Recently I sat down with a Blu-Yay1 of “Forrest Gump,” a film that I enjoyed in 1994 as a good-natured tall tale. I had admired the wily interpolation of Tom Hanks’ Oscar-winning performance into historical newsreels and videos, the broad canvas of the story, the mix of vintage popular music and an expert score by Alan Silvestri, and above all the emotional core of the film: the relationship between Gump and his childhood friend Jenny.
On this viewing, something hit me like a brick: Forrest Gump is arguably the best male role-model we have seen on the silver screen, or anywhere else, in decades. This may seem like an odd statement, given that he is known primarily for his subnormal IQ and his aphorisms from the park bench (especially, “Life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get.”) But as the film unspools, his character and his emotional intelligence rise to the surface. Consider the following:
- Forrest is relentlessly cheerful and optimistic, even in the face of sorrow and loss, which he acknowledges very appropriately. When he misinterprets circumstances playing out in front of him, he does so with a mindset devoid of cynicism.
- He is fiercely loyal to his friends and those he loves. At a moment’s notice he risks life and limb on their behalf. This is a sacrificial reflex, not counting the risk or cost to himself.
- He is color blind, forming a lasting bond with Benjamin Buford Blue, better known as Bubba, in whose honor he starts the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, now immortalized as a chain of restaurants inspired by the film.2 Later he joins an African-American church — and fits right in with the choir, robes and all.
- When his shrimp business, and a ground-level investment in Apple Computers (which Forrest identifies as a “fruit company”), provide him with financial independence, he is both unaffected and generous. He builds a chapel for his church, funds a new medical center, and gives Bubba’s mother a share of the company’s profits, the size of which literally causes her to pass out.
- With the exception of his iconic cross-country run, he is remarkably well groomed and dressed. In a military uniform, he looks like a million bucks.
- When attacked, his instinct is to escape, which he does handily as a world-class sprinter (“Run, Forrest, run!!”) rather than fight back. When insulted with taunts such as, “Are you stupid, or what?” Forrest’s response is always a statement of incredible wisdom: “Stupid is as stupid does.”
All of these qualities are most powerfully portrayed in his relationship with his beloved Jenny. She befriends him when others hurl insults and rocks, and they become companions like “peas and carrots.” He becomes her haven of safety as a child, and her fierce protector as an adult. One of the films most powerful subplots is the arc of Jenny’s gradual disintegration in the wake of horrific mistreatment at the hands of her father. Having been sexually abused as a young child, she later sexualizes her life and relationships, drifting from one predatory partner to another.
But to Forrest she is his beloved, the one whom he loves unconditionally and will defend from any and all threats at a moment’s notice. When she attempts to sexualize their relationship, he is caught completely off guard. Taking advantage of her is not on his agenda. On the contrary, much to her dismay, on three occasions Forrest leaps into ferocious action when he sees men mistreat her — the only times in the story when he becomes aggressive in any way.
After hitting bottom and nearly taking a suicidal leap from a building, Jenny finally comes home to Forrest for a season. He cares for her tenderly while she recuperates, and in a poignant scene proposes to her.
Forrest: “Will you marry me? I’d make a good husband, Jenny.”
Jenny: “You would, Forrest.”
Forrest: “But you won’t marry me.”
Jenny: “You don’t want to marry me.”
Forrest: “Why don’t you love me, Jenny? I’m not a smart man. But I know what love is.”3
Indeed he does. In fact, he embodies the functional definition of love famously penned by St. Paul:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (I Corinthians 13: 4-7, NIV)
I would like to offer a challenge to men who want to learn how to treat women: Take some cues from Forrest Gump. He’s a tough act to follow.
©Paul and Teri Reisser, 2011.
Paul Reisser is a family physician who has been in private practice for more than three decades. He has served as the primary author of Focus on the Family’s Complete Guide to Baby and Child Care and Complete Guide to Family Health, Nutrition and Fitness. Together Paul and his wife Teri have recently written Your Spouse Isn’t the Person You Married.
1. I have avidly followed the progress of home video formats for the past 3 decades, and any new device that improves the viewing experience provides an occasion to revisit some of my favorite films. I began with an RCA VHS “portable” VCR (the size of a small suitcase) in 1981 and now enjoy the sensational picture and sound available with Blu-Ray. Our grandson dubbed this format “Blu-Yay” for a while, and the name stuck.
2. One great gag in the film: Forrest and Bubba become such good friends during boot camp that, upon arrival at their base in Viet Nam, Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinese) jokingly asks if they’re twins. They have to look at each other for a moment before coming to the conclusion that they’re not.
3. You can watch this scene (after a short commercial) at http://www.imdb.com/video/screenplay/vi677905689/