Dustin Lilleskov is one of those people that it's difficult to be friends with, because he's always serving as a reminder that perhaps you're not the smartest person you know. His grasp of the materials he chooses to take interest is unfailingly prescient and conveyed with rare eloquence. A graduate of the University of Northern Iowa, Dustin has spent siginificant time in Thailand training in mixed martial arts, teaches Bible study at his local Lutheran church, and has recently finished his first novel, the story of a psychology student whose social experiments drive him to madness.
Dustin's selection is "Forrest Gump," the Robert Zemeckis' 1994 drama about a mentally disabled man's amazing trip through the second half of the 20th century. Trivia: when I was nine, I auditioned for the film, reading for the role of young Forrest Gump in Jackson, Mississippi.
“To everything, turn, turn, turn.
There is a season, turn, turn, turn.
And a time for every purpose under heaven.”
If you’re a student of the Bible, you might remember this as taken from Ecclesiastes’ famous third chapter, or you might notice the “turn, turn, turn” refrain and think of The Byrds’ song, taken after Pete Seeger, which uses the Biblical text word for word, adding only after the final stich “And a time of peace” the words in Seeger’s lyrics “I swear it’s not too late.” Or, after hearing the bright sounds of that opening 12-string guitar lick, you might, like me, reminisce back to Forrest Gump in his Class As, flashing the peace sign back to his lady love, Jenny, as she travels with her then-boyfriend back to Berkley and watches him from the back window of her departing bus. The aptly chosen period music, the strong and colorful imagery of Tom Hanks in his decorated dress uniform amid the crowds of hippies and war protestors, this and the excellent, memorable filmmaking throughout has stayed with me through the years and formed an indelible impression on my heart and mind.
"Forrest Gump" is that movie I keep coming back to, the perennial favorite that, since marking a place for itself in my heart the first time I saw it, has grown on me to illustrate a grand example of a movie type that can beautifully and sorrowfully portray the days of one man’s life. There are others like it that I am almost as equally fond of, "Mr. Holland’s Opus," for one, but "Forrest Gump" is the archetype, magically and magnificently following a boy all the way to adulthood, chronicling his years with the great premise that he will be involved in the major historical backdrops of American history while his pined-for female counterpart revels and wallows in the dark, drug-filled counterculture. These themes interweave in a brilliant tapestry with many other threads- a man with an incurably low IQ accomplishing great feats with such honest simplicity that he has little regard for the magnanimity of what he’s done, the surprising friendships that last over time and war, the sadness, pain, and longing felt when we lose the ones we love, and on top of it all, as mentioned, the nostalgia, conflict, and tragedy of the second half of the American 20th century.
Perhaps you’re saying to yourself that Gump, like its titular character, is simple, without a lot of depth- a charmer, certainly, but nothing more serious than fluff. Well, I’ve found it irresistible to sit down and watch whenever I see a segment airing on TBS, or maybe the final twenty minutes on HBO (which includes my all-time favorite movie moment where Forrest answers a deathly ill Jenny that he was indeed scared in Vietnam, followed by his reflection that there were times when the rain stopped and it was peaceful, and it reminded him of the thousand points of sunlight gleaming on the waters of the bayou, which reminded him of the placid waters mirroring the clouds above on his runs through the mountains, which was like the desert horizon where earth and heaven were indistinguishable- such resounding beauty as found in the powerful life moments unique to the individual, and here he is divulging those private experiences for Jenny’s, and in turn, our consumption). So since I find the film so poignant and magnetic, the burden is on me to defend why I would do so if it is indeed only exists on the surface level.
I ask who could forget the conversations on the bus stop (“My mama always said life is like a box of chocolates”), the cantankerous Lieutenant Dan and his subplot of anger and redemption, eye-blinking special effects where Lt. Dan looked to have actually lost his legs and Gump shakes hands with Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and iconic moments like bounding through the Reflecting Pool at the National Mall to embrace Jenny amid the field of war protestors.
In the end I think it all comes down to my appreciation for Forrest Gump as an idiot savant, not so much an idiot as he is a soul who’s never learned to be jaded or cynical, an amazingly gifted man unimpeded by the pettiness and contentious nature so many people constrict their lives to, a brilliant study of a life lived in quiet grace and thankfulness, a man who cherishes his mother, his son, and his lifelong friends made in the military, who keeps his heart loyally devoted to the troubled woman who would eventually marry him, and who undertakes such quests as running from the Atlantic to the Pacific and back for the plain reason that he “Just felt like running.” - Dustin Lilleskov