It’s currently midnight just a few days before my 29th birthday and I have just finished watching Forrest Gump for only the second time in my entire life. It only makes sense that I would watch this movie during one of the two times of the year that I find myself most likely to reflect on the past.
I’m not a movie critic, and I know very little about the mechanics of great movie-making, but I do know that this film moved me in a very profound way. It was so much more significant now than it was when I first watched it on VHS… when my mom was shooing me out of the room during the scene when Forrest touches a naked breast for the first time.
This film is 20 years old, but it resonated with me as if it were taking place right now. I suppose this is the feeling that a timeless classic should give you. Specifically, there were a couple of thematic elements that really struck me.
- Innocence. I was struck by Forrest Gump’s innocence. Because he is such a simple man, he experiences everything with such childlike wonder. Somehow this character is able to hold onto that sense of wonder even after numerous events that would, in all likelihood, end that innocence. It’s easy to observe Gump navigate his life and mourn our own loss of innocence. My perspectives on life were much simpler when this movie first came out on VHS (remember those?). The world seemed so much bigger than it does now. There was still some magic left. Mrs. Gump talks to Forrest about destiny, and there was a time in my life when destiny would have been a sensible explanation for the happenings of my life, long before everything was cause and effect and decision making.
- Passage of time. Zemeckis did an extraordinary job of portraying the passage of time by using history as markers, depicting them masterfully with images and sounds (classic American music). The events of Forrest’s life occur alongside iconic events, without ever taking the focus away from this very personal story. We know where he was when Elvis made his scandalous television debut. We see him during the Vietnam war. We learn that investing in Apple has made him rich at the same time he does. Yet, these events are never the driving force of Forrest’s story. It gives us a sense of the time that is passing while he makes a life for himself, continually coming back to the inescapable truth of his love for Jenny.
Though Forrest Gump is probably not a coming of age story in the strictest sense, there were moments where I was struck by Forrest’s building of a life for himself. It made me consider my own, seemingly continual coming of age. Though finding a place in the world can be confusing and painful, Forrest always approached it with a beautiful simplicity. He always seemed content. I think there is a lesson there for us. Perhaps a simple life is truly the happiest. We don’t need riches and accolades to be happy. Just the love of others.
I’m quite glad that I haven’t watched the movie in years and years. It felt fresh and poignant. Perhaps I’ll wait another 19 years to watch it again, and it will mean something totally different to me at a different stage in my life.