WE RECENTLY read "Forrest Gump," the novel by Winston Groom. The differences between it and the film merit examination.
The numbers: "Gump" the film cast its line with a Baby Boomer outlook on an idiot's adventures through America. Audiences bit the hook, laden with historical totems and a low-key love story. "Forrest Gump" went on to become a $250 million blockbuster.
"Gump" the novel received much praise and little business. The Washington Post referred to it as "a superbly controlled satire." People spoke of "rollicking" and "bawdy."
Yet in its first printing, the book sold barely 10,000 copies. Now it resides in Trade Paperback heaven, a best-seller with movie cover art.
What happened in between? Let's highlight the gems:
Several characters in the novel refer to Forrest Gump as a "fine specimen of man." Indeed, Mr. Groom makes Forrest an idiot, but a very handsome idiot.
Not so in the film. Director Robert Zemeckis makes no effort to portray his star, Tom Hanks, as an Adonis. Mr. Groom saw a gorgeous idiot as hilarious. Hollywood balked at the idea of Mel Gibson with a stutter.
The novel has an ape as a major character, a male orangutan named Sue for that matter. He works on a shrimp boat and harasses Raquel Welch. The movie's non-human is a feather, floating majestically down to earth and back to heaven, the shots bookending the film. Stirring, yet not as memorable as Sue crashing the space shuttle into the Indian Ocean.
The movie's catch phrase is "life is like a box of chocolates." The novel's? "I gotta pee." You explain.
Finally, much ink has been spilled over Forrest Gump as a metaphor for the journeys of the American identity. It's convenient to draw this conclusion. Mr. Zemeckis has matched significant events in Forrest's life with a milestone in American history. It seems crucial that Forrest Gump was mowing the lawn the day of the moon landing.
On the other hand, Winston Groom uses American culture as satirical ammunition. What else are we to make of Forrest's peacenik band writing a song called "Do it to me hard and fast."
Moral: If you like a film adaptation, plug through the book. It's fun to see what's been lost. And found.