The 1994 film, Forrest Gump, follows the titular character through a variety of historical events. The film is narrated by Gump himself and begins with him getting ‘special shoes’, which are leg braces that should straighten his back. He is rejected from a public school at first, though his mother manages to get him in and she tells Gump that he is not any different from the other children. He meets Jenny on the bus and she becomes one of the most important relationships in his life. Gump is recruited to the army and deployed in Vietnam, where he meets and loses another friend, Bubba. Another important character that acquires a disability because of the war is Lieutenant Dan. His and Gump’s disabilities and their attitudes towards them are incredibly varied. Gump reunites with Jenny after the war, though they go their separate ways and Gump returns to Alabama. They meet there once again and eventually marry. The film ends with Gump sending his son off to his first day of school.
Gump’s disability is never explicitly stated but consists of a mental and physical component. His physical disability of a crooked and weak spine may be caused by polio or poliomyelitis. His mental disability is never defined beyond the information that his IQ is seventy-five, which is considered relatively low. Gump displays quite strong resilience towards prejudice and inequality that is perpetuated by society and has considerably high self-esteem. Multiple things contribute to this and include his mother’s upbringing and confidence in Gump, his lack of awareness in certain social situations, and the substantial success he finds in many activities including sports, business, and even in certain social contexts. The film places a significant amount of emphasis on Gump’s confidence and self-perception in his inability to determine the malice or intent of others, such as in the case of the desegregated schools in which Gump is ignorant of the need for racial division. Though it is not accurate and problematic to assume that lack of awareness and positive self-perception is always correlated in people with disabilities, it is the case for Gump.
In relation to family, Gump is dependent on his mother for most of his childhood. She is the primary reason for the improvement of his physical conditions and his ability to go to a public school. As he becomes older, Gump is quite independent and able to attend college with a scholarship, join the military, and work in multiple fields of employment from shrimping to newly emerging technology. The film shows the strain of Jenny’s and Gump’s relationship frequently. It is clear that Gump loves her and would like to be with her while Jenny frequently leaves him and depicts mixed signals. However, at the end of the film, Jenny and Gump marry and have a son together. When Jenny dies, Gump becomes his sole caregiver. His role evolves from being the one that is taken care of, to an independent self-caring individual to the caregiver of his child. He is depicted as being very capable of having and caring for a family. Gump is also able to pursue many facets of education and employment. He has a scholarship for his college education, joins and serves in the army, starts his own shrimping business, and begins to work with Apple. He has difficulty with general navigation of society and community, though he is unaware of this quite often.
The film depicts many prejudices and inequalities that Gump faced due to his disability as well as due to the social climate of the second half of the twentieth century. Gump’s integration into society is made difficult early on, with him being unable to attend a public school as well as being bullied by other kids in the neighborhood. During his young adult years, he is also often exploited by others, such as being used for his speed by a college coach and convinced to join the army by a recruiter. Though Gump may benefit from advancing the football team and army, his lack of understanding of the system was exploited in these cases. Upon returning from the war, Lieutenant Dan, who had lost his legs, and Gump meet. Both the Lieutenant and Gump face prejudice from prostitutes during this interaction.
Gump has multiple very close relationships, the one with Jenny being the most tumultuous and evolving. Overall, he is perceived by many as strange but approachable and friendly. This leads to many positive interactions that also lead to opportunities, such as his time playing ping-pong or gaining a kind of fame in the long run. As such, Gump is able to formulate many connections quite easily due to his down-to-earth attitude. However, his relationship with Jenny is quite complex and often hurtful, such as in the case where he confesses his love for her after which she states he doesn’t have the ability to love. It is clear that she does care for him, but leaves him multiple times during the film. Their relationship changes as Jenny introduces Gump to their son and it is Jenny who asks him to marry her. The two lived together until her death. Gump also has a close relationship with his friend Bubba and Lieutenant Dan, who eventually comes to terms with Gump saving his life.
The film depicts multiple societal issues during the film including racial discrimination, institutional and social prejudice towards the disabled, and gender issues. Some of the issues that are encountered include the careless attitude towards individuals with disabilities, especially children, such as when Gump is rejected from school and mistreated by other kids without consequence. Jenny’s abuse at home is also shown, and traces of it can be seen in her actions over the course of the film. Multiple political movements that promote anti-war sentiment and opposition to racial discrimination are also mentioned such as anti-war rallies, university desegregation, and the Black Panther Party. However, many of these depictions are surface-level and reduced to simple ideas. Though the accuracy is questionable, it is important to remember that most of the presentation of these issues is seen through the perspective of one particular character.
Gump is often not overly ambitious but successful in his endeavors and as such frequently generates outstanding results in whatever event or task he undertakes. Carl Roger’s person-centered therapy works to empower the patient from a belief that every individual is capable of reaching their desired potential (Noel, 2018). This narrative matches Gump’s confidence and mostly positive attitudes towards the world and could assist him in overcoming any difficulties or misconceptions he is likely to encounter in a complex society and his own self-image. In the film, Gump is often depicted as unaware but not helpless or stripped of power. He is often successful and happy due to coincidence and his good nature. He is quite heroic in the film, both in his ability to deal with bullies and prejudice and when saving his friends in the war. As an adult, he is still quite child-like and unintelligent but the film does not remove his romantic and sexual qualities. Overall, Gump is a very eccentric character that is not true to life, first evidenced by the fact that his disability is never really defined. Additionally, he exists in an oversimplified world of the twentieth century that is almost fairy-tale-like due to Gump’s luck in many interactions and opportunities. The portrayal can be viewed as positive due to the character having the flaws and strengths that many people have such as goodwill, naivety, and the need to be loved while not being demonized. However, it is an incomplete portrayal that simplifies and stereotypes a significant amount of behavior and presentation of people with disabilities. As such, the film should always be analyzed not as an example but as a very specific and interpretative take on an individual with disabilities in a complicated and changing time.
Noel, S. (2018). Person-Centered Therapy (Rogerian Therapy). GoodTherapy. Web.