Looking for a Real Man? Consider Forrest Gump

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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/

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  1. Gabrielle
    Posted October 16, 2011 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I would marry a man like forest gump. when you find out what is most important in life, you can learn to appreciate a man like forest gump.!

  2. Posted November 21, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I’m certainly glad that my Lady Anne pointed me to your website. What a delight!

    On Forest Gump: I certainly concur — there is a guileless, innocent approach that he takes to life and to the relationship that has a nobility all its own. There is another film with just such a relationship, and that film has a connection to your dog.

    About three years ago, my Lady and I went out for a movie that I had some concerns about but was encouraged to go see anyway: Pixar’s WALL•E. We really enjoyed it, and it has made a surprisingly large impact on us.

    First, the film was treated by critics as having a political/environmental message, but that misses the point and was not the director’s intent at all.

    It is a love story, pure and simple, and the title character is himself pure and simple in a manner reminiscent of Forest Gump. We see him going to work every day, and he does his job well and enjoys it. His self-satisfied nod at sunset marks another day well-spent, and he heads off home.

    But the loneliness he faces is interrupted by the arrival of a smart, modern professional female, and we see in this film the purest of romances literally spanning their different worlds. Wall•E (like Forrest) doesn’t really understand everything happening around him, and the object of his affection could be considered “out of his league.” But he is persistent, and he takes care of her when needed and defends her fiercely when he thinks she’s in danger. And he ultimately wins her heart, in the meantime changing everyone he comes in contact with for the better.

    The two main characters have a tiny vocabulary. Tens of minutes go by before they even speak. But the audience always knows what’s going on in their minds … and knows that here is a very special love story indeed.

    It is also an excellent work of science fiction, which is a hobby of mine. But that wasn’t what originally captured our attention.

    And by the end of the film, Wall•E and Eve have not only come together, they’ve brought humanity back to the human race, and brought them back down to Earth. That message is a good one for all families to see.

    I’ve looked around a bit on your blog, and you two are also working to bring a bit of humanity back to a civilization that seems to be moving away from it. I’ve enjoyed the writings I’ve seen so far, from your Teri-torial dog to the hospital caroling to your work in Fort Pothole to the Keeping Christmas Well post I just read and forwarded to a friend I think will enjoy it.

    I wish you every success!

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