Feb 19, 2012

Forrest Gump

Robert Zemeckis' Forrest Gump is without a doubt the single most confounding studio blockbuster I've ever seen more times than I would ever dare to count . A child of the nineties, I couldn't wait for the video release to see all kinds of neat special effects that I hardly understood as they didn't involve ripping half of Tom Hanks' face off to reveal a pissed off robot or Lieutenant Dan instantly respawning his legs and running from dinosaurs, but despite the disappointment, watched and re-watched the flick whenever it aired on television because, well, it was an EVENT, just like Schindler's List, one that lazy teacher's would assign essays on for extra credit. It was also one of those staple videos that seemingly every family video library, even those whose only other titles are fitness tapes and Czech tranny porn (both dad masturbation fodder, but only one of which would be hidden in a generic tape cover labeled "Christmas '89"). It was one of those ubiquitous nineties blockbusters that was pervasive in a way that only nineties blockbusters were, spawning a restaurant, endless parodies, catchphrases (how many times have you heard "Run, Forrest, Run!" in YOUR formative years?), and "watercooler discussion." A movie that somehow managed to be something for everyone, while underneath the schmaltz and "humor" and Zelig-like effects work, actually offers a black hole of ideological emptiness. The kind of movie where a mentally retarded manchild from the South stumbles blindly through history with unwavering patriotic stupidity, interacting with characters like black retarded manchild Bubba, crippled Vietnam Vet Lieutenant Dan, and junk-addled child molestation victim-cum-AIDS whore Jenny to prove some ultimately muddy, bewildering message about America. Something that nods to the supposed multi-cultural inclusiveness of the place, while at the same time bowing to time-honored Christian Right notions of finding virtue in ignorance vs. being some goddamn pinko thinking person, and successfully tarring-and-feathering the baby boomer generation as a wanton cesspool of carnality that one can only breeze past if he can "Run, Forrest, Run."

By now the story should be familiar, but I'll rehash it for all five of you who haven't spent a childhood parked in front of this mess. An obnoxious, drawling Hollywood caricature of a mentally challenged person sits at a bus stop, rambling to random passerby the highly improbably details of his life. A more honest film would be just this deluded 'tard telling his ridiculous stories to people who would in turn turn up the volume of their headphones or high tail it to the next bus stop and little else, but in Hollywood, even the most impatient of his audience stand-ins are humbled by stories in which a leg-braced Gump teaches Elvis Presley how to shake his hips, inspires John Lennon's "Imagine", prompts the Watergate investigation, and basically directly or indirectly inspires all of the "major events" of the latter half of the twentieth century. What drives Gump to succeed despite a laughable appearance and a speaking style that takes the worst of Gomer Pyle and pushes it to the edges of the dreaded "full retard"? The love of a good woman, of course, or in this case, a drug addicted, STUDENT PROTESTING (*gasp*), molestation-victim who will die, of course, for having used drugs, protested, and had sex with characters aside from the drawling retarded guy, or maybe because she finally gives in and has sex with the retarded guy, which some members of the target audience might find a bit icky?

Aside from Jenny, the other female relationship driving Forrest's life is Mama, delivered by Sally Field in likewise drawling hyuk hyuk mode, delivering the kind of quaint, meaningless nuggets of wisdom like "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're going to get" that seem to go over so resoundingly with American audiences and lobotomy patients the world over. When Mama dies (not of AIDS, but of old age, though she does fuck a school administrator to get Forrest into a regular school when he's a kid, so maybe the slut was asking for it), the saccharine-to-the-point of diabetes Alan Silvestri score kicks in, underscoring that this is a big moment, one of those moments "we can all relate to." Earlier in the film, while heroically serving in Vietnam (and getting shot in the "butt-tocks", President Nixon, hyuck hyuck), Forrest first encounters death via his African-American analogue, Bubba. At this point I could go on and on about the unlikelihood of this friendship, of these two being on the field to begin with, but the entire movie thumbs it's nose at actual history or common sense to offer some strange high school history book, "feel good" version of events, while all the while functioning as a horror movie for anyone who doesn't toe the extremely moderate but slightly right of center ideal audience the studio computers no doubt told Zemeckis and co. to tailor the turd to. Seriously, just like any eighties slasher movie, if you're black, you're dead, if you have sex outside of marriage (even if it's symbolic childhood marriage to a dense dunce), dead, if you turn your back on God and actually want to die after a devastating war injury, you will be subjected to your fair share of humiliation and torture until you learn to have faith in Christ, our father, or, excuse me, Gump, the secular Jesus for the nineties.

