Once in a while, a critic comes across a film that is almost universally good. That is, it’s very hard to find any flaws in it due to its sheer excellence (one of these minor flaws is the obvious CGI feather near the beginning that takes away from the immersion in the film). Forrest Gump is one such film, coming as it does from the year 1994, which was a very good year for films. Other films released that year include The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction and The Lion King, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Leaving aside for the moment my rule about the name of the director not being a byword for excellence and quality (examples of where this rule applies include Stanley Kubrick and George Lucas), it should come as a surprise to nobody that the director of Back To The Future (Robert Zemeckis) was also responsible for this excellent film.
The film is about a mentally disabled boy (the Forrest Gump of the title) who grows up into a man bearing an uncanny resemblance to Tom Hanks. Along the way, the film-makers entrench him in American history with the same footage altering technology that would later be used for the Deep Space Nine episode, Trials and Tribble-ations.
One of the reasons that Forrest Gump is a great film is that it captures the spirit of recent American history for the people who weren’t there and reignite memories of those who were. They use the character of the everyman to do a retrospective of the last forty years or so before the movie was made. What I like about it is that if you’re not very good on dates and times, the film has a timeless feel. You can pin down events roughly and guess at time periods, but much of the film lacks that definitive stamp that tells you when and where a scene is set. A good example of this is Forrest inspiring John Lennon to write Imagine on a TV show. Now, this must’ve happened around 1975 or so, but the film does not tell you that definitively. It adds to the framing device of the movie, which is him sitting on a bench telling his story to various passersby. Another thing that adds to the framing device is that while he doesn’t know what people in his lives are getting up to away from him (especially Jenny), the viewer sees it anyway.
Newcomers may notice strong similarities to another film of the scriptwriter’s, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button. And indeed, it is very similar. All the more noticeable, in my opinion, as the bulk of the story (i.e, the bits with Brad Pitt) takes place over the 1950s to 1980s, where there is a strong backdrop of current events that become a part of American history. Spotting the similarities? I thought so.
I fear that we are reaching a generation where this film will only be familiar to the young because it was referenced in a Lonely Island video. This is a depressing fate for an excellent film. Overall, this film is fantastic but you have to see it to appreciate just how good it is.