'Forrest Gump' and the complicated legacy of Jenny Curran (2024)

'Forrest Gump' and the complicated legacy of Jenny Curran (1)

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It’s been 30 years since Forrest Gump exploded out of the blocks to become a cultural phenomenon, but in the decades since, two distinct schools of thought have emerged surrounding Robert Zemeckis’ fable.

On the surface, any movie that earns $678million at the box office is immediately welcomed into the pop culture consciousness forevermore and wins six Academy Awards, including ‘Best Picture’, ‘Best Director’, and ‘Best Actor’ would be talked about in reverential tones as an indisputable classic of cinema.

While there are many people of that exact belief, the tides have been gradually shifting over the years, to the point somebody mentioning out loud they’re a fan of Forrest Gump has the potential to make them a figure of ridicule and scorn. It’s a complicated legacy, to say the least, and the exact same can be said of Robin Wright’s Jenny Curran.

Much like the film itself, the female protagonist has split opinion down the middle. To some, she’s the unsung hero of the piece, but to others, she’s the closest thing the film has to an out-and-out villain. For a feature that’s largely painted in the starkest shades of black and white, Jenny falls firmly into the greyest of areas.

That’s not to say she’s as irredeemably awful as certain sections of the anti-Forrest Gump crowd insist, but it often goes unmentioned or overlooked that with the story being told from the perspective of Tom Hanks’ title character, the audience perception of Jenny is largely shaped by how he sees her and what he feels for her.

True love means different things to different people, and just because Jenny doesn’t reciprocate Forrest’s feelings for her, it doesn’t mean she doesn’t have them at all or that she’s an antagonist by default. After all, it’s explicitly revealed in the story that she was the victim of abuse, something Forrest doesn’t recognise because of his limited worldview, and that lingering trauma goes on to inform every subsequent decision that she makes.

What he mistakes for love and affection is a memory that dredges up the worst memories of her childhood, to the point she’s got no other option than to run away from a person who might hold her up on a pedestal as the erstwhile love of his life, but brings that trauma back up to the surface nonetheless.

Forrest wants to love Jenny in the way he believes it should be manifested between two people, but her experiences have forever altered her view of not only what love is and what it’s supposed to look like, but her feelings about being the subject of such affection from a guy who quite obviously doesn’t have a bad bone in his entire body. They were raised in the same place at the same time, but the very emotion that unites them in the first place is ultimately the one that keeps them furthest apart.

It’s not a case of Jenny repeatedly pushing Forrest away and jumping ship every time she feels he’s getting too close, but it’s that self-doubt and self-loathing that’s been intrinsic to her internal strife since her earliest years making her feel as though it’s something she needs to do. When Forrest is far away, Jenny feels he’s at his most protected, with the influence she could exact over him, presenting fewer obstacles when they’re separated by as much distance as possible.

Yes, she did cause him a wealth of hurt over the years and abandoned him when he was at his most vulnerable and lowest ebb several times over. Yes, she makes her semi-regular reappearances in her life when it’s her who needs him the most and not the other way around. Yes, she does so safely in the knowledge that he’ll never reject her the way he did him, but it’s wrong to suggest she either doesn’t care for him or has made leading him along her life’s work.

Essentially, she’s the opposite side of the ‘American Dream’ Forrest personifies, especially in the final scenes where her fate is revealed. They’re two sides of the same coin in many respects, but even though folks will die on the hill that she’s a nasty piece of work who had him wrapped around her little finger, everything Jenny does is either informed by her earliest traumatic memories or carried out – from her point of view, at least – with Forrest’s best intentions at heart.

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