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trastevere Says, in 1-19-2010 at 19:30:10 from     

Remember that intergalactic cruise ship in “Wall-E,” with all those obese passengers hypnotized by their video screens? I bet the video they were watching was “Forrest Gump.”

“Forrest Gump?” An Orwellian trick? Not sweet Forrest, who seems (on the surface at least) to personify all that is good and humble and admirable in the world.

Don’t get me wrong: Forrest is a good man. But that doesn’t mean that the film in which he stars is actually expressing “good” values.

In fact, “Forrest Gump,” fantastically realized as it is, is a cynical, calculating film.

Before you get upset, let’s step back and define terms. Can we agree that in an ideal world, a film (like any work of art) will express a view of life which is truthful? That viewers who experience that work will come away not only entertained, but also invigorated, strengthened, and enriched?

I raise this point because Hollywood producers have long understood the formula for manipulating mass audiences with over the top sentimentality. Before Hollywood figured out the formula, the Greeks were already doing it. Plato himself attacked the theatre because of its power to excite the senses and numb the mind.

At its best, a Hollywood film can be riveting and inspirational: look at To Kill a Mockingbird, Singing in the Rain, or Mary Poppins, for example. Why do I love those films and why do I exclude Forrest Gump from their ranks?

Because in all three cases (and innumerable other example could be cited) these films provoke in their audiences not not only wonder, but also the desire to interact with the world. The children in “Mockinbird” experience injustice, but they also learn to accept “Boo Radley,” and, we presume, they will emulate their father as people who make a difference. In “Singing in the Rain,” the plucky and talented prevail– and will, we can expect– spend a lifetime bringing joy to millions. “Mary Poppins” goes away– but not before Jane and Michael– and the entire family– are transformed– and take their places in society, joining other Londoners in the park.

The “Forrest” effect, on the other hand, is the opposite. We are encouraged (no: frightened into the decision) to stay at home. Only a fool would follow the other characters into harm’s way. The big world is depicted as chaotic, dangerous, and generally not worth it. And anyway, if Forrest is any example, staying at home is a surer road to riches.

Don’t get me wrong: the idea of a wise fool is wonderful. He appears in every culture. But generally speaking, the story about the wise fool imparts wisdom. If you look carefully at “Forrest Gump” you have 90% artificial flavoring. Because the outcomes in “Forrest Gump” are all rigged to reinforce the same idea: city folk bad, Forrest, good. Asking questions bad, sitting on the porch swing good.

Now I love sitting on porch swings. I’ve sat on them (or on hammocks, or meadows, or snowfields) in over 50 countries of this world. And everywhere I’ve gone I’ve met good people. And the more I know the world, the less it looks like the world of “Forrest Gump.” Even in the worst zip codes of Los Angeles I’ve met people seeking to enrich their lives, to interact with –and help– others. To change the world.

The Forrest Gump world is different. The world is bad. And hard to understand anyway. So, again, going out there– into “the arena” in Teddy Roosevelt’s words– just isn’t worth it.

This is a dangerous idea, one that goes against the very fabric of what it means to be an American. We are a nation of pioneers– our future depends on our willingness to continue to be so.

And so Forrest represents a myth of failure, of decline. And it reinforces the correctness of the decision to escape from our destiny by telling viewers they made the right decision not to get involved. Not to know to much. Maybe even…not to know anything at all.

In Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451″ books are banned because they make people unhappy. Why? Because they tell uncomfortable truths. Forrest Gump wouldn’t fit that category, because it feels designed to tell certain people only what they want to hear.

Of course, this isn’t the only film to do so.

In the market driven America of today, a product is good if it reinforces the idea that the consumer is good. Therefore, a movie is good if it makes the viewer feel good.

Fair enough. Hollywood has always been mostly about straightforward entertainment, right?

Well, yes and no.

In the days of classic Hollywood cinema, audiences could feel good by identifying with John Wayne’s eternal outsider, Humphrey Bogart’s code of honor, Scarlett O’Hara’s astonishing persistence, and Fred Astaire’s grace– a wide variety of human characteristics– all of which– in their complexity– somehow made audiences of the time feel better they were. Maybe because they enlarged the scope of what was felt to be human.

In other words, American consumers had the humility to identify with characters bigger, braver, and more foolish than they were themselves. Characters who suffered and learned. This was, after all, the reason people exposed themselves to drama from the time of the Greeks.

In today’s consumerist America, however, audiences don’t want to get their hair messed up. Characters like Scarlett and Sam Spade seem too far from home for most of us. We want to identify with characters like Forrest Gump, who gets it all without even trying. Or Good Will Hunting, the world’s greatest street fighter, legal eagle, nuclear physicist, sleuth, lover, and who knows what else. And all he needed to get the girl was Robin Williams weeping over him and uttering the magic words: “You’re really good!”

