“Shit happens”: Forrest Gump and historical consciousness


  • Vivian Sobchack




English Language, English


In 1994, Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis), the immensely popular film about a simpleton hero triumphing over (by ignoring) the vicissitudes of three decades of recent American history, was second only to Disney’s animated The Lion King at the box office.1 Indeed, that year it not only captured the hearts (if not the minds) of most Americans, but also the major Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. Wondering at its immense popularity, Premiere magazine noted: “Before it was all over, Forrest Gump would gross more than $300 million in the U.S. alone, commanding whatever portion of the national attention span that O.J. Simpson did not. Was the film a paean to serendipity, an attack on the counterculture, an unabashedly romantic tearjerker, a monument to morons, or what Quentin Tarantino called ‘a really funny movie filled with more irony than any Hollywood movie I’ve ever seen in my life’?”2 Many reviewers and most intellectuals did not share in Tarantino’s reading, focusing instead on the film’s contributions to the “dumbing down” of America or on its complex and reactionary sexual politics (which keeps its hero nearly “pure” in sexual, historical, and political terms while aligning its doomed and sacrificial heroine with all the burdens and pain of historical consciousness, political activism, promiscuity, and AIDS).