There’s a lot to like about Forrest Gump. Tom Hanks is fantastic as a dullard who stumbles through history, the special effects are wonderfully subtle and its gorgeously shot. All things to behold with wonder now that its in theaters for an IMAX 20th anniversary run.
But then there’s Jenny Curran (played by the luminous Robin Wright), Forrest’s one true love and beacon of all that is good and right in the world. We see Jenny through Forrest’s eyes, which is why the movie makes us feel like she’s an angel straight from heaven. But if you actually look at what she does, she’s revealed as a horrible, manipulative, selfish woman whose every action towards Forrest serves to either lead him astray or further her own goals.
1) The very first lesson she teaches him, as a little boy, is to “run, Forrest!” Not to confront your problems, deal with them head on and learn something as a result — no, just run away from them. The fact that he happened to be super-freaky fast and ran into good fortune doesn’t absolve her of the crime of giving someone the worst advice ever.
2) She treated him like a chump in college. Sure, he was a little stalkery, but she knew who he was — and, more important, knew that he was doing the best he could with the limited intelligence he had.
3) After Jenny bottoms out — a lot of men, a whole lot of drugs, a dalliance with suicide — she returns home to see Forrest, who has inherited his mother’s house and struck it rich on shrimp and Apple. Forrest bulldozes her childhood home for her — the place where her father, the film intimates, sexually abused her — and lets her crash at his plantation-house mansion.
He proposes to her, she rejects him, throws him a pity fuck (sorry, “reaches out for a moment of human tenderness”), then leaves in the morning. There may have been a note. Whatever.
4) Years pass and she makes contact. Why? Because she’s got AIDS and isn’t long for the world. She’s got a kid: his kid, which she likely would’ve kept a secret from Forrest, except that she needs something. Jenny asks Forrest if he’ll marry her, and he accepts. Not because she loves him — the film makes it abundantly clear that she doesn’t love him — but because she needs him to care for Forrest Gump Jr. (Haley Joel Osment) and would like a nice house to die in, cared for by the very best doctors that internet-shrimp-boom money can buy. (Also, she never tells Forrest that he should maybe see a doctor, since that sex they had was unprotected and she’s got what was, at the time, an untreatable and often lethal venereal disease.)
Look, I understand that, as a victim of child abuse, her outlook on life was warped at a very young age. She presumably never visited a therapist or psychiatrist to work through her issues of betrayal and abandonment, and that psychological damage manifested in the woman that Forrest loved, unconditionally.
But she treated him like dirt. It’s just high time we all admitted it: Jenny ain’t no Buttercup.
Marc Bernardin is the Deputy Editor of Playboy.com — follow him at @marcbernardin