Screening Room: Stupid Is as Stupid Does

By Pittman, Frank | Family Therapy Networker, November/December 1994 | Go to article overview

Screening Room: Stupid Is as Stupid Does


Pittman, Frank, Family Therapy Networker


Stone happens, but Gump lives

HOLY INNOCENTS ARE NOT BLINDED BY THE WORLD'S conceits; they see right through the Emperor's new clothes. From King Lear's prescient jester and Wagner's "guileless fool" Parsifal, through Peter Sellers's illiterate gardener and presidential advisor in Being There, innocence liberates the soul and the senses. Purity of heart makes for clarity of head. Right? Or is innocence in a mean world merely stupid?

Our latest wise fool is Forrest Gump, from a novel by Winston Groom. Forrest is a pleasant and ubiquitous young Alabamian with an innocent trust in the world around him and a room temperature I.Q. This summer, long lines of moviegoers treated the world according to Gump like a national treasure. Rarely has a recent film supplied such a reassuring message, telling us that the world is a loving place and that we don't have to be crafty, cunning, tricky or even smart to get along in it. If we stay innocent enough to trust everyone around us, tell the truth, keep our promises, and act polite, we will end up being rich and famous and loved.

Citified critics, even those who loved the movie in spite of themselves, see an insidiously conservative message in the glorification of docility and blind trust. David Denby, in New York, dismissed Gump as "sanctimonious and reactionary," while Anthony Lane, in The New Yorker, announced, "This movie is so insistently heartwarming that it chilled me to the marrow." Personally, I have always considered a trusting respect for our fellow humans to be the soul of liberalism, and a distrust of people, individually or collectively, as the attitude that turns people into Republicans and serial killers. Yet I, too, am bothered by the film's implication that one must be retarded in order to be virtuous, innocent or even polite. Perhaps our world is so rude and mean that only the stupid remain uncorrupted. But maybe, in their innocence, dumb folks know something we don't. Maybe they don't assume, as so many of us arrogantly do, that they are too smart to follow the rules.

Forrest (Tom Hanks), armed with a sweet soul, an I.Q. of 75, and a fiercely determined single mother (Sally Field), not only survives, but prevails. His mother's unswerving devotion and clear, moral pronouncements have instilled in him total faith in the goodness of everyone else on earth. He has benefited from adversity as well: as an outgrowth of childhood harassment by inept neighborhood bullies, he never got hurt, but learned to run faster than anyone alive. The film unfolds as Forrest, sitting at a bus stop waiting for the wrong bus, tells the story of his life to any and all who come by. He has managed to meet a lot of presidents and to pop up at the pivotal events of the past 30 years of American history. As a football star under Bear Bryant at the university of Alabama, he helps integrate the university as George Wallace blocks the schoolhouse door. As an all-American football player, he meets President Kennedy. In Vietnam, convinced that neither side could possibly mean him harm, he rescues his buddies from bombardment. When Lyndon Johnson gives him a medal on national TV, Forrest shows the president the scar where he got shot in the butt. He addresses the anti-Vietnam War March on Washington and meets the radical leaders of the '60s. He takes up Ping-Pong and opens up China. While in Washington to meet a thankful President Nixon, Forrest stays at the Watergate. Unfortunately for Nixon, he notices some burglars and calls the police.

Forrest makes money in the shrimp business, an interest garnered from his equally limited Vietnam buddy, Bubba ( Mykelti Williamson), who is unable to talk of anything except ways of cooking shrimp. Forrest then gets rich by investing the money in "some fruit company," which turns out to be Apple Computers.

Forrest leaves his stamp on our popular culture as well. He goes on Dick Cavett and inspires John Lennon to write the lyrics to "Imagine. …

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