What Does the Movie ‘Forrest Gump’ Teach?

Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) learns a lot throughout his life. For the audience, it’s fun to see Forrest meet past Presidents and take part in historical events. You can certainly watch the movie just for fun, nostalgia or for the love story between Forrest and Jenny (Robin Wright). You may just learn what Forrest learns, too. 

[Spoiler alert: This article contains spoilers for Forrest Gump.]

Tom Hanks and Robin Wright sit on the bench in Forrest Gump
Robert Zemeckis (right) directs Robin Wright and Tom Hanks | Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images

Forrest Gump came out in 1994. The 2009 Blu-ray release includes a panel Hanks, director Robert Zemeckis and screenwriter Eric Roth gave at USC. Here’s what they said Forrest Gump teaches. 

Tom Hanks says the lesson at the end of ‘Forrest Gump’

Gump became a football star, a war hero in Vietnam, a ping pong champion, a shrimp boat captain, and investor in Macintosh throughout his life. In the end, he has to bury the love of his life, Jenny. His speech at her grave articulates the two opposing themes of Forrest Gump and how they might relate to each other. 

Forrest Gump Graveyard scene, Robert Zemeckis directs Tom Hanks
L-R: Robert Zemeckis and Tom Hanks | Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images

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“Jenny, I don’t know if Mamma was right or if it’s Lt. Dan,” Gump says. “I don’t know if we each have a destiny or if we’re all just floating around accidental like on a breeze. But I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time.”

The themes of ‘Forrest Gump’

That speech wasn’t always in the movie. Zemeckis said that for much of the filming Forrest Gump was just about the random experiences Gump has throughout his life. 

“I really like Forrest’s philosophy at the end of the movie when he’s talking to Jenny’s grave,” Zemeckis said. “We went around and around on that a really long time because it wasn’t the two parter for a long time. It was all about this feather blowing around on the breeze. I kept going to Eric, ‘Is life only just random. Is it only random?’ So right at the 11th hour we all cooked it up. I just felt like no one, not even Forrest could have the knowing”

Tom Hanks and Eric Roth were still just winging it

It’s kind of a lot to ask a movie to teach the meaning of life, even Forrest Gump. Roth hopes the fact that they weren’t sure made it poignant. 

“You could hear it in the dialogue, we weren’t sure,” Roth said. “‘I don’t know Jenny if it’s one way or another way.’ That’s how we felt.”

Hanks recalled putting Gump’s speech together at the last minute. 

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“That was at the 11th hour,” Hanks said. “We were literally having conversations in the second half of the day in my trailer trying to figure out the actual cadence of the speech. Earlier in the day, I had been in Vietnam with Lt. Dan. ‘Fire in the hole. Gump, see what’s down inside that hole.’ That was the scene we shot right before we moved locations, changed clothes, got out of the makeup, went to the tree, and shot the scene at Jenny’s grave.”

Roth still has second thoughts about the ending of Forrest Gump

“I remember writing it out and it was way too long,” Roth said. It was like forever because I couldn’t really articulate it as well as I’d like to. Maybe if I had more time. Somehow they made it work.”