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Forrest Gump Historical Events Essay

History Sample Essay

In current age of ubiquitous spread of mass culture, cinema as its most popular and widespread carrier is a rich source of information; moreover, it can be even said that the movie is the mirror of the history because every time period has it’s the most prominent movies which depict reality in rather interesting and realistic way. It is a well-known fact that in a world of rapidly evolving technology and the rapid pace of life, when the printed word, unfortunately, is relegated to the background, the movie takes on a special role in shaping the world outlook of whole generations. Reality in art culture is the most important aesthetic and philosophical problem. Version of reality in a “big staged life” – in particular, on the screen – defines our relationship to reality and this reality by itself. All of us know that our whole life is stereotyped, and whatever is our attitude to stereotypes, they became an evaluative criterion of reality, while many judgments about historical facts, events, personalities, the own and other peoples are made on their base. So, cinema, being mouthpiece of the most common and widespread stereotypes, is a very bright example of the practical application of stereotypical thinking. But even in such a context, many movies can give their viewers rather realistic picture of past life, motivating people to explore the most interesting moments using historical evidences and documents. Thus, the thesis of the essay is the following: cinema, being a carrier of new information, can not only realistically depict historical events of the past, but it also motivates people to plunge into historical events with more attention and interest, helping people to make a first step in exploring life through the prism different from their ordinary view on events.

Besides the fact that cinema has always been and remains one of the most popular media aimed at a broad audience, from the first minute of its existence, it is ranked among the arts, which it remains still, despite all the controversy that is conducted in this regard. Do not going into details in reflections on the right to existence of a so-called “mass culture,” it should be admitted that the products of Hollywood long won viewers around the world and successfully retain their primacy on the silver screens, despite attempts to resist the spread of American culture, which outpost, in fact, is the “Dream Factory”.

Of course, there exist many American films which greatly depict the history of time period from 1863-2013, but we can not analyze all of them by the reason that it will take thousands of pages; so, we are going to dwell on a film that not only demonstrated historical events from interesting and extraordinary point, but also forced publicity to discuss it in hot debates. The film of our discussion is “Forrest Gump” directed by Robert Zemeckis in 1994. The film is made in several genres because it combined in itself epic and romantic elements, while attentive viewer can also see in it elements of both comedy and drama. The film “Forrest Gump” was created on the base of the Winston Groom’s novel of the same title, but the novel was written in 1986[1]. Being short, we can note that the story presented in the film depicts several not easy decades from the life of Forrest Gump, who is rather naïve and slow-witted man, and who receives an opportunity to witness the changes of the world in the period of the latter half of the XX th century in the United States.

As we know from the history course, the time period of the latter half of the XX th century was full of different events, and the film “Forrest Gump” has a complex plot, while it includes multilevel depiction of events, and is considered to be the film with elements of parable. For instance, focusing on the film’s details, we can say that the movie allows its viewers to learn the history of the United States through its scenes. Many events are mentioned in the film such as segregation, the Vietnam War, flower child movement, the Black Panthers, the Watergate scandal, etc. Even favorite American entertainments such as American football or idols of those times period are not forgotten to be depicted in the plot. Moreover, the film also includes mentioning of the best American movies, quotes of which are widely used in the film (for example, the scene in the camp, where pictures from “Apocalypse Now” to the music of Wagner are used as the background. The film is full of humor, both lying on the surface and veiled, while humor is frankly black and satirical. A huge number of minor characters appear in the frame once, giving people a chance to recognize them.

To continue, the filmmakers used a specific technique of insert of documentary shots for the purpose to create an illusion of reality. For instance, scenes seem to be rather real when Forrest gives an interview to John Lennon, or when he is rewarded to the audiences with four (!) Presidents of the USA. And of course, one of the best scenes is a demonstration of his combat wounds (in the buttocks) to the President Jackson. All scenes are imbued with nostalgia – clothes, cars, houses, and all situations are very carefully recreated. Moreover, the film has also a lot of hints and allusions that can be hardly seen for the first glance. For instance, the wife of the lieutenant looks like Yoko Ono, while “fruit” company whose shareholder is Forrest, has an apple logo (Apple).

