Now we come to the final week in our “Choose Life” series on “Reel Christianity”, asking: What is God’s way for us to live? Does He determine everything beforehand, or does He let us have our own way entirely to make our own life choices? We’ve looked at movies that talk about both sides, but… what if it’s both? What if there’s a balance between God making a way for us and us making a way for ourselves? That is the question that today’s film, the iconic “Forrest Gump”, asks.
Tom Hanks plays the title character, an unintelligent mama’s boy in 1950’s Alabama who experiences a lot in his first few decades of life. Despite his low intelligence, he gets into a public school. He meets Elvis when he stays at his house, which Forrest’s mother opens for temporary rooms. He falls in love with one girl, Jenny (played mostly by Robin Wright), whose father is an abusive alcoholic that paves the way for Jenny’s rocky young way. And Forrest has to wear leg braces to straighten his legs—which he one days breaks by running away very, very fast from some school bullies.
Forrest gets older and plays football in high school and college (drafted only for his speed). Jenny goes to an all-girl college but still starts having one-night stands with men. They graduate school, but Forrest is drafted into the Vietnam War while Jenny stays in the States and lives like a hippie, clothes and drugs and all. Forrest meets Bubba (Mykelti Williamson), a hopeful shrimp boat captain who is killed in the Vietnam jungle, prompting Forrest to continue Bubba’s dream of having a shrimp company. Forrest also meets Lieutenant Dan Taylor (Gary Sinise) in Vietnam, and Forrest rescues him during a battle even though Lt. Dan, eventually having to get both legs amputated below the knees, shouts at Forrest to leave him so he can die in war along with his ancestors.
While in rehab after getting shot in Vietnam, Forrest picks up ping-pong and represents the United States Army in international ping-pong competitions, interviews, and award ceremonies. So in the process, he meets three presidents, inspires John Lennon to write his song “Imagine”, and calls the staff of his hotel one night (Watergate) to alert them of what looks like a break-in. Forrest eventually goes home, stays with his mom as she slowly passes away, and sees Jenny after she has slept with many men, done many drugs, and almost committed suicide. He asks her to marry him one night, but she lightly declines. But that night, she goes to his room and lies with him.
Forrest then proceeds to run across America, see Jenny again after she has regained herself and her life (though she has contracted HIV), and finds out that he and Jenny had a son, whom she named Forrest (Haley Joel Osment). And as Jenny starts dying, she and Forrest finally are married, and the two Forrest Gumps start their life together without Jenny.
Whoa. That’s a mouthful. Forrest Gump does a lot in this movie, if you couldn’t tell already. So what can we take away from this? Well, one thing I’ll talk about now is the ideas that Lt. Dan and Forrest’s mother represent. Dan tells Forrest that it was his “destiny” to die on the battlefield and that Forrest cheated him out of it by rescuing him in that jungle. (Eventually, Lt. Dan meets up with Forrest again, assisting him on the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company boat and helping the company get really stinking rich.)
Forrest’s mother, on the other hand, as she lies on her deathbed, tells Forrest that he shouldn’t be afraid of death, that he should just keep on living and doing the best with what God gave him. She doesn’t exactly believe in a destiny. And Forrest is prompted to gather these thoughts as he stands before Jenny’s grave and talks to her:
FORREST: Jenny, I don’t know if Mama was right, or if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze. But I-I think, maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.
A month ago, I expressed my views on the balance between predestination and free will in my article on “A Clockwork Orange”. But basically, I believe that God created us and knows what paths we each will want to take in our lives and also the paths that He desires for us. But it is ultimately our choice which path we will take. And my prayer for you today is that if you struggle with knowing God’s path, that you will choose to surrender to it. It may be hard, it may cost you, but it will all be worth it in the end. Thanks for reading.