What Is the Conflict In the Movie ‘Forrest Gump’?

Forrest Gump is a movie you hear a lot about. Tom Hanks’ second Oscar, Bubba Gump Shrimp franchises in real life, “Run, Forrest, run” and other catchphrases. But do you know what Forrest Gump was really about?

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

Forrest Gump and Bubba
Tom Hanks and Mykelti Williamson | Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images

It’s okay if you don’t. Forrest Gump came out in 1994. That was a long time ago. Showbiz Cheat Sheet is here to help. 

Who else is in the cast of ‘Forrest Gump’?

Hanks plays Forrest Gump, a man with a 75 IQ. As a child (Michael Humphreys) he walks with braces and only Jenny (Hanna Hall) is his friend. As a grown-up, Jenny (Robin Wright) remains the love of Forrest’s life, but she only comes in and out of it. 

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Forrest Gump introduces many other people in Forrest’s life, beginning with his Mamma (Sally Field). When he goes off into the world he makes more friends. Bubba (Mykelti Williamson) is his best friend in the army. Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) stays in Forrest’s life even after they return home from Vietnam. And, Forrest meets many famous people along the way.

What does ‘Forrest Gump’ do?

Well, at first, Forrest just runs. As a child, he breaks free of his braces and outruns the bullies on their bikes, one of the first magical moments in Forrest Gump. As a teenager, he outruns football stars so gets a college scholarship. From college, he’s recruited by the army. After surviving a gunshot wound, Forrest becomes a ping pong champion. Then he buys a shrimp boat and gets rich investing in Apple. Forrest Gump covers a long time.

Forrest Gump sitting on the bench
Tom Hanks | Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images

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Forrest also meets historical celebrities along the way. As a boy, he meets Elvis Presley and inspires his dance moves. In college, Forrest is there when Gov. Wallace is shot. Forrest meets Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, and is responsible for the latter’s downfall. Many of those celebrities appear via archival footage, manipulated with computer effects to include Forrest. Richard D’Alessandro plays Abbie Hoffman in a war protest scene. 

So what’s his conflict? 

In some ways, Forrest just goes through life, the benefactor of random events. His talent led to opportunities like college, his character made him a war hero rescuing his platoon, and luck made him rich. But, was everything in Forrest Gump really just luck? 

The spine of Forrest’s extraordinary life is his love of Jenny. Everything he does is for her, when they’re kids and when he’s an adult. Forrest defends Jenny against abusive men, and offers to provide for her. That’s not enough, though. Jenny is an active participant in the swinging ’60s and she can’t really relate to Forrest until she has his child after one night together. Haley Joel Osment plays Forrest Gump, Jr.

Perhaps the conflict is the choice Forrest has in every random situation Forrest Gump presents. He can’t control the war and he can’t control the river, but he can do what’s right. Forrest does what he’s told on the football field, in the army and even by his Mamma. But, when he’s left to his own devices, he does the right thing.

Tom Hanks and Gary Sinise as Forrest Gump and Lt. Dan
L-R: Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson and Tom Hanks | Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images

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He’s the first to get away from the attack in Vietnam, but he goes back to save everyone else. He makes a fortune with Bubba Gump shrimp and sends Bubba’s share to his family.  He helps Lt. Dan put his life back together just by being a friend. He doesn’t give Lt. Dan any advice.

When Jenny ultimately rejects him, Forrest decides to go for a run. Since Forrest Gump is a movie, he runs back and forth across the country for over three years. The point is, you can’t control love and you can’t make someone love you. But you can do something and it still ends up mattering. Forrest becomes a cultural phenomenon. 

In the end, Forrest still does the right thing. He still marries Jenny, no grudges held for the rejection. He raises their son once Jenny is gone. The conflict of Forrest Gump may be subtle, but it’s the one we all face every day. The world is going to happen and it probably won’t be as exciting as Forrest’s life, but what are we going to do in it?