Rewatching “Forrest Gump” 25 years after its release, I was worried to see how well Robert Zemeckis’ ode to modern American history held up. “Gump” usually turns up on internet lists of movies that won best picture Oscars over more deserving films — in this case, “The Shawshank Redemption” or “Pulp Fiction” — and Tom Hanks’ unmistakable characterization of the movie’s dim-witted protagonist was instantly ripe for parody.
Happily, though, “Gump” is still an entertaining and occasionally moving film, especially when you watch it through wiser eyes. I noticed things I didn’t catch the first time around — the fact that when we first meet the title character, his shoes are caked with mud from all the running he’d do later in the film, or the strange foreshadowing preoccupation Lt. Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise) has with feet. And it was great fun to see Gump jogging through Monument Valley on Highway 163's straightaway that has become synonymous with the movie over the years.
But there are other things you see as an adult that, thankfully, go over your head as a kid. “Gump” was one of those movies that felt family friendly when I was a kid, but must have left plenty of parents cringing at several points, most of which involve Gump’s troubled childhood friend Jenny (Robin Wright), who acts as a tragic stand-in for the moral chaos of the 1960s, '70s and '80s.
Based on a 1986 novel from Winston Groom, “Forrest Gump” addresses the adult themes of death, sex and abuse, and Zemeckis presents the story from an innocent perspective that mutes the more explicit material, but still gets the message through if you know what you’re looking at.
For those who may not have seen it, or just don’t remember, “Gump” follows a pure-hearted simpleton who stumbles his way across most of the critical events of the late 20th century. Using some innovative CGI, Zemeckis was able to blend footage of Hanks lingering in the background of history, as Gov. George Wallace symbolically blocked the integration of the University of Alabama in 1963, or even interacting with former Beatle John Lennon on the Dick Cavett Show.
Gump meets Elvis Presley at his mother’s boarding house, plays football at Alabama during the civil rights era, wins the Congressional Medal of Honor in Vietnam and rats out the burglars responsible for the Watergate break-in. Watching “Gump” again felt like watching a film version of Don McLean’s symbolic (and long) song “American Pie,” and it seems a wasted opportunity that Zemeckis didn’t use that song on one of "Gump's" all-time oldies compilation soundtracks (which we had on heavy rotation at the music store where I worked at the time).
“Gump” marked the second consecutive best actor Oscar for Hanks (after 1993’s “Philadelphia”), and rewatching the film again, I was amazed at the way he completely immersed himself in the role. His humble character is obedient to a fault, and harmless until the moment someone inevitably threatens his love, Jenny. Most people remember the lines about boxes of chocolates and “stupid is as stupid does,” but for me Hanks’ best moment comes as Gump meets his son (played by a pre-“Sixth Sense” Haley Joel Osment) and asks through tears if the boy shares his intellectual challenges.9 comments on this story
When you think about how much history Zemeckis’ film covered (the story wraps up in the mid-1980s) and given Hollywood's penchant for revisiting old — and successful — material, it might seem strange that there hasn't been a sequel. As it happened, Forrest was slated for another run through history, according to "Forrest Gump" screenwriter Eric Roth. In an interview with Yahoo.com, Roth said that he turned in the screenplay for the "Gump" sequel the day before Sept. 11, 2001. That tragic and history-altering event effectively stopped any future plans for another "Forrest Gump" film, as Roth said that after Sept. 11, "everything felt meaningless.”
Perhaps the decision to leave Forrest forever sitting at his son's bus stop was for the best. Some stories are best left alone. And this way, we can write our own future adventures for Forrest. For me, he would wind up back down in Southern Utah, jogging through the open desert in a place so beautiful you can’t tell “where heavens stop and the earth began,” enjoying one place in the world that still makes perfect sense.