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Written by Timothy Sexton
The film opens and closes on the image of a feather floating aimlessly on the currents of wind through the air. During the opening titles as the feather makes it way down from its heights, it briefly lands on one person’s shoulder and then is almost carried off by a car before finally reaching a soft landing between Forrest’s feet as he sits on a bench. The films with exactly the opposite: a feather on the ground between Forrest’s feet is suddenly swept off the ground and into the air by an invisible current of air. Thus, the feather can be said to symbolize fate: if it had stayed on the man’s shoulder, the movie might be about his life or if it had been carried off by the car, perhaps the driver’s story would be told. But that feather at that particular moment was destined to be picked up by Forrest Gump and thus the movie is titled Forrest Gump because it is about a man named Forrest. Forrest Gump.
The Box of Chocolates
Not just any box of chocolates, of course. The symbolism here is dependent upon the box offering a variety of chocolates. You get a box of raspberry-cream chocolates and you know what you’re gonna get each time so if you don’t like raspberry there’s no point in taking one. On the other hand, if the only chocolate you ever eat are raspberry-cream, you won’t ever even know what you’re missing; both the good and the bad. Life is like a box of assorted chocolates specifically and the symbolism, while simplistic perhaps, is wildly appropriate in a way that simplistic symbolism often turns out to be.
Forrest’s Leg Braces
When he takes Jenny’s advice to “run, Forrest, run” in order to escape the bullies, it seems like pretty desperate measures. After all, young Forrest’s ability move at a fast race is compromised by the fact that he is wearing corrective braces on both legs. Not to mention that the three bullies are on bikes. But as he makes this seemingly doomed attempt at flight, something very unexpected happens: the braces start to collapse under the sheer force of power being generated by Forrest’s determination to run. Eventually the braces complete lose their center and fall free from his legs, unleashing the young boy from the shackles of a handicap intended to enable but which ironically became a disabling force. The symbolism here speaks determination allowing one to overcome obstacles that are not even intended as obstacles.
Normally (and quite naturally) the symbolism of ping-pong would have something to do with the back-and-forth nature of the competitive element of the game. The bulk of the montage sequence showing how Forrest became a world-class player, however, shows Forrest practicing alone. At one point he is serving balls across the entire table to perfectly land in a hospital bedpan. In others, he is practicing returns on the half-table with the other side bent up for bouncing against. The symbolism of ping-pong as it relates specifically Forrest Gump is one demonstrating the values of practice, determination and commitment through the suggestion that it was not mere natural talent which made him a world-class player, but the development and refinement of that natural ability through hours and hours of practice.
Lt. Dan's Baptismal Cleansing of Sins
It is less the loss of both his legs than the fact that he failed to fulfill his supposed familial duty to die in military service which leads Lt. Dan into a spiral of depression, anger and loss of purpose. The arrival of hurricane presents him with the opportunity to attain redemption and salvation that ultimately leads to his moment of self-forgiveness and acceptance in which he symbolically washes away his past sins and accepts his destiny by literally leaping into sea in a metaphoric baptism.
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