From the Chicago Reader (July 8, 1994). Also reprinted in my collection Movies as Politics. — J.R.
** FORREST GUMP (Worth seeing)
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Eric Roth
With Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field, Michael Humphreys, and Hanna Hall.
In the opening shot of Forrest Gump – a movie that might be described as Robert Zemeckis’s flag-waving Oscar bid — the camera meticulously follows the drifting, wayward trajectory of a white feather all the way from the heavens to the ground, just beside the muddy tennis shoes of the title hero (Tom Hanks). Forrest Gump, a slow-witted, sweet-tempered, straight-shooting fellow from Alabama with an IQ of 75, is waiting for a bus in a small park in Savannah, Georgia. Picking up the feather and placing it inside a book, he proceeds to recount his life story to various passing strangers; in the film’s final shot, over two hours later, we see a breeze carry the same white feather up and away.
These framing shots — a poetic statement about the vicissitudes of chance, how histories are made, unmade, and remade — are meant to say something about a half-century of American life, from the 40s to the present; and the tragicomic life of Forrest Gump, a saintly fool, is meant to embody those years.… Read more »
HEAVEN’S MY DESTINATION by Thornton Wilder (New York: Harper Perennial), 2003, 240 pp.
In fact, the copy that I’ve just reread with pleasure for the second time is a first edition (New York/London: Harper & Brothers, 1935). But Wilder as a novelist is so unfashionable that there’s nothing very pricey about this book in any shape or form. I persist in regarding Heaven’s My Destination as one of the truly great American novels, and I’ve pretty much felt this way ever since I first encountered it in the 1960s — and not just an archetypal middle-American road farce with memorable period settings (including trains, cars, hotels, campsites, boarding houses, bordellos, restaurants, and movie theaters) but also the potential basis for a great movie. It concerns a 23-year-old textbook salesman and devout Baptist from Michigan named George Brush, moving through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas during the height of the Depression, spreading havoc and consternation wherever he goes with his hilarious and maddening fanaticism. (A key line towards the end: “`Isn’t the principle of a thing more important than the people that live under the principle?’”)
I can’t really fathom why this incredible mini-epic has never been canonized — shunned by the Library of America, ignored by Alfred Kazin.… Read more »