Unlike Sam Spade, Scarlett O’Hara, Shane, or Terry Malloy, Forrest and Will– the heroes for the Wal-Mart American– don’t really learn through suffering. They don’t have to: they’re perfect just the way they are. The only thing wrong in their worlds is that everybody else didn’t know how perfect they were before they made the movie. And by buying a ticket, the audience gets to take part in the canonization…of their own egos.

In other words, the FORREST GUMP consumer is a weak, selfish, shallow, lazy narcissist, unable to bend his/her imagination to identify with characters who are flawed- and thus actually human. In other words, this post-modern self-centered character would reject anything remotely human– if somehow it got past the guards at the entrance to the shopping mall.

Naturally the Consumer Creature will call a movie “good” if it allows him/her to remain in the bubble of their shallowness. Otherwise, it’s “weird.”

I guess that’s why Wal-Mart doesn’t have a big selection of real books, or jazz, or classical music. Or why Shakespeare, and Mark Twain, and Thomas Jefferson are excluded from the minds of the worst generation in the history of the country. Hunter Thompson called them a “generation of swine.”

Viewed in this way, Forrest Gump is the Moby Dick of this generation. It is the white whale of shallowness, and, I’m afraid, it will take us all to the bottom of the ocean.

Someday– and maybe soon– historians (perhaps in China, India, and Brazil– countries where young people actually go to school to learn) will view movies like this as a symptom of a culture in intellectual–and moral– freefall. They will say, that was when American stopped being a leader– and started its descent. (Of course, even if the U.S.A. morphs into a state of slave-workers for a future Chinese Empire, the workers drones will undoubtedly be told they are still number one, and they will go through life believing it.)

Meanwhile, the future historians will look at Forrest in the pantheon of great characters in literature (Lear, Hamlet, Ahab…Finn, Gump) and marvel at the capacity of the human being to rise— and to fall.

Forrest isn’t, in fact, a character at all– he’s a ball of tricks designed to lure the audience’s most infantile self inside.

This is fascism as consumer culture. It doesn’t matter how technically impressive the movie is, or that the scene where Forrest runs can make anybody cry. This is the American version of “Triumph of the Will,” the moment when it became practically illegal to have a mind.

By the way, Robert Zemeckis’ former writing partner, Bob Gale, co-creator of the BACK TO THE FUTURE series (the only films Bob Zemeckis should truly be proud of, except for USED CARS) accused Zemeckis of cynicism when he made FORREST GUMP. Zemeckis claims he doesn’t understand the accusation, and I believe him. I don’t think he understands what cynicism is, or how this film so perfectly embodies it. And that puts him into the 95% of America that hasn’t the slightest idea what it means actually to think. And how criminal it is not to. Especially when you have the power.

Again, to those of you who are offended by this comment, why not stop to consider that maybe living a shallow life is even worse than being offended. In any case, history will judge you far more harshly than one writer possibly could. Why not try to rouse yourselves from your slumber and join the world. It’s a lovely place. Besides, do you really want to spend your life like those butterballs on the cruise space ship in WALL-E?

As someone who lived through the sixties, I can tell you that the film itself is an insult to all the men and women who struggled and shed their blood in that time of striving. And their blood was not wasted! Voting rights, civil rights, environmental protection– these are the fruits of that struggle.

The proper heroes of a film about that time are the men and women who fought in Vietnam– and against the war. Who fought for civil rights, and against the haters. Who reached for the moon– and landed there. Who experimented with new ways of creating society–and made discoveries which have enriched our lived. Scientists and scholars and firefighters and farm workers and computer geeks and musicians. Not a man– sweet as he is– who looked at it all and said none of it made sense.

Rating: 1 / 5

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Anonymous Says, in 1-19-2010 at 19:59:54 from     

How do I get a Forrest Gump movie on DVD, without the wide screen format?
Rating: 1 / 5

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Anonymous Says, in 1-19-2010 at 22:33:30 from     

I BOUGHT THIS MOVIE AND AM VERY SORRY I DID! NOWHERE ON THE TWO CD’S IS THERE THE MOVIE. ALL TRACKS ARE COMMENTARY. WHAT A DISAPPOINTMENT. THE SECOND DISK HAS THE TRAILERS AND OTHER USELESS GARBAGE. DON’T WASTE YOUR MONEY.
Rating: 1 / 5

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alicia beth (alicia_beth@yahoo.com) Says, in 1-19-2010 at 22:58:01 from     

so built-up by the time that i saw it that i was expecting some epiphanic experience. don’t believe the hype.
Rating: 3 / 5

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Johny Bottom Says, in 1-20-2010 at 00:59:06 from     

After reading the book, I wonder how they came up with this movie. Forrest Gump went to outer space and crash landed back on Earth on a deserted island. He got pulled into the space program for throwing his Medal of Honor at the capital and hitting a Senator in the head with it. Anyone who can sit and watch Tom Hanks act like this retard for more than 15 minutes at a time has got to be in a coma.
Rating: 2 / 5

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