There is a long and fascinating tradition of the holy fool in spiritual literature. These people follow the dictates of the heart and are often able to effect great works of mercy and compassion. Their brand of selflessness is free of reason's madness and the ego's frivolous grandeur. Holy fools pay no heed to the worldly pursuit of power, status, or financial success. That is why they are usually deemed crazy and forced to live as lonely outsiders.
Forrest Gump is an enchanting and creative parable about a contemporary holy fool. The film was a multiple award-winner, garnering 1994 Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Tom Hanks), Best Director (Robert Zemeckis), Best Visual Effects, Best Editing, and Best Writing based on material from another medium (screenplay by Eric Roth based on the 1986 novel by Winston Groom).
The film revolves around Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks), a Southerner with an I.Q. just below normal who is raised by his single mother (Sally Field). She lavishes him with love and sends him on his way with a smorgasbord of tidbits of wisdom, such as, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
Tom Hanks plays Forrest with just the right blend of sincerity and earnestness. With his ability to stay focused on one goal, he becomes an incredibly fast runner, first escaping bullies in grade school, then as an All-American football player. In Vietnam, Forrest's loyalty to his best friend Bubba (Mykelti Williamson) leads him to save his platoon and receive a medal of honor. While recuperating from his wounds, he becomes a champion ping-pong player. Never one to break a promise, he follows up on Bubba's dream to run a shrimping business. Later, Forrest gathers quite a following when he runs across the country just because he feels like it.
Through the technical wizardry of director Robert Zemeckis, we follow Gump to the White house where John F. Kennedy commends him for his football heroics, Lyndon B. Johnson asks to see his war wound, and Richard Nixon chats with him after his ping-pong tour in China.
While these cinematic bonbons are worth noting, the real treat is watching Gump maintain his optimism in the midst of the political, social, and cultural turmoil of the 60s and 70s. His slow-blooming friendship with Lieutenant Dan (Gary Sinise), his commanding officer in Vietnam and subsequent business partner, is touching.
Most impressive is Gump's unswerving love for Jenny (Robin Wright) who first reaches out to him when everyone else in elementary school rejects him. This abused girl turns into a self-destructive woman who samples the worst excesses of the drug counterculture. Gump remains true to her over the years until she blesses him with the best gift of all.
Holy fools are debonair souls whose love, devotion, and delight in life are unalloyed. We are fortunate to have this screen version of one of their number. Hopefully, Forrest Gump will encourage many of us to express aspects of the holy fool inside ourselves.