Forrest Gump: Simpler Days Through the Innocent Archetype
The hallmark of a great actor is that they can give life to a character whose renown surpasses their own. A classic example of this is Tom Hanks in his role as the beloved Forrest Gump. Although the story explores the darker side of the 1960’s and their aftermath, its effect is heartwarming as Forrest is one of the most endearing protagonists in film history. As an audience, we can’t help but root for him.
Perhaps, as a culture, we treasure Forrest Gump because he embodies a part of ourselves that we have lost touch with. He is a child in an adult’s world; retaining a gusto for life and an optimistic perspective as he endures very real hardship. From an Archetypal perspective, Forrest Gump is the exemplar of traits that characterize the Innocent Archetype. The establishing shot of the movie follows the flight of a white feather that lands at Forrest’s feet. This symbol reinforces the purity and lightness of Forrest’s spirit and foreshadows the theme of happy coincide arising from seeming randomness.
The Power of Trust
The story is framed as an older Forrest narrating anecdotes from his past to complete strangers who sit beside him while they wait for the bus. Several times, the plot returns to the present as the bus comes and goes and his audience changes. As an Innocent, Forrest readily and indiscriminately places his trust in complete strangers. Like a young child, Forrest does not project mal-intent onto the people around him.
Anybody raised in more recent decades will likely remember a talk about “stranger danger” from their caregivers. This is meant to keep children safe; however, it also teaches children that cannot trust anybody they don’t know. While naivety occasionally leads the Innocent into trouble, more often than not others are happy to offer help. It is high time that we stop painting the Innocent’s willingness to trust as a weakness when in truth, the Innocent’s willingness to trust is the source of their power.
Life is Good
Throughout their adulthood, the Innocent upholds the belief that people are inherently good. Like Forrest, they have the ability to see a light in another that eclipses the darker aspects of their character. We need the Innocent’s perspective so that we can see ourselves in their eyes. In receiving an Innocent’s trust we learn that we are people worthy of trust. We learn that we are good.
The Innocent’s gift is transformative as illustrated by the character development of Lieutenant Dan. After the war, Forrest bumps into the former officer at his low. Injuries from the war have bound him to a wheelchair and, echoing the historical climate, he finds his sacrifice is not honored upon his return. Bitter and jaded, Lieutenant Dan uses his disability pension to fund his drinking habit. Forrest, as the Innocent, overlooks this image entirely. His unwavering faith in the Lieutenant empowers Dan to rise above his circumstances and join Forrest in a shrimping operation where he is given the chance to be valorous again.
“My mamma always said, life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get”
This is perhaps the most memorable quote from Forrest Gump and the perfect mantra for the Innocent. For many of us, growing up was a process of toughening up. We soon learned that life is not always as pleasant as we had believed it to be and felt we had to grow strong to protect ourselves. As the Innocent matures, they cultivate spiritual tenacity.
A tragedy is the ultimate test of faith. When we see and experience suffering that we cannot make sense of it casts doubt on the “goodness” or existence of a higher power. From the outside looking in, the Innocent may seem to be in a state of blissful denial of hardship. However, an Innocent is not immune to the pain of misfortune rather they see the good that is borne of it.
As the feather that mysteriously drifts from the heavens, Forrest finds that his troubles set off a series of events that lead him to greater blessings than he could have imagined. Eyes wide with wonder, the Innocent drinks in the mystical workings of the universe. Like Forrest, they see that every seeming disaster leads them down a path where they happen to encounter old friends and new wonders. Thus Innocent remains optimistic. They keep the faith because they know that ‘coincidence’ is the farthest thing from ‘accident.’
In times when the world seems especially complicated, we can reconnect with the Innocent Archetype.