In other words, this reads like something John Milius would write if instead of being upfront (and badass) about his macho militarism he tried to sneak it in the backdoor, gussying a fatalistic, fascist view of the world with every overplayed song from the baby boomer years, "cute" antics, and lots of that "feel good" crap someone like Milius would have no patience for. But just for a second, imagine a John Milius Forrest Gump... where instead of merely punching that sexist student protester dude (because being a possessive stalker of a woman with significant childhood trauma is okay, but disagreeing with a fairly awful war...tsk tsk), Gump crushes his sternum and douses him in flames, where upon finding Bubba bleeding Gump severs his head and holds it up at Valhalla before finishing off Lt. Dan, no longer a man. Where after decimating the Vietnamese countryside in Ramboesque feats, Gump returns, helps the Watergate burglars get away, and then spends the rest of the film RE-writing history, a sort of right-wing Inglourious Basterds. It would be an uncomfortable, queasily violent film for most, but done with verve and HONEST about it's intentions. Is Forrest Gump really the right-wing parable arriving in a big, rainbow colored Trojan horse may of it's detractors make it out to be? I think it is a lot more confused and audience-pandering than intentionally political, and after perusing the novel on which the film is ostensibly based, deduce that a lot of the thematic strangeness of the movie comes from both softening the edges of Forrest Gump to the point he is akin to jarheaded Jesus via Rain Man (the character is a bit more similarly retarded in the book and actually curses and is about 240 pounds, for starters) and leaving out some of his more outlandish adventures (NASA, life with cannibals, a pet monkey) so as to ensure Oscar nominations and maximum boomer relatability. This isn't a parable, dammit, this IS America.

As of yet, I've said little about the acting, and there isn't much to say. Suitably loud caricatures amped up to the nth degree so as to compete with the Zelig-esque special effects (and the magical erasure of Gary Sinise' legs). Speaking of Sinise, I quite enjoyed his turn as director/actor in Of Mice and Men, but with Gump, he sold his soul to the Hollywood Beast and can now be seen weekly performing at an Indian Casino near you with the "Lieutenant Dan Band." Robin Wright Penn is suitably worn looking as an AIDS carrier but does little but look glum, worried, or bitter throughout, even when she's 'sposed to be young and an object of infatuation. Oh yeah, she almost commits suicide to "Free Bird." Sweet home Alabama, y'all. Sally Field is deserving of a ball peen hammer to the face. Tom Hanks performance has been so often parodied and is such a part of our pop cultural lexicon that I think it is often difficult to remember just how annoying it truly is. I don't have a kneejerk reaction to the vanilla megacelebrity status of Hanks. He is capable of reliable performances from time to time, and unlike someone, like, say, Julia Roberts, the sole pleasure I derive from his flicks tends not to be imagining him hanging from a meathook in my basement. Forrest Gump is one hell of a blemish, though (one the masses the masses awarded over $677 million bucks to, a fact that doesn't make me want to re-evaluate the film, but humanity as a whole). When watching a superior Hanks flick, like Joe Vs. The Volcano, I always have to try to keep Gump out of my head in a manner akin to breathing slowly and trying to convince vomit not to escape my esophagus.

So gather the family, children up front, and let the history wash over 'em. Learn to toe the line, and make great waves simply by shutting off your brain and running toward success without taking detours to smoke "wacky weed" or question the government. Try not to think too hard about Forrest's suitability in raising the Sixth Sense kid he gets saddled with a few years after his sole sexual experience with Jenny, who marries Forrest then promptly dies for maximum pathos. As Forrest replies to the military recruiter who asks him "Have you given any thought to your future, son?"



Anonymous said...

This movie, this fucking movie.

I didn't hate Forrest Gump at first. Actually I quite liked it.

But then it came out on VHS while I was still in high school. All through high school our teachers showed it too us all the fucking time. Sometimes I would be watching it in two different classes on the same day.

Yeah, I haven't watched it since I graduated in 98.

MoonRisk7 said...

Brilliant fucking breakdown, Bro. Brilliant. That movie is ASS.

Anonymous said...

spot-on review. Thunderous applause