Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Kris and Adam Discuss AFI’s Top 100: Forrest Gump

Kris Jenson, with whom I've had the best discussions of my life, is an old friend of mine from Boston. We had been talking about the American Film Institute's Top 100 when he got a job at Dig Boston, writing about just that. Instead of letting the conversation end just because he's a big, fancy writer now, I'm going to write responses to his articles. I can't keep up with his movie watching, so I'm only responding to the ones I've seen.

I'm sort of glad Kris ripped into this movie (particularly this movie) because it means finally, I get to be the voice of reason. When I was in high school, I made a list of my 30 favorite movies, and periodically I'll update it. "Forrest Gump" has consistently stayed in my top 20. While I can totally understand everyone's problems with this movie, I still love the shit out of it, and I think the haters hate this movie simply because they don't have a healthy relationship with joy. I wonder if people who don't love "Forrest Gump" will ever be able to find happiness in life.

Okay, clearly I'm joking. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. I do think, though, this film gets a lot of flack from movie fans for being too light-hearted about an era we should be more serious about. To that, I say, why? We have lots of movies that cover the trauma of Vietnam, why can't we also have a film about a man who made it through the war without being scarred for life. Forrest Gump is a man too simple to let the weight of the world kill his positive world view. They say ignorance is bliss, and maybe if we all, like Forrest, stopped over-thinking this era, we could start getting something positive out of it.

As far as this movie's questionable merits for Best Picture over "Pulp Fiction," I dare say this movie more than earns it. For a small movie, its scope, technical merit, and pure ambition make it more than the sum of its parts. Zemeckis, with all his toys at his disposal, took the technology available in 1994 and did amazing things with it. We all know Forrest was super-imposed into the footage of the Presidents, but did you know the ping-pong balls were also CGI? Nowadays, Zemeckis uses his technology unnecessarily to shoe-horn motion capture where it doesn't belong, but with "Gump" he used it to ever so slightly heighten reality. "Forrest Gump" is a modern fairy tale, and the world of the film is removed from the real world just enough to bring us into that world. Of course a simple guy from Alabama couldn't become a war hero AND a ping-pong champion AND a cross-country runner AND a shrimping millionaire AND etc, etc.

The film was never intended to be a social commentary on anything. As much as Kris can say it makes all these statements about Vietnam and hippies, I can put a totally different spin on it. I say, the story going on here is about the American dream. It's available to anyone, and given the right circumstances, anyone in this country can be a success. That is a message everyone needs to hear. Forrest Gump could not have made it in just any country, and as much as we can disagree with the direction this country as a whole is headed, no one can deny that this is a country where ordinary people can become extraordinary if they want to. That's the power of a good movie, that we can all project our own perceptions on it.

I challenge you, Kris, to give this movie a second chance. Take some time, and go back to it not looking for chinks in the armor, but to really try to understand why this movie is beloved. Look for all the subtle comedy. Look at the way Hanks imbues the character with so much love that the audience can come to care for anyone around him. Look more closely at Mama Gump. Even though she's presented in the movie as this pure, all-knowing figure, she's actually kind of an awful person (fucking the schoolmaster to get Forrest into school, insisting he sell-out so she can pay her bills). There is so much going on in this film, and it has become an easy target because it's a big, Hollywood movie that actually delivers on the pathos.

Maybe a big, Hollywood movie can't get as "real" as comparable indie films, but I say if that's so, there is real merit to a shallow Hollywood movie that can make me cry. That's right, I'll say it. I cried the shit out of this movie. "Forrest Gump" goes to crazy town and back again, all the while reducing nearly everyone around him to the kind of shallow stereotypes that a man this simple can understand, but somehow this movie pulls out of the insanity real, human emotion. That's not schlocky, that's good filmmaking.

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