by Anthony Zangrillo
On my thirteenth birthday, my Mom, my Dad, a few friends, and I went to Bubba Gump Shrimp in Universal CityWalk, despite the fact that I was allergic to shrimp. I also had never seen Forrest Gump. I had no idea the film and the restaurant chain were so intimately linked. I thought Bubba Gump was just a seafood restaurant chain until I walked inside and found walls, tables, and ceilings lined with memorabilia. From license plates on the tables that read either “Run Forrest Run” or “Stop Forrest Stop,” to a lighted map of where Forrest’s run across America was, to the waitress stopping by between orders to ask us Gump trivia, we were bombarded with images from the film. My friends and parents, all having seen Forrest Gump, laughed and talked about it and remembered and reminisced. I felt out of place in this strange seafood restaurant with an oddly specific theme. They then explained to me the plot; I thought it sounded silly. So I promised myself to always hold a cynical candle to Forrest Gump. It seemed too sweet, saccharine, and genuine to be something I would ever enjoy.
I wasn’t going to see Forrest Gump unless somebody forced me.
I didn’t end up needing to be forced to go; there were free IMAX tickets, thanks to the MOTION PICTURE CLUB @ NYU. After a harrowing subway ride over where my friend and I were nearly late, and about twenty or so minutes of my friend searching for her phone as she dropped it somewhere in the abyss of never ending IMAX theater seats, the movie began.
I was stunned.
As someone who never knew anything about Forrest Gump aside from the obvious references, (“Run, Forrest, run!” and “Life is like a box of chocolates…”), I was not expecting the opening sequence with the feather. I found out later that it’s a staple discussed in film classes, and is now iconic. If you have forgotten how impressive and beautiful the opening sequence of Forrest Gump is because of how ubiquitous it was, the IMAX will make you remember. The film doesn’t feel stretched out, its massive, epic scale only enhanced by the massive, epic screen. It captures the filthy, heart thudding action as Forrest saves his platoon’s life in Vietnam, but also Jenny and Gump’s intimacy, as the screen does not diminish the smaller, more tender moments. I believe this is a result of Zemeckis’ expert direction. His previous blockbuster films have always had subtler moments that many gloss over. Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? contain the expected elements of an action plot, memorable characters, and great one-liners, sometimes taking precedence over the beauty of a specific shot. However, there are beautiful moments in frame with all three of these films, which don’t take away from the plot moving at break-neck speed.
Possibilities of a sequel to Forrest Gump were shattered post 9/11, as the director thought it wouldn’t be “relevant anymore.” Forrest Gump, however, is still relevant. While the titular hero isn’t real, his life and its reflection on history feel real. Not in the direct way with his interactions with the presidents; his direct influence on Elvis, his exposing Watergate, and his waxing and waning fame depending on its convenience in the script do come off as false and a bit distracting. His more personal moments, from his relationship with Lt. Dan to every scene about and with Jenny however are universal and personal. The last monologue in front of Jenny’s grave is still powerful and beautiful, even if it’s a vague message. Jenny dying of AIDS may be surprising now, but as the film ends in the 80s and was filmed in the mid 90s, it still feels real for that era. As it is a time capsule, it cannot be dated. With its broad universal messages of love, acceptance, and living life to the fullest, things we can all look on with respect and relate to, it cannot be distant, even as a period piece.
Forrest Gump is not a perfect movie. It can be trite, cliché, and as saccharine as I thought it might be. But it is immersive and massive in one watch, a powerful film which refuses to let your cynicism get the better of you. It’s beautiful. And now I fully understand why it has drawn so many people in, why it’s a crowd favorite. Forrest Gump may not exist. But to us, he is real.