Forrest Gump and Social Change

A lot has been written about Forrest Gump, from it’s winning the Best Film Oscar over Pulp Fiction to it’s (arguably) dubious right wing politics. Personally, I love the film as much as I love Pulp Fiction, and have seen it waaaay more times. I loved it when I was 10, I’ll love it when I’m 90 (assuming I reach that age and movies still exist) and it makes me blub like a little girl.

Banksy: cool + bananas = cool?

As for the politics, Tom Hanks, an active Democrat , does not feel the film is right wing. However, the writer of the book “Forrest Gump”, Winston Groom, has written a hagiography for teenagers on that intellectual titan, and father of the modern world,  Ronald Reagan.
Anyway, there’s a PHD in discussing Forrest Gump’s politics, views on race, cinematography, influence, innovative use of CGI, place in popular culture etc. etc. so I want to focus on just two characters and what they say about the social and technological change that occurred in the period between 1950s and early 1980s (the period in which the film is set).

The two characters I choose are Lieutenant Dan, an important supporting character, and, perhaps more surprisingly, Bubba’s Momma. Why these two? Well these are the only two characters that have a scene showing their ancestors repeating the same actions over again.

Lieutenant Dan’s ancestors are shown dying in “every… single… American war”. Each one of these ancestors is played by Gary Sinese (Lieutenant Dan).

Bubba’s Momma is shown cooking shrimp, then her momma is shown cooking shrimp and Forrest mentions “her momma before her momma too” cooked shrimp. Each one of Bubba’s Momma’s ancestors is shown serving shrimp to a rich white man.

So, we have two characters who are shown (using the visual technique of the character’s ancestors repeating actions in different periods) to be .stuck in a seemingly inescapable cycle So what happens to them?

Well, after being wounded in battle, Lieutenant Dan is saved by Forrest Gump. He loses the lower part of both of his legs and is left disabled. Now, it could be argued that in the past Lieutenant Dan would have died of his wounds but now, due to medical science, he is able to live.

Lieutenant Dan, is not happy with this state of affairs, feeling he has been cheated from his destiny, and is now, in his words, a “cripple”. This situation again improves with Lieutenant Dan getting “magic legs” and being able to walk at then end of the film. As before, these would not have been available to Lieutenant Dan but for the advances in medical science and for Forrest’s amazing talents and incredible luck making Lieutenant Dan a millionaire.

“Magic Legs”

Bubba’s Momma also becomes a millionaire, as Forrest decides to give her Bubba’s share of his shrimping fortune. When receiving this she comically faints and is shown reversing history, in that it is now she who lives in fancy house and is served shrimp by a white woman (not a white man, but lets not get into that…).

Now, we can see Forrest’s influence on Bubba’s Momma’s position but would it even have been possible for Bubba’s Momma to attain her new social status before the period of the film? In Alabama, the deep south of America, with it’s Jim Crow laws and overt racism (shown in the film when black students first go the University of Alabama) it seems unlikely.

The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company is now a real thing. Of course it is.

So we can see that both Lieutenant Dan and Bubba’s Momma have managed to change their previously fated positions in life through the mediums of technological change (Lieutanant Dan) and social change (Bubba’s Momma). They, Lieutenant Dan and Bubba’s Momma, were both hard working, passionate people – which can be seen from Dan’s commitment to his troop and Bubba’s Momma imparting so much knowledge of shrimp onto Bubba – but they still would not have managed to have this happen without the semi-magical abilities of Forrest Gump.

So what conclusions can we draw from these cases? Well, Forrest Gump suggest that the 60’s – 80’s offered real opportunities to improve your lot but you needed plenty of luck for it to happen. Preferably in the form of a magical idiot-savant.

Moonrise Kingdom – Some Thoughts

So I went to see Moonrise Kingdom on Saturday. Don’t worry, there will be no spoilers. It’s perhaps the most Wes Anderson of Wes Anderson films. In fact The AV Club asserts that Moonrise Kingdom shows that it is possible for Wes Anderson to make a film that’s too Wes Anderson-y.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the film’s release coincided with  Wes Anderson Bingo app. Cross off when you see Children-Like-Adults, Adult-Like-Children, *does a quick google*,  Dated Audio Equipment, Symmetrical Framing etcetera, etcetera.

Moonrise Kingdom begins with the now standard Anderson touch of having the main set in the film opened up like a dollhouse. During this long sequence we are introduced to some of the film’s protagonists, but mainly we’re introduced to their quirky world; we see some children’s interest in a Benjamin Britten “learn how an orchestrial piece works”  lP played on a portable record player and another ignoring them reading a fantasy book. It is interesting to note that here all the characters are interested in their own pursuits, not at all in interacting with each other.

Dated audio equipment and a little snatch of the ol’ dollhouse feel

I’ve read that Anderson has his character’s say what they are actually thinking, rather than what they are expected to say. This leads to some hilariously frank exchanges but, strangely, no one seems insulted by each others frankness. This got me to thinking: there appears to be no small talk or niceties in Wes Anderson’s films. Almost all dialogue is functional and related to a character’s desires. Paradoxically*, for me this is best highlighted during a letter writing exchange between the two young love birds in Moonlight Kingdom –  their writing seemed so much mroe fluid and expressive than any of their actual conversations,or indeed any of the other conversations in the film.

A further scene that stuck out for me is when the two be-teenaged leads go hiking and camp. Everything they do and say is focussed on the act of hiking or camping (not that there aren’t little touches of affection) without any unnecessary chatter.  I was reminded of the zen proverb that one should avoid any idle talk, which, unfortunately, is usually the only kind of talk I engage in. I almost envied the ability to be in the moment.

Increasingly, it seems every character in a Wes Anderson film, whether authority figurs or not, is capable of bizarre or irrational behaviour. All of them seem to end up being dragged into the plot and none attack the ridiculousness of what may be going on. Whereas in his earlier film, Rushmore, we had a character, Miss Cross , who almost reacted as a real human being would, all his characters now seem to be at the whims of Anderson and his writing partner(s) and just follow where the plot will take them.

Miss Cross smoking in Rushmore. It’s funny she’s called Miss Cross when she’s obsessed by here dead husband, Edward Appleby…

Whilst watching , I began to think that Moonrise Kingdom was very much like a film someone with Asperger’s would make. All the characters are absorbed in their own interests; talk is functional and not person centered; all the shots are just-so; everything is very otherwordly. Not that I’m suggesting Anderson has Aperger’s but his films are all internally consistent and Anderson has complete control over all aspects and people say exactly what they mean. These things, along with the dollhouse introduction put me in my mind of someone telling themselves a story in a world, where whilst there’s still injustice, everything makes sense.

I don’t know what I gain from this insight.

It’s nice to visit Anderson’s world every now and again and see how well he plays in his toy box. I think it’s great that he can make major Hollywood movies and wish there were more filmmakers that were as unique and stylised like him. I’m just glad that not every film is exactly like one of his.

*I hate using the term paradoxically but I just felt like it here.