By James A. Wilson
The exception proves the rule. I bristle at people who take the artistic creation of another and rework it to suit their vision, claiming they have improved the original. Films like Noah, depicting the quintessential man of God worshipping the very serpent who set in motion the events leading to the flood, or The DaVinci Code – book and movie – in which the celibate Jesus of all accepted accounts is portrayed as married and just awaiting discovery by the scholars of esoteria are examples. I just have this thing about doing whatever you like with your own creation but respecting the creations of others. Yet Forrest Gump, one of my favorite movies, turns out to be a radical departure from the book on which it is based. Praise the Lord!
Gump is the exception proving the rule because of the evident approval of author Winston Groom for the recasting offered up by the film’s producers. Groom apparently cooperated fully with the production – he receives writing credit parallel with the screenplay’s author – and cut a deal for production of the Gump sequel. This work is the exception that proves the rule because it steals nothing. Yet the differences cry out.
The written Gump is a self-described idiot, and seriously self-conscious of the designation. He is also – it turns out – a so-called idiot savant, a person of apparently low intelligence who unaccountably excels in some disciplines at genius level. Forrest becomes a harmonica virtuoso overnight, has a gift for mathematics, and the hand-eye coordination of a world class ping pong player. The cinematic Gump is labeled-by-others mentally impaired but learns from his mother that “stupid is as stupid does,” and pursues life because it is there. He does excel at ping pong, but only because he obeys the instruction to keep his eye on the ball and lacks the intelligence to be distracted by extraneous noise and movement. He is a person of simple faith and intense faithfulness whose life intersects one miracle after another, from the falling away of his leg braces to the deluge of shrimp he receives when he goes out one more time, heedless of the storm warnings driving other shrimpers to shore because he believes God told him to set sail.
Gump of the book is a hapless individual stumbling from one adventure to another without anyone knowing why; his story is devoid of the quality of miracle so prevalent in the film.
There is likewise neither rhyme nor reason behind the choices characters make in the book; their motivations are clear in the film. Jenny has no known reason for her promiscuity and drug use in the book; he movie Jenny is an abused child who ultimately responds to Forrest’s faithful love, but in the book simply grows tired of her lifestyle. Lieutenant Dan is devastated because he believed in destiny and feels without purpose after his injury; he too responds to Forrest’s faith and faithfulness – in the film. In the book he is just one more person drowning until rescued – for no apparent reason – in his picaresque existence. Forrest himself is a creature of circumstance who cannot even comprehend being faithful to Jenny in the book, in contrast to the movie. This is important because the film characters grow beyond their circumstances while nobody ever changes in the book, with the possible exception of Curtis – a bully who makes no appearance in the movie.
The faithfulness central to the person of Forrest offers the hope in the film; its absence in the book leaves everyone awash in a sea of happenstance.
Simplicity is not remotely like stupidity. The book Forrest is stupid when he allows the Jenny he has loved and pursued all his life to get away following anonymous sex in an alley. The film Forrest is simple: when lives need saving he does his best, when Lt. Dan asks if he found Jesus he answers he had not known Jesus was lost – they’ve always been in touch – from obeying the call to enter the hurricane being business as usual to whenever Jenny needs him he is there. It is as different as night and day.
Will the real Forrest please stand? I choose to believe he is the man of the movie rather than the victim of circumstance the book portrays. The movie man understands that life is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you are going to get; the book man could echo that sentiment. But the movie man understands the chocolates are a gift from a giver; that makes all the difference.
James A. Wilson is the author of Living As Ambassadors of Relationships, The Holy Spirit and the End Times, Kingdom in Pursuit, and his first novel, Generation – available at Bounty Books, or at firstname.lastname@example.org