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Forrest Gump - Revisited

All of you are probably familiar with Forrest Gump and Tom Hank's memorable interpretation of the disabled, yet multi-talented guy with an I.Q. presumably below 80. What you might not remember, though, is how packed the film is with historic events.

By following Forrest Gump and his achievements you can refresh your memory of three significant decades that helped shape American society and culture.

A Brief Plot Summary

Forrest gump
Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump is a film based on a novel by the same name. It was directed by Robert Zemeckis in 1994, and Forrest, portrayed by Tom Hanks, immediately became one of the most popular film characters ever. In the film we get to meet the physically and mentally disabled boy Forrest who was born in Alabama in 1944. According to his mother, who is portrayed by Sally Field in the film, his father is “on vacation”. When Forrest asks her what “vacation” means, she explains that it is when you go away and never come back. In spite of his considerable handicaps, Forrest succeeds in many walks of life, he even excels! We are admitted to his life story from his birth until his beloved Jenny dies in 1982. As a backdrop to his extraordinary life, we are witnesses to many historical events and “hot” social issues from the 50s right up to the early 80s. Before you start watching the trailer or the movie, answer the following questions.

Find Out

  1. What is implied in the protagonist's name. Start by looking up the word "gump". What does it mean? Dictionary reference - gump
    What about his first name, Forrest? Here is a quote from the film:

    Now, when I was a baby, Momma named me after the great Civil War hero, General Nathan Bedford Forrest...She said we was related to him in some way. And, what he did was, he started up this club called the Ku Ku Klux Klan. They'd all dress up in their robes and their bedsheets and act like a bunch of ghosts or spooks or something.....And anyway, that's how I got my name. Forrest Gump. Momma said that the Forrest part was to remind that sometimes we all do things that, well, just don't make no sense.

    Find out who General Nathan Bedford Forrest was and how "Momma's" remark: "sometimes we all do things that, well, just don't make no sense" has a deeper meaning.
    So - what is implied in the name Forrest Gump?
  2. Where is Alabama? In which part of the USA is Alabama located? What do you associate with this state? Why do you think Alabama was chosen as a location?
  3. Animated Atlas Timeline Use the bar and scroll sideways until you arrive at the late 1950s up to the start of the 1980s. Focus on the orange bar – society. What are the main events in these decades?

Watch the Trailer

  1. Forrest gets to meet a lot of famous historical persons. How many do you recognize from the trailer?
  2. Which historical events do we get to see in the trailer?

Find Out

Use the web to look up key words to the incidents or concepts listed below. Remember to relate the concept to the USA. Elvis and Rock n’Roll; Segregation and desegregation; the Civil Rights movement; the Supreme Court and Brown v. Board of Education; KKK; the Cold War; the moon landing; the Black Panther Movement; the assassination of John F. Kennedy; the Vietnam War; the Hippie Movement; the Watergate Scandal; the outbreak of HIV/AIDS.

Make a table in your text editor, like this:

Concept/Incident When did it happen? What happened?
Why did it happen?
Consequences/present
status

Discuss

  1. Forrest Gump sums up his involvement in the Vietnam War in this way: "I got to see a lot of countryside. We took these long walks. And we were all looking for a guy called Charlie.." Find out what is implied in this. What do you think of this way of wrapping up the message?
  2. Dan, Bubba and Forrest relate to the Vietnam War in different ways. Explain which ways, and discuss if any of them represent the established opinion (war as a patriotic deed), the critics or the victims. Do you see any parallells to the involvement in current wars?

Further Studies

On Forrest Gump on Film Education you'll find a study guide to the film and background material about American history and discussion points.

Project Work

Many historical events and moments from the 50s up through the 70s are highlighted in the movie.

  1. You are present on one of the historical US occasions/moments depicted in the film. Make a blog posting where you relate what happens, your impressions and thoughts. Add pictures and/or soundtracks or videos.
  2. Study the sound track list provided on this link Wikipedia - Forrest Gump Soundtrack and make an oral presentation of how the music clips you have chosen from the film highlight issues and events in ONE of the decades depicted in Forrest Gump. Choose music that particularly highlights what you think is important and show how it defines “your” decade (the 50s, 60s or the 70s).

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