Revisiting life’s heartbreaks in Forrest Gump

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With film adaptations of popular young adult novels coming one after another, we once again experience the two-edged power of the page and of the screen. But there’s more to book-to-screens beyond imaginary worlds, exciting action, and young love. This May, we dig deeper into a favorite theme in literature and film — coming-of-age. Grab some tissue because here are some book-to-screens that would break your hearts and make you cry.


Director: Robert Zemeckis
Screenplay: Eric Roth, based on Forrest Gump by Winston Groom
Cast: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, and Sally Field

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We all have regarded Forrest Gump (1994) as the kind of movie to watch with our families on a fine Sunday morning — touching, heartfelt, and inspiring. And much has been said about the film’s heartwarming screenplay and Tom Hanks’ impeccable performance as the iconic protagonist (let the six Oscars speak to you). But a second (or third or fourth) look at this film would make us realize that Forrest’s life is a reminder that life has its fair share of happiness and heartbreaks. Anyway, as what Forrest’s momma always said, “Life [is] like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

The titular hero of the film based on Winston Groom’s novel is no ordinary man — he wears leg braces and has an IQ of 75, not until he discovered his athletic capability as a runner, which gave him the opportunity of becoming a college football star. The entirety of the film depicts Forrest narrating his life to random strangers while sitting on a bench waiting for a bus (which became the film’s iconic representation) and chronicles his journey from being a bullied child to an athlete, a soldier, a ping pong player, an entrepreneur, a runner, and in the end, a father. He may have tasted (in a totally quirky yet amusing way) the delights the world has to offer, but growing up for Forrest is not without its pains and sufferings.

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One of life’s harshest realities is the fact that people do come and go — including those who are dear to us. This truth recurred in Forrest’s life, making him face a cycle of beginnings and endings. As a child, Forrest was abandoned by his father, and was therefore very attached to his loving mother (Sally Field), whom he eventually loses as the film nearly draws to a close. Second Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise), Forrest’s platoon leader during the Vietnam War, went away having hard feelings toward Forrest for saving his life and not letting him (Dan) die at battle, but came back in Forrest’s life and became thankful to Forrest. And who could forget Bubba (Mykelti Williamson), Forrest’s friend at the army? Bubba was the only lasting friend Forrest ever had in the story (and his demise was indeed one of the most painful), and Forrest made Bubba’s dream of a shrimp business come true and even named the company after him.

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But there is one person that truly personifies the cycle of hellos and goodbyes: Jenny Curran (Robin Wright), Forrest’s childhood friend. Forrest instantly grew affection for Jenny, for she was the only one who understood Forrest in a world of bullies, and from that point, he never stopped loving. While Forrest unconditionally loved her, Jenny gave him recurring heartbreaks. Jenny would reenter Forrest’s life at adulthood for several times, but she would later leave and break Forrest’s heart yet again. But Forrest’s (and ours, too) biggest heartbreak is Jenny’s death from an unknown illness (which would be later coined as AIDS). Just when Forrest finally had his chance of genuine and lasting emotional happiness after everything he went through by marrying Jenny, fate had turned the cycle and he lost her in the end. The cycle, however, gave Forrest a wonderful beginning — Forrest, Jr. (Haley Joel Osment).

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Forrest Gump may have departed much from the original novel, but the film succeeded independently in its depiction of both Forrest’s adventures and undying love for Jenny. The film was noticeably (and obviously) produced with a message of optimism in mind, which critics, on the other hand, consider as emptiness. Film history text authors Thompson and Bordwell (2003) called the film a “celebration of mindless optimism [which] veers toward mocking American values.”[1] Despite the ensuing discourse on its message and content, Forrest Gump remains one of cinema’s contemporary masterpieces, and as a representation of life in its crudest — filled with episodes of sorrow and heartbreaks, which we, like Forrest, should never run away from.

 

[1] Thompson, K. and Bordwell, D. (2003). Film history: an introduction (2nd ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.

 

— V

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