Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Forrest Gump, revisited

OK, here it is: My alternate interpretation of Forrest Gump. Now, I know this movie is a sacred cow for some people, and if you're one of them, you may not wish to read this. If not, well, then, let's step through the looking glass...

First things first. The movie employs two levels of narrative trickery, which can make things very disorienting at times. They are:

  • Forrest Gump himself is an unreliable narrator, and since the movie is told from his perspective, we can't fully trust anything we see or hear.
  • The director didn't really understand the screenplay. This is dark, twisted stuff, more suited to the sensibility of, say, David Lynch, but instead they got hacky old Robert Zemeckis. So he took everything in the screenplay at face value, added a sappy Alan Silvestri score and lots of Top 40 hits, and... smash hit, multiple Oscars. sheesh.

    So anyway. Forrest Gump is a mentally handicapped boy who lives in a decaying Southern mansion with his mother, who seems to be a few eggs short of a dozen. She is destitute, and is forced to supplement her meager income with prostitution. Basically it's Part One of The Sound and The Fury. On some level, Forrest is aware of what his mother is up to, and this has warped him. Consider the scene where she has sex with the principal and Forrest imitates their noises as he leaves - in the movie as presented, this is jarring and out-of-place, but it fits perfectly with this interpretation.

    Forrest's mother, in a state of denial about her son's condition, makes the disastrous decision to send him to a regular school. Keep in mind, Forrest isn't just "a little slow", he has some real psychological problems. There, he is picked on regularly, and never gets the special help that he needs. He's unable to compete in his classes or relate to his peers, so he retreats into fantasy. (He imagines that he met Elvis, for example.) He does manage to make one friend, Jenny, because her background is even more screwed up than his.

    As they get into the high school and college years, Jenny does something that horrifies Forrest - she becomes a woman. Forrest's madonna/whore complex causes him to become obsessed with her "purity" to the point where he attacks any boy who comes near her. Jenny had tolerated Forrest up to this point, but the scene at the women's college is her breaking point. (He imagines the next scene where he feels her up. Remember: unreliable narrator.) Jenny transfers to another college in a different state and leaves no forwarding address.

    After high school, Forrest works a series of menial jobs, such as landscaping. His fantasy life becomes more involved - he sees a Crimson Tide game on TV, and imagines that the sign says "GO FORREST". He watches the news a lot, and the rising tide of the sexual revolution upsets Forrest to the core. He projects all of the excesses of the era onto his memories of Jenny. (He doesn't actually see her during most of these scenes.) Occasionally you see reality creep in - the stack of letters marked "return to sender" for example.

    The news gives him two other things to fixate on, and they're both pretty disturbing: Assassinations, and the Vietnam War. He even goes so far as to construct a Vietnam scenario for himself, with scenes cribbed from various war movies - Notice he was supposedly wounded, but suffers no lasting effects, PTSD, anything like that? After his mother dies, he is homeless for a while - his cognitive dissonance forces him to justify it with a story about how he "went running", but it's a thin story and he can't really explain it.

    All of this sets the stage for the chilling final act. After sitting on a park bench for hours telling strangers his rambling, incoherent "life story" (in which he shows people a copy of Forbes with Lee Iacocca on the cover, and tells people it's him) he goes on a psychotic break. He has managed to track down Jenny, and he kills her and abducts her son. Of course, in his mind, he has whitewashed this as her dying of that mysterious virus he saw on the news, but she certainly didn't look sick...

    1. Sam:

      Read the book (or listen to the book on tape). It's a lot more bizzare than the movie, a lot darker (spoiler...Gump dropped out of college and became a wrestler, but did go to U of Alabama).


      JayBee Anama

    2. Wow, what sort of bullshit is this

      I hope you did this for fun and didn't take yourself seriously, because this takes waaaaaay to many assumptions to even be thought of as a fun fan theory, this is just stupid

    3. Interesting. I haven't seen the movie in a while, but this sounds plausible.

    4. Wow, this is a much better movie than the Forrest Gump I remember seeing. Or, I guess, it's the same movie, but a much better interpretation than the one I got.

    5. If the director had been more literal, that movie would've been brilliant.

    6. Then why's he on the damn magazine cover he held up?

    7. That's obvious. We, the viewers, see what Forrest sees. He sees himself on the magazine, so we see him on the magazine. However, the look on the person's face right after she (I remember it as a she but i could be mistaken) could either be the look of "Oh god! I'm sitting next to a millionaire!" or "Oh god! This boy's insane!" And her reaction following could be interpreted as her playing along or her really seeing the proof.

    8. Amusing theory, but I do hope it's just for the sake of being amusing.

      If you look at some of Eric Roth's other work, its clear he's not into ambiguous psychological thrillers. He does however have quite a few historical stories.

      That alone pretty much kills the theory.

    9. Who thinks of things like this for anything other than fun? Are there really serious academic studies into alternate character interpretations?

    10. You really should read the book, if you haven't already. The first thing you should know is that the book is presented as a comedy rather than a drama. The sentimental crap is completely gone, and what we have is a bumbling idiot who fucks up everything he encounters. What brought me to your page, however, was googling the phrase "Forrest Gump unreliable narrator." This occurred to me after reading the book a second time. Remember the scene in the movie when the fat guy laughs in Forrest's face, refusing to believe that Forrest is actually the owner of the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company? A similar scene happens at the very end of the book, leaving the reader with the possibility that Forrest really is just a crazy Vietnam veteran living on the streets, rambling and telling incoherent tall tales. In the book, Forrest returns from Vietnam only to be lured into the pot-smoking, fornicating world of the hippie counterculture movement by Jenny, who convinces him to throw his medal of honor away in protest. Forrest publicly refers to the war as "a bunch of shit." All this leads him to be committed to a mental institution. I disagree with you in that I do think the movie is written and filmed to be taken at face value--an interpretation of the book would never have won fifty thousand Oscars like it did, but you are on the right track regarding Forrest as an unreliable narrator.

    11. I think you and I are the only two who really understand this movie!

    12. Like all good film, Forest Gump allows the viewer to paste their own psychology onto a series of semi-ambiguous vignettes and woven narratives.

      There is absolutely nothing in the film or book to support your hypothesis.