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Written by Timothy Sexton
“My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.”
Ranking in at number 40 on the AFI list of the 100 most memorable quotes from the first 100 years of American movies, this is essentially the philosophical foundation of the film. Later on, another film would forward a similar type of philosophy. In a way, Mama Gump and Dory the fish are philosophical twins; life offers you an enormous box of chocolates with an infinite variety of possibilities and you have to be prepared to do just one thing; go back and pick another selection. Forrest was well-prepared by his mother. Life hits him with some unexpectedly bad-tasting pieces of chocolate and he just keeps going back and trying another selection. (Or swimming, as Dory would see it.) Forrest just keeps on running. But more on that later.
“You ain’t got no legs, Lt. Dan.”
The chocolate line may be the most famous, but this line is arguably the funniest. It’s a dark humor, of course, because Lt. Dan really does not have his legs anymore, having lost them in the Vietnam War. Aside from being funny, however, this line is insightful into the character of Forrest. Some would call him a little slow while others might simply observe he’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. In fact, Forrest is actually one of those people whose senses of abstract thought is not fully defined. He is in no way an idiot, but his is a literal-minded view of the world. Thus, when Lt. Dan engages in metaphor to describes his surprise reunion after not having seen Forrest for an extended period of time by the using the phrase “thought I’d try out my sea legs” the response by Forrest is not an indication of stupidity, but rather a demonstration of how the literal-minded think.
“Stupid is as stupid does.”
More advice from Mama Gump and this quote crosses the nexus at which the mother’s philosophical instruction meets with the son’s literalist approach to the world. This quote expounds upon the perspective of Forrest by introducing how his mother’s philosophy may have influenced it. “Stupid does” refers to actions by definition. So for Forrest, the quote means that you judge something stupid not through abstraction, but in a more concrete way. A person can think stupidly all they want and, well, really, what business is it of anyone else’s? It is only when thought becomes action that one should react.
"Run, Forrest, run!"
And so things come back around to Dory, after all. Yes, just as Dory in Finding Nemo espouses the philosophy to “keep on swimming” so does Forrest embrace the advice offered by his best friend Jenny. When bullies began attacking the young Forrest, she urges him to run, despite the fact that he is hampered by leg braces. As he begins racing away from the bullies who are in pursuit of him on their bikes, Forrest up speed and intensity and braces, unable to withstand the pressure, literally break off from his legs. Thus, “run, Forrest, run” becomes a metaphor for overcoming the things in life which are handicapping you even when the intent is to support you. And throughout the rest of his life, this metaphor will be presented literally in a series of situations in which the act of running leads Forrest from disaster to triumph.
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