Every other month, we take a look at a movie on the Internet Movie Database’s List of the TOP 250 FILMS OF ALL-TIME. These are movies that transcend a simple “My Favorite Scene” column. These are movies that are hard to just pry five gems from, but we do and examine the film overall. We’re on our thirteenth installment in this series. Click on the links for The Shawshank Redemption, The Godfather, The Godfather Part II, The Dark Knight, Pulp Fiction , Schindler’s List, 12 Angry Men, The Good The Bad and The Ugly, The Return of the King, Fight Club, and The Empire Strikes Back to check out previous installments.
At #13, we come to 1995’s Best Picture: Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis. These columns usually come out faster, and for that I’m sorry, but I’ve hit a road block with this one that I haven’t encountered since we did Pulp Fiction: I really don’t like Forrest Gump. CALM DOWN! I respect the film for the performances and for breakthroughs in the craft of film making, but in no way do I think the film is one of the greatest motion pictures of all-time. “Gumpmania” swept the country in 1994, denying what should have been the most critically recognized film of the year, The Shawshank Redemption, the acclaim it has since received in the two decades since both were released. Likewise, Tom Hanks has given at least three to five performances that were stronger Oscar candidates than Forrest Gump. It is, however, undeniably a hugely popular film, and like Pulp Fiction, it does have scenes (most involving my favorite character) that are worthy of recognition and examination.
So why don’t I like Forrest Gump? I think it’s an annoyingly precious and treacly movie. I never really fall in love with Forrest, I think Jenny (Robin Wright) is an annoying prat (I want to use another word), and I even don’t like Forrest’s mom (Sally Field). I JUST DON’T!!! Look, it’s fine. Movies are art; art strikes people different ways, and if you love Forrest Gump you can make an impassioned argument for it being in the Top 15 films of all-time according to IMDB. I don’t know that I would have it in the top 15 of 1994 (I actually have it at #14 for that year; I just checked the SCARILY HUGE SPREADSHEET OF MOVIE WATCHING OCD). There are; however, things about Gump that have to be acknowledged as fantastic. First, it is so much better than the barely readable novel by Winston Groom (do not even try to read the cash grab of a sequel), that the two shouldn’t bear the same title. Robert Zemeckis is a director who, like James Cameron when he actually makes a film, pushes technology along with his story. In Gump, it isn’t that stupid feather that’s the advancement, it’s the inserting of Tom Hanks into historical footage in a totally seamless way. Now, that’s everywhere, and it had been tried before certainly, but not with the believability that Gump achieved. Then, I would be totally remiss if I didn’t hail the film’s score as absolutely one of the best of its decade and the highlight of Alan Silvestri’s distinguished career. But this film belongs to Gary Sinise and Lieutenant Dan (we’ll spend more than enough time on this later).
1. Is He….Is He Smart?
In making the argument that Tom Hanks deserves his Gump Oscar over Shawshank’s Tim Robbins, this is the scene I’d trot out. Occurring at the film’s end when Jenny has mellowed the frick out and finally got around to telling Forrest they have a child, Forrest, who has lived his live on an extraordinary scale, but knowing full well the limitations of this intelligence, digests this news and his first question and concern is that his son’s intelligence. Watching Hanks go through a whirlwind of emotion, and meeting Forrest Jr. (played by a pre-Sixth Sense Haley Joel Osment) is easily the best scene Hanks has in the film.
2. God and Lieutenant Dan
Whatever happened to Gary Sinise? During the 1990’s, he was possibly THE best supporting actor in Hollywood and then he got sucked into a CSI spin-off for a wasted decade. Lieutenant Dan, Forrest’s commanding officer during the Vietnam War, and later his partner in his shrimping business, is the best thing about Forrest Gump. Saved by Gump during the war, Dan loses both of his legs (another small but effective F/X). As so many do in the wake of a tragedy, he blames God. This is in no way something that’s rare among survivors of trauma, but you’d never know it from watching any media. Outside of President Bartlet booming Latin down the main aisle of The National Cathedral of The West Wing, there is no more epic “man vs. God” scene than Dan strapping himself to the mast of the shrimp boat during a hurricane and screaming at the Almighty. His bitterness-to-rage-to-acceptance is one of the film’s highlights and brilliantly acted by Sinise. People have a spiritual component to them, whatever they choose to do with it. It’s something almost never examined in TV or movies, and I give Gump high marks for pretty much everything surrounding Dan’s character.
3. “That’s my boat!”
Continuing to praise Sinise, the Lieutenant Dan/Forrest relationship give the film some of its funniest moments, but this has to be the best in the entire movie. Forrest, overjoyed to see Dan’s wheelchair on the docks as he brings his boat in, gets so excited that he forgets one….small….detail before greeting his former commanding officer.
4. Updating Jenny
One of the things I do NOT like about Gump, again, is that the film feels emotionally manipulative. Seriously? The poor guy waits around his whole life for his childhood best friend to acknowledge he loves her, she has a CHILD with him, skips out and doesn’t tell him, and then marries him, gets sick and dies. SERIOUSLY? Hanks, again acting in and around what I think is possibly one of the most frustrating “beloved” movie relationships of all-time, shines in a scene that I can tell you is unwatchable for me….because it’s so true. Probably the only thing Forrest and I have in common (aside from loving Lieutenant Dan) is that we’re both widowers. If you haven’t lost a spouse, this scene is, I’m sure, still powerful, but you don’t get it. If you are lucky enough to marry your best friend and lose them, the subsequent hole that creates in your life, your days, and how you relate to everything is something that doesn’t get fixed. Time does not heal it, and if you’re used to telling that person everything about your day…..you still do. How can you not? If they’re the light by which you saw the universe, that doesn’t end just because their light goes out. You still have to keep going. So I update my wife all the time on what she’s missing, just like Forrest updates Jenny. It’s a part of the grieving process I don’t think I’ve seen in any other film, again, I will give Gump credit for reaching these places other films don’t go because this; this is very real.
5. Joining the Army and Meeting Bubba
The reason I love this scene plays off of my late wife’s love for this film (THAT was a 12-year argument). Mytelti Williamson plays Forrest’s best friend and neither are a particularly natural fit for the U.S. Army. But it’s Bubba’s never-ending recitation of the variety of shrimp that kills me. Kills me because it is hysterically deadpan, but also because my wife could do a very disturbing imitation of Williamson’s list, and would, at the oddest possible moment. So I picked this to round out the list because it is my favorite “Bubba moment” from the film, but also because when I talk to my wife later, I’ll have to mention that-against all odds-I miss having her mutter her shrimp soliloquy in church, during car trips, standing in line, etc. Movie scenes can become parts of our lives, our friendships, our marriages, and take on a life of their own outside of the work that birthed them. I’m sure you can think of a number of your own; this is just one that made its way out of the movie and into my life.