Being one of the most important events of American history, Vietnam War couldn’t have been left out in ‘Forrest Gump’. Usually all Hollywood films adopt two main approaches in depicting the Vietnam War. It is either a patriotic approach, or it is rather a blaming approach, seeing war as a pure tragedy wasting thousands of people’s lives. However, none of these approaches was used in ‘Forrest Gump’.
Its filmmakers give the viewer an opportunity to make his own decisions and judge whether the war was a necessity or it was morally wrong. Four main characters in the film: Forrest himself, Jenny, Bubba and Lieutenant Dan, all together represent four very different opinions towards the war.
Lieutenant Dan views Vietnam as a glorious national and personal event. He believes the war to be right, but most of all he believes that it is his duty to be a part of this war.
“…Someone from his family had fought and died in every American war. I guess you could say he had a lot to live up to…” Compared to many other soldiers, Lieutenant Dan doesn’t seek glory and fame for himself, he seeks a different destiny: dying a war hero like his forefathers. “…I was supposed to die in the field with honor. That was my destiny. And you cheated me out of it…” – Lt. Dan says to Gump after being saved from the battle field against his own wish. From cheerful commander Dan soon turns into a man embittered by his war experiences that left him without legs. In his after-Vietnam life Lieutenant Dan feels cheated and betrayed. He is no longer a patriot of his own country. As many other Vietnam veterans he lives in conflict with society and with God. In later part of the film Lt. Dan makes us think how the war affected mentally and physically those who stayed alive. Were the sufferings of those people worth this war?
Another perspective on Vietnam War is given by Bubba. The vast majority of soldiers in Vietnam were black. All of them, as well as Bubba – Forrest’s war pal, were the victims of this war. They were poor and weren’t given any rights in U.S. Then why should they fight for the country that oppresses them? It is obvious that Bubba has no interest in this war; all he thinks about is the shrimping boat and his family. He was made to fight in Vietnam against his will. He doesn’t understand why innocent people have to get killed in this war. “…Why did this happen? …I want to go home…” – are his last phrases before death.
Jenny, though she is not taking part in the Vietnam War sequence, represents completely different opinion towards the war. In the 1960’s social groups, such as student radicals, cultural nationalists, and the silent majority, began to emerge. As we see Jenny joining one of such anti-war groups, and later more radical “Black Panther”, we understand that her attitude towards the war is negative. She represents that part of people who think of Vietnam as a war fought for politicians. Her role as a peace-protester in ‘Forrest Gump’ to prove that war is nothing to be proud of, and that only her position is truly patriotic.
Forrest’s opinion towards the war is difficult to define. Maybe this is so because he has no opinion at all? Gump’s life is a series of incredible events. The Vietnam War is just another event or period of time for him. As a private he “fits in the army like one of them”, saves lives of his friends, tries to be a good soldier and just enjoys the army life. Because of his naiveness Forrest misses the point. “…I got to see a lot of the countryside,” he says almost happily of his time in the nightmare known as Vietnam. “…And we were always looking for this guy named Charlie…” Because of his simple mind Forrest doesn’t make any judgments about the war and refuses to take sides.
So there are four views of Vietnam War for audience to choose from. However, I think that vast majority of viewers and filmmakers themselves take Forrest’s side. Vietnam War sequence in the film isn’t shown as a scene with strong images of death and horror, it is rather shown through the eyes of simpleton, who convinces us to look at Vietnam like at another event in America’s history.
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