visuals. Cinematographer Don Burgess uses a relatively muted colour palette, bringing out warm pastel tones and only occasionally straying from a relatively flat profile. The notable exception to this is the storm sequence and a few shots of the Vietnam war. This aesthetic fits in with other films from the mid 1990s such as Mrs. Doubtfire – interestingly, also driven by a strong male lead performance and appealing to a wide audience (and featuring a turn from Sally Field) – in being inoffensively low contrast, using smooth tracking camera moves and relatively wide shots. To me this is rather boring. I would much rather have seen more contrast between different parts of Gump’s life visually, such as employing a greater contrast and harsher lighting in the Vietnam sequences, and gradually increasing saturation of the film as time went on. This would mirror what the soundtrack does most effectively, changing as the times do. This could also have created a greater contrast between Gump’s mainstream cultural life and Jenny’s counter-cultural one.
A last point to be made is the film’s commendable use of visual effects to mesh Gump into historical footage – sometimes very effectively, while sometimes less so. Being released only a year after the huge breakthroughs of Jurassic Park and three years after Terminator 2, the film’s subtle use of computer technology (including the removal of Sinise’s legs) is definitely to be commended, even if some of the historical sequences have aged well into uncanny valley territory.
So did I enjoy Forrest Gump? Yes. Did it deserve as many academy awards as it received (6)? I’m not hugely convinced. Especially given the strong competition offered in 1994 by The Shawshank Redemption, The Lion King, and Pulp Fiction, I think the film is somewhat overrated. But if like me you haven’t seen it, give it a watch.
And that’s all I have to say about that.