Twenty years ago, the beloved tearjerker Forrest Gump opened in theaters and became the highest-grossing movie of 1994 and won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture. “What a magical movie,” Roger Ebert cooed at the time, while director Robert Zemeckis described it as “a human, life-affirming, hopeful story.”
But actually, it is the worst. Here’s why:
1. In Forrest Gump, intellectually disabled people aren’t really people.
Forrest Gump has no true personality behind his unfailing decency. This movie thinks that “slowness” would make a great symbol for innocence, and so, Forrest’s potential nuance is erased — he’s never allowed to be a dick, or to be angry, or to feel fear in a war zone. “Unflagging love for your mama and your childhood best friend” is as deep as it gets for him. Throw in a dash of happiness and a pinch of sadness, and what you have is three refrigerator magnet happy faces, not a person. :* :) :(
2. Because he’s a symbol of total innocence, Forrest Gump can’t do anything.
Not only is Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) a superhuman with no emotions other than “happy” and “sad,” he also has no agency. His life is almost entirely a series of fortunate accidents. He just coasts through, accidentally getting recruited to play football in college; accidentally getting recruited to the Army, where he accidentally saves a bunch of people while looking for his buddy; accidentally being discovered as a Ping-Pong prodigy; and accidentally becoming a successful shrimper after a storm wipes out his competitors. Since he’s not doing anything intentionally, he remains pure and innocent (e.g., he’s not responsible for anyone he might have killed in Vietnam). This is what he says when explaining why he fits in the Army: “It’s not really hard. You just make your bed real neat and remember to stand up straight and always answer every question with, ‘Yes, drill sergeant.’” Forrest is very good at doing what other people tell him to do.
3. Forrest Gump’s innocence and purity are always contrasted with a trampy female friend.
Jenny, played by Robin Wright, is the slutty but kindhearted woman who “friend-zones” Forrest until he finally earns her love as she’s dying. For most of the film, Jenny’s and Forrest’s lives go off in different but intersecting directions. For example, in the scene above, Jenny snorts coke off a table while wearing a provocative outfit. This scene is intercut with one in which Forrest names a boat after her, his one true love, painting her name on the vessel in his charming and childlike handwriting as she’s engaging in drug-fueled depravity.
4. Forrest Gump teaches us that with enough persistence, you can convince a woman to love you.
The audience is clearly supposed to believe that Jenny owes Forrest sex on account of the fact that his love is so pure; she just can’t see it until she’s punished for her sluttiness with AIDS. Jenny rejects Forrest, and keeps rejecting him until one night when he proposes to her and she says no. “Why don’t you love me, Jenny?” he asks, because in the timeless tradition of nice guys, he believes that having been nice to her means that he has earned her romantic love. Later, she says, “Forrest, I do love you,” and then she has sex with him. No means yes, fellas. She ditches him the next day, but later in the movie, she marries him…when she’s paying for her sins with AIDS.
5. Forrest Gump’s thoughts are not important.
At a Vietnam War protest, Forrest Gump talks about the war, but the movie doesn’t let us hear him speak because if he’s not saying something dumb and charming relating life to a box of chocolates, then who gives a shit?
6. Every time politics come into Forrest Gump’s life, he “transcends” politics.
In an office occupied by the Black Panther Party, one member starts talking to Forrest, who’s still in his Army uniform. “We, the Black Panthers, are against the war in Vietnam. Yes, we are against any war where black soldiers are sent to the front line to die for a country that hates them,” he tells Forrest, who is clearly not listening to a thing the man says. Then, the music swells so that the audience can’t hear him either. Because Forrest is better than politics. Politics aren’t necessary if you’re as pure as Forrest Gump.
7. People who do have political beliefs in this movie are hypocrites or fools.
One of Jenny’s boyfriends, an activist with Students for a Democratic Society, is physically abusive to Jenny. (Hypocrite.) As Forrest runs across America, journalists ask him why he’s doing it. Is it for world peace, they suggest, or homelessness, or women’s rights, or the environment? Animal rights? “They just couldn’t believe that somebody would do all that runnin’ for no particular reason,” says Forrest, confounded. The journalists are made out to be idiots. Just give up on politics and get in touch with what’s important, says this movie. The world will be a better, simpler place if we just forget our grievances.
8. Forrest Gump teaches us that you’re only racist if you mean to be racist.
The film begins with Forrest Gump accosting the black woman sitting next to him at the bus stop. The unnamed character, played by Rebecca Williams, is clearly not interested in his life story, but he proceeds to tell it. “When I was a baby, mama named me after the great Civil War hero General Nathan Bedford Forrest,” he tells her. “She said we was related to him in some way, and what he did was, he started up this club called the Ku Klux Klan. They’d all dress up in they robes and they bedsheets and act like a buncha ghosts or spooks or somethin’.” Presumably, the filmmakers cast a black woman in this almost silent role to signal to the audience that Forrest is so innocent, so pure, that even a black woman isn’t upset when he invokes historical and contemporary racial trauma so blithely. He explains to this black woman that he’s named after a slave trader, Confederate general, and war criminal to remind him “that sometimes we all do things that, well, just don’t make no sense.” If only we could all see the subjugation of black people in such simple terms: It just don’t make no sense! Racism: SOLVED.
9. Really, though, the movie suggests that simpleminded people are above racism.
Only smart people are racist in Forrest Gump: Too much thinking allows you to enforce white supremacy. Forrest couldn’t be racist because he doesn’t even know what a racial slur is. When a black woman who’s trying to enter a freshly desegregated university drops her book, Forrest picks it up and hands it to her because he’s simple and decent. Forrest calls George Wallace, the Alabama governor who said, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” nothing more than an “angry little man who stood at the schoolhouse door.” It just don’t make no sense!
Stupid is as stupid disavows racism.