A Smarter, Better Forrest Gump

The ButlerSome people are addicted to alcohol, or crack, or Cheetos, or Twinkies, or bad relationships, or, according to some weird show I watched, eating toilet paper.  Not me.  My big, dark, scary addiction is biopics.  Ok, so I would eat my own weight in Twinkies if I found a palatable gluten free version, but Twinkies truly aren’t my number one addiction.  Seriously, if a movie is advertised as “based on a true story,” I will immediately run out and apply for a loan so I can afford to go to the theater AND have popcorn. As we all know, it costs approximately $35,000.52 to see a movie, and get popcorn and a soda.

So, if you know me at all, you know that Forrest Gump has been my favorite movie since 1994. It is a love I have passed down to my son.  He and I frequently run lines from the movie together.  We take turns being Forrest or Lt. DanForrest Gump is a movie that needs a lot of analysis to fully “get.”  If you think it is just a dumb movie about a Southern idiot, you don’t “get” it.  If you think the feather floating around is just a feather, you really don’t “get” it.  Sometimes, I think only English majors and their offspring truly understand the symbolism of this film. Well, I imagine that the history buffs probably like it, too.  Even though Forrest Gump is not “based on a true story” it has a lot of actual historical events throughout the film.  The same could be said for The Butler. Here is a little article that talks about the differences between the movie and “reality.”  It even mentions the Forrest Gump connection.  So, I guess I’m not alone in this theory. The Butler

The Butler is one of those movies that makes me feel like I have done absolutely nothing with my life. I find that to be motivating rather than depressing. I have two college degrees, and I work from home, I take care of 5 pets, a teen son, and a husband, but what do I do besides stare at screens, clean, and shove food in my face? No, gym people, I’m not saying I need to cut out carbs and run a marathon.   I’m saying I think we all need to do something for people. The funny thing is that the character in The Butler, Louis, who does the most for other people is not a real person.  See the link at the end of the paragraph above, if you haven’t already.

The bottom line is if you haven’t seen The Butler, you should.  It’s not entirely a real story, but it’s a good story, just like Forrest Gump, but with a more intelligent main character.  The Butler focuses a lot on the history of race relations in this country, and by history of race relations I am talking about the fact that people have been treated like dirt simply because they have a darker complexion.  That is one of the best reasons to watch the movie, other than to see the amazing make-up work done to age Forrest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey, the butler and his wife, roughly 50 years during the course of the film, or to see John Cusack as Nixon.  The film discusses racial hatred, but it also focuses on love, and the fact that love does win.  Always. 

2 thoughts on “A Smarter, Better Forrest Gump

  1. Your thoughts on The Butler are helping me think more deeply about history and historicity, how we narrate the events of the past. I’m writing our faculty blog entry to come out around Sept. 11, and the writing issue I’d like to explore is how we participate in the story-telling act that is “making history,” whether that history-making is in acting (like pulling people out of a building about to crumble), reporting (like Peter Jennings, who solidified his role as a hero of mine that day), and listening (which is all we could do in my high school calculus class that morning). Later on, after we’d gotten some kind of consistent narrative about the historic event, we could start talking (although that didn’t stop my high school classmates from talking meaningless stuff to pass the time, to joke, to deal with the isolation in some way- I suspect that with smart phones and social media things might have been even more chatty in our classes). The reason I find this blog post inspirational is that it helps me think about how we move from listening to the story as it’s unfolding to joining in the story-telling later. Forrest Gump was a participant in history, of course, but he just happened to be on David Frost when Lennon was, and he found out later that that man had been shot. He wasn’t there when it happened; he didn’t need to be. He was as involved in these historic events and in the lives of these remarkable people enough to be part of the audience, to listen first. Now, of course Forrest was active, too- he ran the ball down the field for Bear Bryant, and as a Bama grad who attended plenty of games (stone cold sober, too!) I can tell you that running the ball for the Tide is not easy, even though watching someone run the ball to the end zone is pretty intense in itself. Forrest carried a man from bullets and explosions in Vietnam. He did things. His role in history, though, is the same as his role in the film- story-telling. That crucial duty of narrating what has happened is why Forrest never had to be a real person- it doesn’t matter that he’s fictional, because narrative is more important than fiction or nonfiction, you know? Using a fictional character to tell the stories of events that actually happened is a powerful art that has existed since the first stories were told. I’m glad to see Hollywood still embraces this kind of narrative.

    1. Me too! Movies like this are great for people like me who never paid attention in history class. I would much rather learn about things this way, than by reading a dull history text. I’m glad there is another movie like this. Otherwise, I would need to keep watching Forrest over and over again, not that there’s anything wrong with that. 🙂

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