Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis, is a 1994 movie rated PG-13. The film begins with Forrest sitting at a bus stop with a box of chocolates, telling his life story to people sitting next to him. Although he is a bit dim-witted, Forrest’s life is anything but simple: he inspires Elvis Presley’s dance moves, fights in the Vietnam War, becomes a ping-pong champion, and gains fame for running around the country for three years. His friend Jenny drifts in and out of his life throughout the movie, and after Forrest discovers the two have a son, they get married. Jenny passes away soon after, and the film ends with Forrest sending their son off to school. Forrest Gump shows that throughout one’s lifetime, one will have many different experiences. While some may be good and others may be bad, ultimately, the many events of one’s life shape them into who they are.
The first scene of Forrest Gump is a traveling shot that follows a feather as it swirls through the air above a park. The camera closely tracks the feather as it soars high through the clouds, and also low underneath cars and close to the ground. It finally settles at the feet of Forrest, and a tilting shot shows him picking up the feather and placing it inside the picture book Curious George. This feather is a metaphor for Forrest and his life. His life has a roaming and wandering path, with some lows and some highs, but he will eventually settle down with his future family. This foreshadowing first scene lays the ground for the plot of the movie.
One of the most memorable aspects of Forrest Gump is its abundance of poignant sayings. In his thick southern drawl, Forrest tells the people sitting next to him at the bus stop, “My momma always used to say life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” His mother’s simile foreshadows the path of Forrest’s life: much like a box of varied chocolates, by the end of the film, Forrest’s life will be filled with diversity. Forrest likens these many experiences to shoes, saying: “There’s an awful lot you can tell about a person by their shoes. Where they goin’, where they been. I’ve worn lots of shoes.” By explaining that he has worn many different shoes, Forrest implies that he has had many unique roles throughout his life. Football star, war hero, ping-pong champion, famous runner: each event in Forrest’s life has him both literally and figuratively wearing different shoes. This reinforces the claim that one’s shoes reveal a lot about who they are.
A prominent symbol in film’s beginning is Forrest’s leg braces, used as a treatment for his crooked legs and back. These clunky metal braces make him the target of bullying in his Alabama hometown, but he breaks free of their shame in one of the film’s most iconic scenes. When a group of bullies come to chase him, his friend Jenny shouts: “Run Forrest run!” As Forrest begins to hobble away, the camera travels with his limping braced legs at ground level. Time slows down to heighten the intensity of the chase, and nothing can be heard except Jenny’s slow-motion voice shouting, “Run… Forrest… run…!” There is a slow-motion close up of the bullies as they approach on their bikes, and then the camera cuts back to ground level as Forrest’s leg braces shatter off his legs. There is a close-up ground level shot of the bike wheels crushing the braces, and then triumphant music swells as Forrest escapes and runs away into a green field. In this scene, Forrest is finally free from the constrictive metal braces that have set him apart for so long. They shatter and are crushed, showing that he is no longer constrained or made unusual by them. Finally, he is free from the prejudice they bring.
One of Forrest’s most significant life events is his time as a soldier in the Vietnam War. He, his friend Bubba, and Lieutenant Dan trek through the jungle looking for “Charlie,” but their lives are drastically altered after a deadly attack that kills Bubba, wounds Forrest’s butt, and removes both of Lieutenant Dan’s legs. One night when Dan and Forrest lay recovering in the army hospital, Dan pulls Forrest onto the floor to yell at him about interfering with his destiny to die a war hero. In the underexposed lighting that emphasizes Dan’s dark reality, Dan angrily shouts, “Do you know what it feels like to not use your legs?” Forrest quietly replies, “Yes sir I do.” This moment reveals how similar Dan and Forrest are: they both have dealt with leg disabilities in their lifetime. Dan then mutters, “I was Lieutenant Dan Taylor,” and Forrest says, “You still Lieutenant Dan.” Despite a handicap, one’s pride does not have to be torn down. Forrest had a disability, but he did not let himself be defined by it. Instead, he took control of his own destiny and moved beyond his handicap. In this scene, he urges Dan to do the same.
Although Forrest’s life is full of changing experiences, something that remains constant is Jenny. When Forrest first meets Jenny on the bus ride to school, she is the only one who offers him a seat. Since she is one of the only people who accepts Forrest, he is happy and comfortable with her. Throughout the film, Jenny is associated with imagery of angels, birds, and flying. Many of her and Forrest’s encounters show Jenny wearing flowing white, implying that she his angel, here to accept him. Also, when she and Forrest run into a cornfield to hide from her abusive father, she prays, “dear God, make me a bird, so I can fly far far away from here,” and an aerial shot of the cornfield shows birds flying away. Two later events in the movie show Jenny considering jumping off a bridge, then a building. In these scenes, close-up shots of her feet standing on the railings make her seem like a bird perched on a branch, ready to fly away. It is clear throughout the film that Jenny is unhappy with her life, and longs to escape. This explains why she is constantly running from Forrest: she cannot hold on to anything, because all she knows is flight. The climax of this is Forrest’s rejected marriage proposal scene, which is shot in underexposed light to imply their relationship is darkening. When Forrest goes outside after Jenny turns down his proposal, he is shot through a screen door. This underscores the barrier that has formed between him and Jenny. After she flees the next morning, the underexposed shots of Forrest in his empty house emphasize how lonely and dark his reality is without Jenny. All his life, he has cared for and protected her, and yet she still runs. Eventually, the two have a son and marry, but Jenny falls sick and dies. The second-to-last scene of the movie is a high angle of Forrest looking down on her gravestone and choking back tears as he says, “I miss you, Jenny. If there’s ever anything you need, I won’t be far away.” The high angle and Forrest’s words show that even though Jenny is gone, he is still watching out for her, just as he did while she was alive. As Forrest walks away from her grave, an extreme long shot shows birds flying into the sunset sky. When Jenny dies, she is finally free from her life of sexual, physical, and drug abuse, and becomes a bird to “fly far far away from here” into Heaven.
The film ends much like it begins, with a traveling shot that follows the same feather Forrest put into Curious George at the bus stop a while ago. However, at the end of the film, the feather does not represent Forrest: it represents Jenny. When she dies, she leaves from where she was settled down with Forrest, and floats to Heaven as the feather of a bird. The film’s feather metaphor, as well as the many other metaphors, cinematography techniques, dialogue, and plot events emphasize its main message. One’s lifetime experiences, both good and bad, shape the destiny of their life and make them who they are.