One of the greatest love stories of the past twenty-five years has to be the movie Forrest Gump.
Now before I continue, allow me to clarify a few things. I am not on any prescription medication, I haven’t fallen and banged my head, and at no time over the past few weeks have I inhaled any toxic fumes. So yes, I am serious when I say that I think Forrest Gump is one of the greatest love stories of the past twenty-five years.
So what is it that makes it so great? It’s certainly not one of those conventional “boy gets girl and rides off into the sunset” kind of stories. In fact, while the Forrest and Jenny plot comes and goes throughout the script, it always gets interrupted and in most cases, overlooked by the other elements of the cinematography and plot. What truly sets this movie apart from the hundreds of love stories that have been made over the years is the way Forrest and Jenny express and receive the love they have for each other.
Romeo and Juliet were described as star-crossed lovers; two souls intertwined with a love that fed upon each other’s desire for one another. They could not stand to be apart, and that desire to be together caused them to make rash and foolish decisions, endangering themselves and others until finally their own lives were lost in the name of love. That’s nowhere close to Forrest and Jenny. The similarities begin and end at the start. Forrest loved Jenny from the moment he first met her:
“You know it’s funny what a young man recollects? ‘Cause I don’t remember bein’ born. I don’t recall what I got for my first Christmas and I don’t know when I went on my first outdoor picnic. But I do remember the first time I heard the sweetest voice in the wide world.”
Forrest truly loved Jenny. But he never actually knew how to express it properly. It wasn’t a flowers, candy, and wild romance kind of love. Nor was it a physical kind of love. Forrest loved Jenny with a deep and total love – possibly as close to an agape love as a man could know. This love certainly caused any number of struggles between the two. It seemed that at most every turn, Forrest was making Jenny mad by doing the wrong thing, but even at the height of her frustration with him, it was evident that his actions stemmed from this incredible love he held for her. Perhaps this is most evident in one simple, almost tragic exchange. About to depart after a brief reunion in Washington DC, Jenny turns to Forrest and asks…
In the classic love films, this is where they embrace, kiss, and fall madly in love as the world fades away. In this film, and as we often see in real life, Jenny gets on her bus and drives off, leaving Forrest behind to continue on with his life. In the classic love films, and also in real life, Forrest takes this as a reason to move on and forget about Jenny, start over and find someone else with whom he can build a life. But that is also not the case. Instead, he goes on to make his fortune, all the while never giving up on the certain knowledge that Jenny is the one and only love of his life.
Some would call that creepy, and maybe I am too, but I can totally understand what drives Forrest to do this. Love is not a hot or cold emotion, but a gift that he has for her. Ever buy a present for someone special, only to have something happen to eliminate the opportunity to give the gift? You can’t give that present to anyone else, it was intended for a certain someone, and they’re the only person to whom you could ever give it. To Forrest, love was a gift he had wrapped up to give to Jenny and only Jenny. Consider this conversation between Forrest and Jenny after they had finally come together toward the end of the movie. Forrest describes his experiences while in Vietnam, on the shrimp boat, and while making his cross country run, telling Jenny of peace and beauty beyond description. Having never experienced any of this herself, Jenny says, “I wish I could’ve been there with you.” In love, Forrest assures, “You were.”
So why didn’t she take it? Forrest gave her opportunity after opportunity to settle down and live what would have been a safe, comfortable, and happy life. But for whatever reason, she denies herself the chance to be happy. I know about her childhood – how she had been abused by her father. I also understand how this impacted her development and caused her to make destructive decisions. But time and time again, she refused to accept the love that Forrest offered her. Consider this conversation, held on July 4, 1976 in Forrest’s home.
Forrest Gump: Will you marry me?
[Jenny turns and looks at him]
Forrest Gump: I’d make a good husband, Jenny.
Jenny Curran: You would, Forrest.
Forrest Gump: …But you won’t marry me.
Jenny Curran: [sadly] … You don’t wanna marry me.
Forrest Gump: Why don’t you love me, Jenny?
[Jenny says nothing]
Forrest Gump: I’m not a smart man… but I know what love is.
Later that night she does admit to Forrest that she does in fact love him. But early the following morning, her bags are packed and she is out the door and out of his life again. What is it that prevents her from fully receiving his love? From the audience’s perspective, it defies logic. I understand that too many things have happened to her, too many bad decisions have plagued her, too many people have hurt her too deeply, so now she feels as though nobody could love possibly her anymore. Of what use could she possibly be to a husband? She felt she didn’t deserve to be loved. Of course, none of this mattered to Forrest. You might think it was just his simplicity getting the better of him, but I disagree. He loved her unconditionally. He hurt when she hurt. He protected her. He sacrificed things for her. He listened to her instructions and did everything she told him to do as best he could. He didn’t know how not to love her, and never, ever would. So I guess he was simple – simply in love with Jenny, no matter what.
Maybe you know more about this than you realize. Have you ever experienced a love like Forrest’s? One that you shared with someone that was unconditional? Or maybe you’ve grown to be more like Jenny – standoffish and afraid to think that you could possibly be loved in such a manner. In the natural, this teaches us valuable insights. But it is in our relationship with God we most readily see this at work in our lives.
Forrest’s love mirrors that of God’s love for us. It is consistent, unwavering, and unchanging. It is always there, always available, and will meet every need we could ever have. Our response to it is often similar to Jenny’s. We know it’s there, and in many ways we desire to have it. However, we often find ourselves running from it, hiding or defying it. We deny ourselves the full manifestation of God’s love in our life because we feel unworthy; incapable of accepting it and better off going a different route. But in spite of our hesitation, our rebellions, and our doubts, there stands God, filling the gap we have created between us through the sacrifice of His own dear Son. Romans 5: 1-11 addresses this beautifully. For the sake of space, I’ll only share verse eight: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
By the power of the one who by His very nature is love, may we forever share love in this manner: with Him, with each other, and especially with the “Jennys” in your life.