movie is brilliant on many levels, but it is one of the saddest
commentaries of this age - that a person these days has to be stupid in
order to be a decent human being
hardly watch television, so when Tom Hanks said in his “deep south”
American accent that he was Forest, Forest Gaa-ump, and mesmerised me for
two-and-a-half hours three weeks in a row on cable, I took it as a sign of
providence. Providence was trying to tell me something. The message was
coming to me from the movie Forest Gump. Truly tacky, but I take these
signs as seriously as people take Lotto dreams.
I mulled over it this week while chopping bits of my finger into the
onions, pouring a too-generous portion of brandy into honey into hot water
for a sore throat, cleaning the contact lenses with inky fingers,
forgetting even insomnia while I struggled with Gump. Stupid Gump. Why is
that film about a half wit so damn clever?
after three weeks it came to me that Forest Gump is the definitive comment
on our age - the age of cynicism. I don’t know who the script writer is
but I think I have figured out where he was coming from. The writer
believes in the innate goodness of people, feels that life is worth
living, moreover can be miraculous. The man believes in the resilience of
human beings, in our capacity to survive the worst, brush the dirt off and
start again. He believes in hope. But he is faced with several problems:
knows that life has been to many, randomly brutish or just sad. Being
intelligent, he understands that it will be difficult to convince the
cynical, the wary and the bitter otherwise. Besides, he too, despises
maudlin, cheap, instant sentimentality - the kind you can buy on Valentine
cards and summon with syrupy cliched songs. But the man believes in
miracles. So in the age of cynicism he takes in front as we say. He makes
his hero stupid. A master stroke. On many levels. Because if his hero was
of average intelligence and a good man then he would not be credible or
real to the cynics.
he creates Forest Gump, designs him so we immediately pity him. He
embodies the wretched of the earth; embodied in Gump stupid is innocent,
harmless, naive, without ambition or guile. The poor boy is mentally slow,
fatherless, puny and has polio in an environment like the Deep South.
Think Ku Klux Klan, think slavery, think stupid cruelty.
His mother has to sleep with the principal in order to get him into
school. Nobody wants to sit next to him on the school bus. We laugh at him
but our weaker selves identify with him, our stronger selves want to
protect this harmless human being. Either way it banishes the predator in
us. Besides, the boy has predators enough. But this is life you see
through the eyes of a man who believes in hope and so he creates Jenny,
who makes space for him and then asks him, curious, wide-eyed,
non-malicious, “Are you stupid? to which the boy replies, “Stupid is
as stupid does.” A cliched line but key to the story. Because the
boy’s definition of stupidity comes from his mother who must (having a
disadvantaged son she loves dearly) necessarily be anything that is
inhumane. So Gump has unconsciously imbibed humanity from his mother.
stupid boy is now intuitively, innately good. Through Jenny he experiences
immense joy and profound unhappiness. She tells him to run from the
bullies and he does. Miraculously, his cast falls off him, and he runs
like the wind ... he runs everywhere for the rest of his life. He is
innocent of name calling and doesn’t even understand racism.
When he picks up the fallen books of the first black person to
attend University in the deep south he is decent rather than righteous. He
is conscientious, rather than “heroic” in an obviously stupid war -
Vietnam - when he saves lives, one by one, runs back for more to save
systematically. Given his nature - his stupidity - it is his only option.
his closest friend is a man obsessed with the shrimping industry. To Gump,
who weeps over his death in Vietnam, his friend is only incidentally
black, and so makes the automatic sloganeering of the Sixties against
racism look just that, automatic - without heart. He cures the bitterness
of another, a superior, who has his legs blown off, simply by respecting
him the way he did when he had both his legs and rank.
who gets involved in all the free spirit drugs and abusive men like her
father, loves him, but does not desire him perhaps because he is simple,
but she ends up like many abused children, in an abusive relationship. He
is too innocent for her. He is her refuge, her childhood. Her one physical
contact with him is more an act of thanks than an act of love. She
recovers and she leaves again. Until she gets Aids. She introduces Gump to
his son and asks him then to marry her. He says without sentiment. OK. But
note only because the writer makes his character stupid can he get away
with making love unconditional, unfettered by jealousy or resentment or
wanting something back.
is the saddest and the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time but it is
radiant with hope. Brilliantly executed by Tom Hanks, the movie could be
an adaptation of an old morality play popular with Shakespeare’s
contemporaries such as playwright Ben Johnson who created characters
personifying greed or malice or treachery. They are simple lessons where
the good prosper and the bad suffer. But morality is made palatable
because it is coated with humour. We are preached at without knowing it
because we are so busy laughing.
film shows us the difference between real sentiment and its placebo,
maudlin sentimentality. It is brilliant on many levels but it is one of
the saddest and most cynical commentaries of this age - that a person
these days has to be stupid in order to be a decent human being.