[Summary of the movie]      [Summary of the novel]    

[Narrative and visual techniques]
        [Hero or antihero?]        [The different endings]


Summary of the movie

  Born in Greenbow, Alabama in the early 50ies, Forrest Gump has a difficult childhood. His low intelligence and disabled feet give people the reason for teasing the boy. Only his mother, a proud single woman, believes in Forrest and wants her son to live a normal life.
Since his first day at school Forrest has been knowing Jenny Curan, a cute little girl, but she also suffers from terrible childhood experiences that mark her for life. 
In his teens Forrest Gump successfully plays for a football team after surmounting his physical handicap. In the army he meets his best friend Bubba, a young black soldier, who inspirates Forrest and his future life. After being sent to Vietnam, Forrest starts a shrimp business at the Golf Coast in order to keep Bubba’s spirit alive who did not survive the Vietnam War. Helped by his former Vietnam superior Lt. Dan, Forrest Gump accidentally earns a lot of money from his shrimp business.
But nevertheless, Forrest tries to live a simple life and all he wants is to meet Jenny again. He met her several times before, but they always separated for some reasons.
During his chequered life Forrest is an inspiration for many people although he himself does not realize the impact he leaves. Finally, Forrest meets Jenny again who surprisingly has got a child with Forrest. Only a little time after their marriage Jenny dies and for Forrest a totally new stage of life starts: the roll of a single father.

  It should also be mentioned that the movie is based on Forrest sitting at a bus stop in Savannah telling his life story to foreign people. His “present” life continues with the part where he meets his son for the first time.


Summary of the novel

  Forrest Gump is raised by his mother in Mobile, Alabama. Despite being an idiot with a low IQ – which he admits to be – he plays an important roll in the football team of the local high-school. There Forrest also meets Jenny and his friend Bubba, who teaches him how to play harmonica and inspires him to start a shrimp business. Forrest enters the army and is later sent to Vietnam, where he looses his best friend Bubba.
After some eventful years – Forrest plays ping pong in China, becomes member of Jenny’s band, is imprisoned after a Vietnam War demonstration – Forrest is kind of forced to join a NASA project. The mission that sent him together with a woman and an ape called Sue to space fails and after the return Forrest lives some years with a native tribe on a Pacific island.
After his rescue Forrest meets his friends again, Jenny and Dan, whom he knows from the army. Forrest becomes a wrestler, plays successfully chess and acts in a movie until he finds his right job: he starts a shrimp business at the Golf Coast. After unhurriedly working together with ape Sue, Forrest is getting more successful and employs his mother and most of his friends. He even could have become senator if his life before had not been so troublesome. On his holidays Forrest meets Dan and Jenny again. She is married now and raises Forrest’ child that he has not known about. The following weeks Forrest travels with Dan and Sue through the Mississippi region, living a simple but very happy life.            



Narrative and visual techniques

  Considering the narrative technique, movies and novels normally are totally different. What the viewer mostly hears in movies are dialogues between the actors, but there is hardly any narrator. Novels, on the other hand, can only be told by a narrator.

Watching a movie, the viewer is presented all pictures and dialogues, sometimes even music is used to achieve a deeper impact on the viewer. Whereas readers are supposed to do more brainwork: They have to elaborate the written descriptions and dialogues into pictures in their minds, not supported by the medium of music.

  In both the movie and the novel Forrest Gump, however, the protagonist is talking to the viewers/readers. The moviemakers used the so called technique of "voice over" which makes it possible for the viewers to hear the protagonist’s thoughts and comments. As a consequence, we can easily enter the protagonist’s world and see things from his point of view.

  The author of the novel chose a first person narrator to achieve the same effect. The narrator – identical with the protagonist in this case – is restricted, which means that he only knows what is going on around him and cannot know what is happening on different places at the same time.  

      See the difference between movie and novel!

Hero or antihero?

One interesting fact to think about is the question whether we should see Forrest as hero or as antihero. 
But the question probably will be answered differently by the individual reader or viewer. As I already mentioned before: For some, Forrest is just an idiot, for others he is the embodyment of the American Dream.
The one thing I can do is to list some arguments that speak for or against Forrest being a hero. 

Generally, a hero is a strong and brave protagonist, being somehow better than the other characters. But especially in our modern times, a hero need not always show strength and courage. So, even the definition of hero is not the same for different individuals. 
In the movie Forrest very often appears as hero: he is a successful football player, he saves the lives of several Vietnam soldiers, he appears like a messiah running through the states followed by a crowd of inspirated people, ...
On the other hand, there a several scenes where Forrest rather seems to be an antihero. As a boy and even as a grown-up he flees from his teasing schoolmates, or simply the fact that he lives his life aimlessly and not realizing what is going on also seems to be antiheroic. 

The same differenciation can be done for the novel with the same results: we actually do not know in which category the protagonist is to be put. 
But one thing I can say for sure. The Hollywood movie rather describes Forrest as a hero. This can be seen in the ending, where the protagonist finally - after his turbulent life - finds a home and considerately takes care of his son. For some, it could seem heroic indeed, to experience those things that Forrest did in his life despite his handicaps. 
In the novel Forrest remains as naiv unintelligent person, moving around aimlessly - or "living above the clouds". 

Forrest and the American Dream

The American Dream is the idea that the US is a place where everyone has the chance of becoming rich and successful.

For both the novel and the movie protagonist this dream comes true: they become rich and successful despite their low level of intelligence. The only strange thing about it is the fact that both protagonists never intended to live the American Dream, neither do they realize it. 

The different endings 


Although movie and novel in general are very similar it is surprising that the endings are arranged in totally different ways.

  The ending of the novel is very open. In short, Forrest divides his money from the successfully running shrimp business among three of his best friends and decides to go on vacation. He starts travelling through the United States and this is actually what he did all his life: Going from one place to another, mostly not knowing or realizing why and not bothering about what could happen the following day.

Forrest remains an idiot in the novel. He has achieved most goals an average American would never have thought it possible - but he has never realized this. Although he is a millionaire he lives in the parks, earning his daily bread from playing music in the streets.

Interestingly, the two final destinations of Forrest’ travel the novel mentions are in the Mississippi region, namely Memphis and New Orleans.   

"... Now they don't give a shit what you do in New Orleans, an the three of us is havin the time of our lifes, playin ever day in Jackson Sqare an watchin the other fruitcakes do they thing..."

         read more about Forrest' music.......


The movie’s ending is more closed and I think the reason why simply is that a Hollywood movie cannot end as open as the novel does. Moviegoers demand closed endings to being able to leaving the movie theatre without bothering about the protagonist’s future.

The moviemakers also elaborated more happiness into the ending. Forrest whose life is full of tragedy – growing up without father, being partly mentally and physically disabled, loosing his best friend, his mother and his wife – deserves more cheerfulness in his life. Now, we could argue that Forrest already had a lot of cheerful moments in his life, considering the success in playing football and ping pong, being a Vietnam War hero, or the wealth he gets from shrimp business. But these are achievements which he does not totally realize and therefore are a matter of indifference to him.

So the most important turning point in his life is becoming a father. That is also the point where Forrest becomes mature. In the roll as father Forrest does not play the idiot any longer. He even  starts thinking himself, in a philosophical way, not only repeating what other people said to him before.  

"... I don't know if momma was right or just Lt. Dan. I don't know if we each have a destiny or if lot is floating round accidentally like on a breeze. 
But I think maybe it's both. Maybe both is happening at the same time..."

Having a permanent domicile in Greenbow, Alabama and taking care of his son, Forrest starts living a decent grown-up life.   

        Sweet Home Alabama 

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