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The Historical Portrayal in Forrest Gump

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 1265 words Published: 17th May 2017

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Forrest Gump is a famous 1994 American comedy-drama film based on the novel written by Winston Groom; directed by Robert Zemeckis. The story depicts the life of a simple Alabama man Forest Gump who travels around the world, meets historical figures and influences and participates in important historical events of the second half of the 20th century.

The film “Forrest Gump” is about a simple man’s journey through complicated times. Exciting, deep and kind film narrates from the behalf of the protagonist Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks), a harmless imbecile man (his level of IQ is 75) with a noble and an open heart, the story of his extraordinary life. The plot begins with the childhood of the hero and ends up as he sends his own son to school. During the life, Forrest overcomes many difficulties, and always sees only positive side of events. During the film he takes part in major events of American history of the second half of 20th century, and unconsciously influences on popular culture of the United States. From an ordinary man he turns into a well-known tennis player, war hero, a successful businessman. He becomes a billionaire, but remains as unsophisticated, weak-minded and kind. Forrest reaches success in everything, and he loves the girl, who was his friend in childhood, but reciprocity comes too late.

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The main character, a native of the southern state (and as it is understood – a patriarchal and conservative) of Alabama, actually travels across America in the 50’s and 80’s, turning out one way or another, becomes a witness of historic events in the life of the nation, almost climbing into the frames of newsreels that depict well-known political figures from the era of John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan and popular singers from Elvis Presley to John Lennon.

The film Forrest Gump is not historical film, it’s more drama and melodrama, but it shows the “close connection” of Forrest with real historical characters and his participation in historical events. The film shows all the significant events of the period between the 1950’s and the 1980’s and introduces them to the main character. The film does not distort the real events, but contributes to the public understanding of the issues it presents. This feature film helps viewers learn more about the historical events of the second half of the 20th century, so it is difficult to overestimate its value.

“Forrest Gump” is a look at the past approximately thirty years of U.S. history. The fact that the problems of America 1960 – 1980, including, for example, drug abuse and the war in Vietnam, are shown through the eyes of simple-minded Forrest, exculpates American society for this – it is said by the magazine columnist of “Time”, Richard Corliss, Julie Grace and Marta Smildzhis in their joint review of the film (Corliss 1994). Nevertheless, Forrest stands out as a character in a highly sentimental Hollywood cinema, where the most important historical and social problems are often presented as elements of fairy tales with a happy end (Corliss 1994).

According to Peter Travers from “Rolling Stone”, in the image of Forrest there are gathered the best national character features of Americans – honesty, courage and fidelity (Travers 2000). The Russian critic Andrei Shemyakin considers film to be “a parable about the American national character on the fracture of his fate” (Gordinier 1995), and Rita Kempley from “Washington Post” believes that in “Forrest Gump” there is shown a destruction of the national character (Kempley 1994).

It is easy to notice that Forrest’s life is very conservative, while his girlfriend Jenny embodies the counterculture – she is involved in anti-war marches, uses drugs, and is sexually promiscuous. Jenny is a “shadow” of Forrest (Guthmann 1995). According to Roger Ebert, her reunion with Forrest Gump at the end of the film represents the dream of American society uniting (Ebert 1994). At the same time Gump’s coproducer Steven Tisch mentioned: “I don’t think the film was a catalyst for a trend of any kind. I don’t think this film is about conservative or liberal values, or even American values. The film is about human values” (Gordinier 1995).

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Forrest Gump is a wonderful person, honest and brave, but with one peculiarity – he is moronic. And the combination of an outstanding personality with a limited imagination allows him to enjoy life, not to justify himself. This opened an enormous sense for many of his followers. Being completely devoid of egoism, Forrest receives of a lot of luck in return from the life. His girlfriend Jenny, by contrast, lives in constant issueless search. The main stereotype that was changed in the film is that it is possible to live the whole life full of difficulties, reach success and remain open and kind. Forrest Gump simply goes his own way. He saves his fellow soldiers, and becomes a hero of Vietnam; he is the best player and national champion in a game of table tennis in Japan. He changes the lives of several people and creates a multi-million dollar business; he keeps his word given to the deceased friend. He even teaches Elvis Presley to dance. And thus, he remains a simple and open person. His phrase: “My momma always said,” Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get “became very famous” (Forest Gump 1994).

The film addresses different social issues of American life. It mostly represents the middle class and life of ordinary people; it depicts the race problems, showing how black people fought for their rights. It also touches gender issues, showing that Jenny lived in the hostel for girls and Forest couldn’t visit her. Politics is also one of the topics that were briefly covered in the film while showing real episodes of lives of such people as John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson and Richard Milhous Nixon. There are shown such popular singers as Elvis Presley and John Lennon. The issues of nationality, cultural norms, people on the margins of society and other are also mentioned in the film.

“Forrest Gump” is considered to be one of the kindest and touching films of world cinema, even though it is drama. The director Robert Zemeckis demonstrated in this film the entirely new approach to presenting the material, driving the narrative on behalf of a mentally retarded man, and showing life through his eyes. Surprisingly, but life through the eyes of Forrest Gump is not terrible and hopeless, as we used to think it is. The life of Forrest Gump suddenly becomes very simple, understandable, but at the same time, deep in meaning and rich with interesting events. It is the simplicity of Forrest Gump’s vital principles and his immediate perception of complex life events that causes the effect of stunning ease the perception of this film. The film is not historical, but it shows the connection of the protagonist with real historical characters and his participation in historical events. The film contributes to the public understanding of the issues it presents, and makes a great impact on its intended audience. Film realistically, without distorting shows the problems of America 1960 – 1980, and therefore it is very valuable and is still considered one of the best films of American cinema.


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