In addition, the longer a person watches “Forrest Gump”, the more doubts appear in mental retardation of the main hero. He, who recognizes every person to be a good man and ready to believe to everything said to him, becomes inflexible when his moral principles are threaten by different circumstances and situations.[2] Forrest Gump is able to distinguish good from evil in a very good way, and whenever he opts for good. Of course, it can be said that such a choice seems to be idiotic, unprofitable, absurd, and it is also possible to realize that the main hero’s choice is the only true (if we remember about the conscience, of course). We may decide that the hero has low self-esteem, but it is possible to say that he is a modest man. We may think that he is hayseed, and we can also note that he is responsible and honest. We can conclude that he is a moron, but at the same time we see that he is a sage.

Everything depends on the ability of the person to interpret actions of people around him because every person finds in others those features that disturb him or hurt him, the same situation with the depiction of historical events. If a person knows something about historical period depicted in the movie, he will find many evidences to own thoughts, but if the person knows nothing than he will considers everything to be a truth and will compose the own picture of the described events in a very limited format. So, some people, characterizing the image of Forrest Gump could say that fools are always lucky, but having other attitude to people and surrounding reality, we may say that he deserved it.

The movie is significant in the context of the historical period we are studying because it not only attracts many viewers, but it also opens other side of well-known events. Very often historical documents demonstrate us only facts, dates and dry facts, while we can better understand something and form the own opinion on the base of emotions. Of course, the film can not be considered to be the ultimate truth because filmmakers showed their own subjective position regarding historical events and the place of every hero in them, but such films widen the world outlook of ordinary person, forcing him or her to remember the past events, and maybe even to look for additional details to understand sense of some scenes, words, and components better.

And finally, if we consider the movie “Forrest Gump” carefully, we will enjoy the deepest, fascinating stories about the amazing and beautiful country with a rich history, the country populated by normal people with the same troubles and joys. So, even a foreign viewer, who has never been in the United States, may “touch” the country’s history through watching this film. To add, the film allows people to ponder the eternal truths, to cry and laugh during its watching, and to understand that this film-parable was filmed by a person who sincerely respects, loves and understands his country. Moreover, the filmmakers’ love for the country is not melodramatic scenes, not jingoism, and not politically correct talk shop, but it is sober, ironic, sometimes cynical view of the country’s problems and their causes. And a great desire to understand these problems made the film a subject of many debates from the day of its production till our times.

In conclusion, we have demonstrated that cinema plays a significant role in considering and understanding many historical events. Moreover, we have also proved the thesis that cinema, depicting dry facts and dates in emotional and its specific way made really interested people to begin their own searches of the truth, while it can be also added that cinema even makes much more people researchers and historians in their hearts and minds. We illustrated our discussions by the use of the movie “Forrest Gump”, and demonstrated with its help that it is not always necessary to be a hero, but it always necessary to stay a real man in spite of all hardships and problems on the way to success and survival.

[1] Vicki K. Janik and Emmanuel S. Nelson, Fools and Jesters in Literature, Art, and History: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook. (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998).

[2] Owen W. Gilman, Vietnam and the Southern Imagination. (Manchester, England: University Press of Mississippi, 1992).

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Historical References in the Movie

Elivs Presley

In the movie Elvis Presley comes to stay at the Boarding Home that the Gumps run. Young Forrest dances in a very odd way while Elvis plays the guitar. This eventually inspires Elvis Presley to find new dance moves similar to those that Forrest showed him. Although this did not happen in reality. Elvis Presley was one of the greatest revolutions in Rock and Roll and Pop culture. He was known for his very suggestive dancing such as the pelvic thrust and many other similar forms of dancing. He was one of the most famous musicians and it can be argued that he still is one of the most famous musicians of all time.

The Klu Klux Klan

In the movie Forrest Gump claims that his mother named him after Civil war hero, Nathan Bedford Forrest. This man was the person who founded the Klu Klux Klan during the 1800's. In the movie, Forrest Gump is actually superimposed onto a picture from the movie, Birth of a Nation of Nathan Bedford Forrest as can be seen in the picture on the left. Birth of a Nation was one of the most controversial movies of all time as it was essentially a reverse where it portrayed evil as the hero. For example, the movie portrayed members of the KKK as heroes to African Americans. It showed how slavery and several other evil actions that have been committed were good things. It was controversial because it sympathized with the evil and went against what the population considered to be inhumane. 

