"Forrest Gump" is a genuine runaway Hollywood-type movie hit. Which doesn't make any sense at all.
It has almost no sex. No fun violence. No Ah-nuld.
It's about a guy with an IQ of 75 who becomes, as only Hollywood could envision him, the best of his generation, the very generation that tout le monde is sick to death of hearing about.
This is a hit?
People who had seen "Gump" insisted that I had to go because it was the history of my life and times. Well, I don't mind telling you I was skeptical.
First of all, Billy Joel had pretty much done the job already with his wonderfully evocative song "We Didn't Start the Fire." Joel did the entire post-war era in, I believe, 3 minutes, 12 seconds. His next song is about the Hundred Years War.
But the real reason is what I call the "Easy Rider" syndrome. I saw the movie a few years ago and it scared me senseless.
I called old friends and asked, "Were we really like that, man? [I said "man" for the first time in 20 years.] No wonder our parents hated us. I hate us."
What's really scary is that they're going to re-release "Easy Rider" this summer. Please, do not see it -- not if you have any hope of preserving fond memories of your youth.
But, more important, don't let your children see it, especially the commune scene. How do you explain communes to the people you are responsible for raising? If your children do see it, all you can say is these two words: "I'm sorry."
Finally, I gave in and saw "Gump," but, unlike everyone else in America, I didn't like it. It's personal.
You see, this time I wasn't embarrassed by the '60s. I barely recognized them.
There is a lot to like about the movie, especially Gump himself and his essential goofy goodness. He's the luckiest person since Ringo. He can't go anywhere without somebody pinning a medal on him or making him rich. The joke is that he shows up at virtually ever major event of his lifetime, and the joke usually works.
And the movie was technically interesting. The director did some neat tricks, especially in the Vietnam scenes. And there was nostalgia everywhere, if you like that kind of thing.
The movie is a fable about finding one's soul. The good thing is, you don't have to look very hard. Life is hard enough, it says, especially the life we've been through recently. And the only way to survive the turmoil of life is through a pure and innocent belief in something -- like love, or America.
Gump is the essential innocent who lives by homily. It's all he knows.
His best buddy is black. Not only doesn't he care that he's black, he doesn't even notice.
He goes to Vietnam and his friends are shot out from under him. He doesn't know why. He doesn't ask.
When he comes home a hero, he inadvertently walks into an anti-war rally in full uniform. Suddenly, he is on the platform with Abbie Hoffman, who asks a much bemedaled Gump what he thinks of the war. In the book, upon which the movie is based, Gump says the war was a "bunch of ----." In the movie, the microphones go out for his entire speech. We don't know what he thinks.
The movie doesn't want Gump to think. Or for us to think, either.
Vietnam was rough, sure. But Gump's true love, raped by her father, ends up a lost hippie living with an anti-war radical who preaches about injustice and then beats her.
If Vietnam was bad, anti-war protesters were equally bad. The entire popular culture was bad. And if you participated, as Gump's mythic girlfriend did, only bad things would come to you. I get why people like this movie about the '60s generation in this day of boomer backlash. Nobody got out alive.
Sometime in the '70s, Gump invented the running craze. He was running away from a country that had lost its way. Then he stopped. It was apparently time to stop running toward anything or from anything. Gump went home.
He goes home. And the movie puts the excesses born of the '60s behind him with alarming finality. That doesn't prevent an upbeat ending, of course.
I think I know why Gump is a hit. We live -- again -- in troubled times. When didn't we? Gump represents the America we want to believe in -- the America of enduring simple goodness. That's the appeal. People like Gump. They hope there's a little bit of him in them, too. He makes it look so easy.