- Forrest Gump (left) and a tiny Ken Jennings (right).
Last night, I went to Film Court at Central Cinema. Film Court is a quarterly series created by Central Cinema's programmer, Jessica Aceti, in which fake lawyers argue about controversial movies, and the audience votes on whether the film is guilty or not guilty. Last night's film was Forrest Gump, the prosecutor was Jeopardy! champ Ken Jennings, and the defender was local actor Douglas Willott. As the judge, Aceti wore a gray wig and black robe. (Her legal credentials, she said, were that she has seen Legally Blonde "a couple times.") The court was called to order, and the jury promptly started drinking.
Jennings played his role as prosecutor fairly straight, calling Gump "a manipulative movie—overlong [and] overly sentimental," a work of "propaganda" born of "obvious malice" and "obvious hatred." He agreed that Tom Hanks is "extremely likable," but charged Gump with being a man with no core—"no wishes, no dreams"—who learns "absolutely nothing" over the course of the movie. Willott leaned into the movie's patriotism and smarmy obviousness, saying that Gump "stayed pure and simple," and was obviously "not a smart man, but he knows what love is." His most compelling argument was that "I don't need to be intelligent to enjoy" Forrest Gump, and that Jennings was overthinking the film. But that's to be expected of Jennings, Willot said, who's famous for "standing still and defeating a Canadian wizard at riddles."
Throughout the film, Jennings pointed out obvious flaws with Forrest Gump. He proved that the film was rife with racism and sexism. And he's right, the film is really weird about race: Gump is named after a founder of the Ku Klux Klan and while the film goes out of its way to exploit the assassinations of every famous person Gump comes in contact with, the assassinations of Malcolm Luther King and Malcolm X are never mentioned. The only major black character is named Bubba and can't shut up about shrimp. And Jennings made the case that Jenny is gravely mishandled. Her molestation is played off as a joke in the first ten minutes of the movie, and then she proceeds to keep making terrible decisions while freezing nice-guy Gump into the friend zone. This is a movie that treats everyone who isn't a white man with derision and scorn.
In the closing arguments, Jennings ripped the movie apart for its stupid moral (basically: "I don't know if life has a meaning or not. Probably both") and its obvious manipulation. "These are cheap sentiments, my friends," Jennings concluded. I don't even know how to explain how Willott closed his case. It was a weird mixture of satire, appealing to our sentimental nature as human beings, and advanced debate-club techniques. But however Willott did it, he won. The audience found Forrest Gump not guilty of being a criminally bad movie, 39 to 33. I voted guilty, and I consider this verdict to be a travesty of justice. But sometimes trials don't end the way you want. In my heart, Forrest Gump will always be an awful, irredeemable movie. Jennings, at least, had the last word: "You're all going to get the country you deserve," he warned.