The Black Panther Party

In the movie, Jenny takes Forrest Gump to a meeting of the Black Panther Party. The Black Panther Party was an African American revolutionary leftist organization from 1966-1982. They believed in preventing racism against blacks, and that all blacks deserved to be treated equally to whites in society. The group was specifically known for its rhetoric, military posture and its way of expressing their beliefs. As you can see in the picture to the left, the movie portrays the Black Panther Party's military posture by showing them dressed up in military uniforms. 

The Hippie Movement

After Jenny leaves Forrest, he soon finds her associating herself with the Hippie Culture in an Anti-Vietnam War rally. The Hippie movement did actually occur in the Untied States. During the mid-1960's a hippie subculture started to emerge among the youth population. The main belief that they expressed was their anti-sentiments towards the war in Vietnam. The Hippie's  created their own social groups, listened to psychedelic rock, embraced the sexual revolution and used drugs such as marijuana, LSD, and "magic mushrooms" to explore other states of consciousness. In the movie, Forrest Gump is about to give a speech on his feelings about the war in Vietnam, when the speaker system malfunctions and his speech is never heard. This actually happened during the congregation in Washington D.C. where the speaker malfunctioned when a soldier was about to give his opinions on the war. People believed that government officials were behind this event as they did not want the truth about the war in Vietnam war to get out to the rest of the United States population.

John Lennon

In the movie Forrest Gump is asked to sit in on a television interview with John Lennon and Dick Carret. John Lennon was an English musician and singer who was one of the founding members of The Beatles. With Beatle Fellow, Paul McCartney, he formed one of the most successful songwriting partnerships of the 20th century. The Beatles were very famous in the pop culture world. Lennon was known for his rebellious nature and his criticism of the Vietnam War. His criticism was so harsh that the Nixon administration attempted to deport him back to England so that he would cause no more issues. Unfortunately Lennon was shot by Mark David Chapman on December 8th 1980 in his New York apartment.

Vietnam War 1955-1975

Forrest Gump enlists in the army where he is sent to the front line in Vietnam. The Vietnam War was one of the most controversial armed conflicts during the 20th century. Many people were against the war as they believed that the soldiers were only being sent to their deaths, and that the war was not very productive for the United States. Many of the soldiers returned home only to be called by protesters as "baby killers." The war first started towards the end of the Cold War when the United States attempted at eliminating any Communist Presence in Vietnam. The main presidents during this war were President Lyndon B. Johnson and President Nixon who were known for authorizing hundreds of thousands of troops to be sent to Vietnam.  President Nixon was known for his idea of "Vietnamization" where he would gradually bring troops from Vietnam home and end the war soon. 

Watergate Scandal

In the movie, Forrest Gump witnesses the Watergate Scandal from the Watergate hotel. The Watergate scandal was a political scandal during the 1970's which involved a break-in of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Office Complex in Washington D.C. After investigation it was found out that President Nixon was aware of this and that several members of the Committee to Re-elect the President had participated in this break-in. Further in the Investigation it was revealed that every conversation in the oval office was taped and that Nixon was supposed to hand over those tapes. Nixon did hand them over but it was found that there were huge gaps in the tapes and that Nixon had not provided the full evidence. Soon after the investigation Nixon resigned as president of the United States.

Smiley Face

In the movie, a man asks Forrest Gump for ideas of T-shirt designs. Forrest Gump wipes his muddy face on a T-shirt and the movie shows a smiley face on the T-shirt. which soon becomes a famous and very popular symbol in the United States It is during the 1970's that the smiley face was invented to show a stylized representation of a smiling human face. It is also attributed with the quote "Have a Nice Day!" which also became a very popular saying in American Society. The unhappy smiley face was actually introduced in 1953 before the happy smiley face which was introduced to popular culture in 1958.

Ping Pong Diplomacy

In the movie, Forrest Gump becomes very adept at playing ping pong. In fact, he is so good that he is asked to play on the American team against the Chinese. This is a clear parallel to the term Ping Pong Diplomacy which was used between the Americans and the Chinese. The term comes from an incident when American Ping Pong player, Glenn Cowan missed his team bus during the 31st World Table Tennis Championship. He then is forced to take the Chinese team buss where he talks with Zhuang Zhedong through an interpreter. Soon after it was agreed that the American table tennis team would also be used for foreign affairs by playing with members of the Chinese team. This soon became known as Ping Pong Diplomacy.