“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” – Forrest Gump
The reality of a box of chocolates is really quite different from the whimsical representation that Forrest Gump suggests. You see, perhaps the very best thing about a box of chocolates is that you do know what you’re going to get. Granted the chocolate you get may be infused with strawberry, injected with caramel or sprinkled with nuts, but really whatever you painstakingly choose is nearly always a treat. Though with this same mindset, Robert Zemeckis’ movie Forrest Gump bundles itself into the world and gallivants around with no care or reflection on its own impurities. Life isn’t like a box of chocolates because a lot of it tastes rotten, though I guess according to Robert Zemeckis 20th century America tasted of orange creme.
Ranked as high as number 12 on IMDB’s list of the ‘Top Rated Movies’, Forrest Gump is a bombastic globetrotting journey of American history in which a humble man from Alabama seeks love from his childhood sweetheart whilst getting caught up with the politics of contemporary America. Limited to a robotic amble in his youth thanks to a pair of leg braces, Forrest Gump, iconically performed by Tom Hanks, is in a gentle fool, loving and idealistic, yet undeniably restricted by his intelligence. A fast runner, Forrest earns a scholarship to the University of Alabama where he is later asked to enrol in the US Army to serve in Vietnam which he blindly accepts.
Such sparks a chain of events that sees Forrest engage with some of the most crucial moments of American history, a little like a really patriotic version of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s ‘Monolith’, though instead of inspiring national evolution Forrest encourages ridicule. As if a passive observer to the world around him, Forrest can only glare at history unfolding before him with glazed eyes, a dull passenger to proceedings, rather than an active protagonist.
What results is an overwrought and far-fetched American fairy-tale, so patriotic and self-righteous that it bleeds Mountain Dew. Gliding through each national milestone and emerging unscathed both physically and mentally, Zemeckis’ film trivialises American history, painting political activism and hippy culture as colourful caricatures too wildly big for Forrest to grasp the meaning of. As a result, the reality that the film presents is a worrying one where Forrest’s apathetic neutrality is shown to be the height of virtuous morality.
Gump is, after all, an American football player, a war veteran, an Olympic athlete, and a fisherman, he’s the ideal all-American patriot. Not only is his apathy and inability to engage with history elevated as somehow superior, but any whiff of potential rebellion or disobedience is also seen as suspect and strange. Family values and classic American ideals are heralded, whilst any opposition is seen as scary and alien.
This is a sparkly and shallow version of American history and a poor tale of young love that plays off like a pop melodrama. As the maudlin orchestral music of the film’s trailer suggests, Forrest Gump is quite simply a wildly overinflated patriotic pat on the back, using an overly simplified lead character to navigate through historical events as an inane political mouthpiece.
Stupid is, is definitely as stupid does.