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Blessed are the Gump in Heart

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The hero of Forrest Gump is a man with an IQ of 75 but a heart of gold who has an uncanny knack for being in the right place at the right time. Something about this unlikely protagonist connected with millions of people because the movie so far has grossed over a quarter of a billion dollars.

Why did Forrest Gump become such a sensation? The answer--like a box of chocolates--consists of assorted reasons.

An important reason is the extraordinary performance of the always likable Tom Hanks. For his heart-rending performance in last year's Philadelphia Hanks became an Oscar winner. He should be nominated again for this touching, humorous, winsome role as Forrest.

Another reason is the fascinating but unobtrusive special effects that put Forrest into a cornucopia of critical historical junctures such as teaching Elvis to dance, standing next to George Wallace, mooning Lyndon Johnson, playing ping pong in China, chatting with John Lennon, and shaking hands with Richard Nixon. The effects are not whiz-bang as in True Lies or Time Cop, but they impart quiet authenticity to this fascinating fable.

A third reason seems to be the movie's resonance with a popular backlash to our cultural cynicism and duplicity. The movie's functional message (heretical among Intertel and Mensa members) is it's better to be pure of heart than to be smart. Not that being smart is bad--Forrest himself wishes he were smarter, and his mother really put out to get him a decent education. But Forrest's life displays something higher than mere intelligence. That something is best expressed in the biblical aphorism, "Blessed are the pure in heart."

In Forrest's purity of heart the child-like man also personifies the eschatological vision of "a little child will lead them." Forrest's idiot-savant messiahship provides redemption for those around him. With his self-sacrificial courage Forrest saves his Vietnam War buddies, with his friendship he heals the soul of his bitter commanding officer, and finally with his everlasting love he redeems his soul-mate Jenny.

Is Forrest a role model? No and yes. Dumbness is no virtue, and the world already has too much of it. However, nobility, self-sacrifice, and genuineness are traits we could all strive to emulate.

Copyright 1994 Mark D. Stucky.
Originally published in Integra, Nov. 1994.

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