Robert Zemeckis’ 1994 film Forrest Gump epitomizes the type of film that comprises of the mother/whore dichotomy, the active/passive split, as well as saving and punishing women when it comes to the representation of women in film.
The mother/whore dichotomy materializes in Mrs. Gump, as the mother, and Jenny, as the whore. Mrs. Gump takes side of the mother because although she is not married, she does whatever in her power to ensure the success and happiness of Forrest and basically lives for his benefit. She is also very caring in the way that their home is always open to strangers because it is a bed and breakfast for travelers. Jenny fits under the whore umbrella because she is constantly found in bad situations that effect both herself and Forrest in a negative way. Due to her partaking in staged nudity, explicit magazines, and being promiscuous places she embodies the whore complex so set by traditional Hollywood. To add, her choices effect Forrest in the way that he makes very many choices based on her and he also feels that he needs to rescue her very often.
The active/passive split is also present in Forrest Gump between Jenny and Forrest. Both Jenny and Forrest are very fluid characters throughout the duration of the film but it is important to notice that Jenny’s fluidity is made up of conscious choices that she made on purpose while Forrest’s fluidity is very unconscious and happens by chance and inactivity. Forrest’s many accomplishments throughout his life including, but not limited to, getting a full-ride scholarship to university to play American football, his drafting into the army which ultimately led to his success in ping pong, and becoming a wealthy CEO of Bubba Gump shrimp happened without guidance or intent. Jenny’s life, however, was very different. The choices that Jenny made such as wanting to become a well-known singer led to sexual exploitation, depression, drug use, and suicidal tendencies. She also went through many fads such as disco as well as joined many movements such as the black panther movement and hippism. Forrest and Jenny also played these roles when they were together. Jenny was active and Forrest was passive when Jenny initiated friendship with Forest as well as sexual encounters and marriage later on. In addition Jenny’s activeness was compensation for Forrest’s passiveness both independently as well as in relation to each other.
Last, but not least, Forrest Gump demonstrates the saving and punishing of women. Mrs. Gump, for being a supportive and motherly figure for most of her life, she gets to indulge in Forrest’s riches for quite some time until she gets cancer. She was saved for the most part but her deviations from traditional mothering i.e. not finding a husband as well as partaking in risqué behavior, even though it is for the benefit of Forrest, could not be forgiven and thus resulted in her receiving cancer but since her deeds were done with good intent she lived a long life. Jenny, on the other hand, was independent and promiscuous throughout the entire film and due to that she lived a very controvertible life. Although she became a very good mom, the life she had led could not be forgiven and due to the behavior she could not even be given the closure of knowing what was killing her but she was able to know that her son would be cared for.
Whether as a mother or a whore, as active or passive, and ending with saving or punishment, these are all ways in which women are inserted into the narrative and Forrest Gump mirrors this traditional way of depicting women on the big screen.
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