July 28, 2004

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

I love Forrest Gump. It's easily one of my all time favorite movies. It has a magical quality to it that few movies ever produce. It's funny, charming, sweet and sad. It's one of the very few movies that can make me cry every time I watch it. It's beautiful.

So it was interesting to come across this look back at the film on the 10th anniversary of its release. I was amazed not so much to find someone who disliked the movie, but the reasons for why he disliked it, and why he would devote so much time to complaining about it today.

It's a long piece, but the gist is that Forrest Gump is bad mainly because it's not particularly flattering to the 60's counter-culture/culturists. Also problematic is that the film is not anti-American enough. It ignores all the evil America is responsible for, and because it doesn't dwell on America-hating, it's conservative.

"Forrest Gump" conflates "simple-minded" and "single-minded" and says they're the same: the holy source of all that is good and decent in this world. The mass audience that took the film to heart agreed without articulating it as such, but they didn't have to, since conservative commentators did it for them. Michael Medved told The Philadelphia Inquirer, "For me, the great secret of the film's popularity is that it connects with our tremendous national yearning for innocence, and for recapturing lost innocence."

Medved is correct: There is a bone-deep desire in this culture to not have to deal with the complicated stuff, especially when it sheds unflattering light -- or even threatens to -- on American motives or methods at home or in the larger world. He just thinks it's a good thing, whereas history tends to prove we ignore the past at our peril.

And "Forrest Gump" does ignore, streamline, and steamroll the past, most perniciously in its portrayal of the 1960s counterculture and the people within it. This is what pops out even more clearly on a 10th-anniversary viewing of the film: how absurdly the deck is stacked against youth in general and antiwar activists -- excuse me, hypocritical, girlfriend-beating sleazebags -- in particular. It was all a terrible mistake, says the film, everything from Vietnam until the 1980s, and Forrest's lifelong-love Jenny (Robin Wright Penn) is the martyr who takes the era's sins and consequences upon herself, from drug addiction to death from (sshhh) AIDS. Only Forrest, an Adam blessed to remain without self-knowledge, remains pure of heart and untouched.

Additionally, the movie shows Forrest's best friend dying in his arms in Vietnam, his Lieutenant's legs blown off and Forrest himself wounded. That ain't exactly sunshine and lollipops. It purposely avoids how Forrest really felt about having served in Vietnam. The movie was also sentimental about far-left, anti-war activist/counter-culturist John Lennon.

This article reminds me of why I hate critics. They tend to see every movie/book/piece of art as something lofty and high-minded, viciously satirical, rebellious to societal norms, or some combination of all three. They often read more into things than what is actually there, all in an attempt to look like the smartest person in the room. Sometimes a chair is just a chair - nothing symbolic about it. For example, a local movie critic claimed that Harry Potter practicing magic under his covers at night, in the most recent installment of the franchise, was symbolic of puberty - Harry 'playing with his wand'. Maybe that was the intent, I don't know, but I didn't see it like that (and I think it's disgusting that others do). In the book (and movie as I saw it), Harry had to practice in secret because his Uncle was totally opposed to magic - nothing more. Of course this same critic took the occasion of his Shrek 2 review to blast George Bush on gay marriage.

Forrest Gump is more fantasy than commentary. It's a good story, and really, not much more. The politics of it is largely background noise, seen peripherally through the eyes of a simple man, while he focuses on the truly important things in life: friends, family and love.

Why be so anal in trying to make it seem like so much more?

Posted by Brian at July 28, 2004 06:17 PM | Link Cosmos

The first time I saw Forrest Gump, I was very underwhelmed. I couldn't help but think: This is what all the excitement is about?

Well, I saw a good chunk of it again not too long ago - on TBS or something. I was surprised that I found I enjoyed it. Now, I'm still not overwhelmed by it, but I think that when it first came out the reaction was so positive, that it just didn't live up to the hype when I saw it.

I may watch it again sometime - maybe I'll decide it's really, really good.

Posted by: Mark L on July 28, 2004 09:06 PM
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