Why We Like Gump

March 30, 1995

At the time of its release last summer, "Forrest Gump" did not receive the level of Hollywood hype typically reserved for films of Schwarzeneggerian proportions. The tale of the good-hearted, simple-minded Everyman who experienced many of the pivotal moments of recent American history grew into a hit largely by word of mouth.

The momentum built and built, helping "Gump" earn $600 million worldwide and become the fourth highest-grossing movie of all time -- so far. Last Monday, the film won most of the important hardware at Hollywood's annual self-love fest known as the Academy Award ceremonies. That wasn't necessarily the climax of Gumpmania, though. Post-Oscar publicity and the film's move to video next month ensure that it will gobble up millions more like so many chocolates. A sequel is a strong possibility.

Why did this movie strike such a chord? Among the reasons are the considerable appeal of lead actor Tom Hanks, the story-telling skills of veteran director Robert Zemeckis and a slew of state-of-the-art special effects. But the main reason appears to be the title character himself.

Some observers have ascribed America's embrace of the mentally slow Gump to a national yearning for a simplicity that comes dangerously close to blissful oblivion. Certainly, as we noted on this page Feb. 26, a disturbing Tinseltown trend of late is the sub-moronic comedy aimed primarily at young people with far too much disposable cash on their hands.

"Gump," however, doesn't deserve to be put in such company. Unlike those dumb and dumber film roles, the part that won Mr. Hanks his second consecutive Best Actor Award clearly embodied goodness, nobility and other admirable traits. It affirmed life.

As for the Gump character's "dumbness," it probably should be read as a symbol of his decency. Many critics took it too literally and made it a cudgel with which to bash the movie and its admirers. Given some of the recent Oscar-winning films -- "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Unforgiven," to name two -- can American moviegoers really be faulted for seeing something they liked in "Gump," something they don't encounter often enough in real life or at the cinema?

One could do dumber things than admiring a character like Forrest Gump.

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