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Geeky Parent Guide: Exploring Strength of Character on ‘Forrest Gump’s 25th Anniversary

Forrest Gump is celebrating its 25th anniversary this July, and for someone that saw it four times in theater (at age 14), it’s a perfect time to review the significance of this movie to parents and their kids. Tom Hanks is the titular character in this film, earning him the Academy Award (1994) that was his second in back-to-back years.

Forrest Gump is a story about a boy that was deemed to have less-than-average intelligence, but who has the everlasting heart we only hope to aspire to. Forrest is a character that battles bullying and constantly has everyone expecting less from him because of his view of the world. Despite being labeled with less-than-average intelligence, Forrest has an ability to complete tasks at greater speeds than his peers, whether it be running, playing ping pong, or assembling a rifle while serving in the Army.

This movie highlights to families that anything is possible, simply by believing in it or getting up and doing it, like running coast to coast across the country several times. As he says in the film, “I just felt like running.” He didn’t do it for fame and the followers that joined him on his journey. Forrest, whether he’s coping with loss or happy about seeing a friend, his responses are his own. His actions are always shown as being what’s best and that usually means helping others. His ability to run back into a jungle after being overrun by the enemy in the Vietnam War is selfless and courageous, and his only thought is to save his friend, Bubba. He doesn’t recognize the potential for injury or death. Forrest tries to do what he can for as long as he can until he finds his best friend – trying to make sure Bubba can make it home.

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Beyond Forrest’s hardships, other characters like Jenny and Lieutenant Dan provide excellent examples of individuals who struggle with traumatic experiences in their lives. Jenny is the love of Forrest’s life, and her portrayal by Robin Wright depicts a character who struggles with drugs and domestic violence, after experiencing child abuse at a very young age. Although it’s apparent that Forrest views Jenny as “peas and carrots,” otherwise known as best friends, and he wants nothing but the best for her, it’s obvious that Jenny is independent and determined to find her way in life that works for her, and no one else. Truly understanding the scope of someone who has gone through any kind of abuse isn’t necessarily possible, but this role seems to identify Jenny’s strength to continue pushing forward in life through difficult times, ultimately finding a way to be happy.

Jenny is a very significant character, because it’s difficult to see someone who is somewhat trapped in their life, especially when it involves child abuse. Despite this awful point in her life, Jenny seems to find herself – in a way that provides clarity for herself and the viewer. Life is not simple and, in some cases, choices are made that do not improve the longevity or quality of life; however, parents will appreciate this movie because their kids will be able to see what it’s like to be sincere and realize that past mistakes or harships do not have to define us forever – change is possible. It’s also significant to see Jenny find a way to move forward after a horrific childhood, discovering some kind of inner peace along the way.

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Lieutenant Dan is another character who has to overcome extraordinary trauma. As a team leader in a unit within the Vietnam War, Lt. Dan extends from a long line of family members who have died in wars throughout history. This dramatic and dark past leads him to be fixated on this point after Forrest saves him during battle where he would have died. Despite the “destiny” associated with his would-be death, Lieutenant Dan must learn to cope with the fact that his timeline is meant to last longer than he anticipated.

Lt. Dan is an exceptional character, played by Gary Sinise (nominated for Best Actor in a Supporting Role), who understands the nature of leading men into battle, while expecting a different outcome. Although Forrest saves Lt. Dan’s life in this film, he must come to terms with the result of being rescued after devastating injuries to his legs. Parents can truly highlight anger to their kids, sharing how having such enormous losses can affect how people perceive the world. His world is turned upside down, and he attempts to deal with it through anger and alcohol.

One of the most significant moments in this film happens when Lt. Dan seems to finally accept his life, understanding that his life was saved and he would live after a debilitating injury. “I never thanked you for saving my life.” This simple line translates to the viewer in such an epic way for several reasons. First, Forrest Gump isn’t expecting or wanting a “thank you” for doing something he considered his duty. Second, Lieutenant Dan’s gruff exterior definitely highlights the stresses associated with such a traumatic injury from war, and his ability to sidestep those feelings to recognize another person is quite remarkable to see. The moment presents itself in such a way that is almost healing for the viewer, so families can sit, watch, and understand the gravity of words that are more than just a simple “thanks.”

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With these two amazing roles accompanying the title character, there are a variety of opportunities to highlight to kids or teens that life isn’t always what we expect. In those moments, we see the true character of a person. Did Forrest Gump truly expect or believe that he would be on a college football team or enter into the Vietnam War? No, but those circumstances did not change the seemingly positive attitude that resonates so clearly throughout the film.

Forrest, often ridiculed, does not disparage those who mock him. He continues to push ahead, using kind words to others in the hopes of meeting new people and being open to those who want to be in his life, even if they’re just sitting next to each other at a bus stop. Although Jenny and Lt. Dan do not always mesh with Forrest, he continues to want them in his life. When Forrest sees Jenny in Washington, D.C., and rushes to her side in the middle of a speech, it highlights that his love for her never wavers beyond the scopes of space and time. When Lt. Dan appears on a dock as Forrest captains his new shrimping boat, the exuberance from Forrest leads him to leave his ship unattended, solely to see and welcome Dan to his new home.

Forrest Gump is a classic film that explores a time in our lives, much like today, that explores civil rights, loss of life and friendships, and the constant battle that comes with improving ourselves in the face of conflict or change.

Although there are some mature moments not appropriate for young children, this movie provides excellent moments for parents to share with their older kids, to highlight that life is full of various choices and one choice doesn’t have to define who we are. As parents, we’re equally vulnerable to making mistakes or not always seeing the good in all things, but Forrest Gump resembles just that – to be good to others and discover a life that makes us happy.

Have your kids watched Forrest Gump? What was their experience like compared to your own? If you like this content and want to see more movie experiences with the Geeky Parent Guide, share your thoughts in the comments below or find us on Facebook and Twitter to give us a follow.

Until next time, happy parenting and happy geeking.


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