Forrest Gump as an Example of the Transformation from a Novel into a Movie

Table of Contents

1. Having seen the movie - Who is Forrest Gump?

2. "Screenplay by: Eric Roth" - A first impression of the changes

3. The transformation of Forrest's life and character

3.1 The life as a child

3.2 The football career - high school and college years

3.3 Military service and the Vietnam War

3.4 The shrimp business

3.5 The continuing relationship with Jenny Curran

4. The missing chapters and events of Forrest's life

5. The transformation of the other characters

5.1 Mama Gump

5.2 Lieutenant Dan Taylor

5.3 Jenny Curran

6. Tom Hanks = Forrest Gump?

7. The role of special effects in the movie

8. Can the transformation be called appropriate or successful?


1. Having seen the movie - Who is Forrest Gump?

"Hello - My name is Forrest, Forrest Gump!"

Everyone who knows the movie Forrest Gump remembers this first sentence, the beginning of Forrest's story.

This sentence is an introduction as well as the foundation for a story that describes Forrest's life in a very

detailed way.

In the film Forrest is a narrow-minded, naive and completely innocent boy from the Deep South who lives in a

very strange way through a decisive period of America's immediate past. His participation in this period is so

strange because he is actively making history without realising that; he only lives from day to day - and his

most immediate goal is to finally reach his one and only love - Jenny. Therefore, his life can be described as

"accidental-like on a breeze", and at the same time he has a "destiny" as well - and in the end Forrest is smart

enough to understand this paradox of his life.

Forrest Gump is basically a mirror of the sixties and seventies of our century. Through his eyes we can see our

immediate past. "We" includes the older audience - who lived through that period themselves - as well as the

younger audience who can learn a lot about the era of their parents.

The movie touched the souls of many Americans who can identify certain parts of their own life (or the life of

their parents) in that of Forrest, but those feelings were shared throughout the world by many nations as well.

But the movie itself is based on a novel written by Winston Groom. Here the author describes a different

Forrest Gump - and yet the same. This other Forrest Gump had a different life, but the key elements are still

the same in his modified "counterpart".

Therefore it will be my goal to find out by what means and how well Groom's original novel Forrest Gump was

transformed into the movie version Forrest Gump. There will be a detailed comparison between the two

characterisations of Forrest Gump, a look at the "minor" characters, different views on the "visual

conversion" and a final decision whether the transformation itself can be called appropriate or not.


2. "Screenplay by: Eric Roth" - A first impression of the changes

Eric Roth, listed in the movie credits as screenplay writer (who was awarded the Oscar for "best adapted

screenplay" for Forrest Gump), rewrote quite a few of the novel's qualities for dramatic and cinematic


He offers a very different view on the life of the main character compared to the original novel plot of Winston

Groom. Certain character traits have been added or taken away, intelligence and smartness are not the same

any more, Gump's attitude and morals have changed, certain key events (e.g. the Vietnam War) occur

differently and the course of Forrest's life tends to be more spectacular than originally planned by Groom.

And although the movie is 142 minutes long Roth naturally was not able to put all of Forrest's experiences

into the plot - he had to find certain priorities. This is one reason why many of the minor characters of the

novel have been left out, but it does not completely explain why the remaining ones were converted the way it

can be seen in the film.

The following list contains a few the most obvious and interesting changes of characters and events

compared to the Winston Groom's novel:

Forrest is handicapped as a child

He is more virtuous and more innocent

He is a college graduate

He goes to the army voluntarily instead of being drafted

He cares more for his mother than in the novel

He saves Lieutenant Dan's life

Jenny's father is abusive

He marries Jenny

Jenny raises his child

Jenny dies

This is only a small extract of all final changes, but it shows that screenplay writer Eric Roth seems to have

used quite a few unnecessary means of adapting the novel's action. They appear to have no purpose other

than making the story itself differ from the novel - which implies that the transformation cannot be seen only

under the aspect of adapting the action of the novel itself.

It will be one of my objectives to find out to what end those apparently superfluous transformations were

made and what motives might be the real reasons for those changes.


3. The transformation of Forrest's life and character

3.1 The life as a child

Winston Groom does not give many information about Forrest's childhood. He is characterised as shy,

reserved and quiet, and looking back on his years in "nut-school" he is completely aware of his mental

disability. Forrest shortly describes his first relation to Jenny and the physical changes of his body caused by


The movie however gives a wider, longer and slightly different view on young Forrest. The first

characterisation remains almost unchanged, but there are lots of decisive events that Groom does not


The fact that Forrest has to wear leg-braces is the starting point of many newly added details to Forrest's life.

Another example is that Forrest's mother bribes the principal of the primary school so that he forgets about

her son's too low IQ. Furthermore we can see Forrest dancing for Elvis Presley, finally bursting his leg-braces

and being chased together with Jenny by her abusive father. Those events do not contribute to Forrest's

characterisation though, they only show that the life of the title character is very spectacular already in his


But the decisive element Groom considered important was completely left out in the screenplay: The years in

"nut-school". Groom's first person narrator - Forrest Gump himself - describes those years and in the further

course of his story he refers to that school several times. This important chapter of the novel Forrest Gump

was replaced by a participation in a "normal" school in the film Forrest Gump. However, the justified question

how Forrest - being so mentally handicapped - is able to graduate from a "normal" school remains

unanswered in the screenplay.

3.2 The football career - high school and college years

After the short exposition of Forrest (by describing his years as a child) the action of the novel begins when

he is sixteen years old. Because of his stature and strength the teenager is "drafted" into the high school

football team. In the beginning Forrest does not understand the different rules and tactics of the game,

whereas in the further course of his career Forrest even recognises the mistakes of his fellow players.

Groom uses this football episode as a starting point to show the development of Forrest's character, his

attitude and his views towards different social and moral matters. To show that influence the author describes

Gump's first contacts with sexuality (he has an affair with one of his private teachers), and especially with

force and violence. Since football is a tough and sometimes dangerous game Forrest learns to react on certain

offences and assaults in real life, and so for the first time he hits back when he is beaten by another teenager

(compare p. 18 l. 21).

The author of the novel intended football to be an important influence on Forrest's growth of character,

whereas the screenplay writer does not emphasise this game to show a change of personality at all. Therefore,

the adoption of Gump's football career from novel to movie appears very superficial - only the cinematic

aspects seem to be relevant. This can be observed in the way the filmmakers had Forrest come to play football

in the first place: The extraordinary ability that Forrest seems to be the fastest boy all around his home town

(and probably throughout America) provided the creators of the movie with quite a few great shots that look

wonderful on the big screen.

Added to that, the makers of the film obviously wanted an innocent and "immaculate" main character and

therefore the sexual component is diminished to a short "incident" with Jenny - and Gump's newly obtained

will to defend himself is transformed into an instinct of protecting her.

Again, the problem of having an imbecile graduating from high school (and later on even from college) arises

- in both novel and movie. Groom treated this problem by showing that teachers give private lessons to

Forrest - justified by good contributions to the football team - and in college Forrest has to live in a

dormitory together with other pupils that have equal mental handicaps.

The movie however shows none of Forrest Gump's school activities, in fact, there is yet another contrast to

the novel: Forrest is not allowed to go to high school because he plays football, he comes to high school in

the "normal" way, graduating from primary school. But maybe Groom's idea was taken over one step later:

Although it is not said directly, football seems to be the reason for Gump's enrolment at college.

But the otherwise standard education is a sign of one of the big errors made in the transformation: Forgetting

about the original title character's enormous logical capabilities, Forrest Gump is made generally smarter in

the movie than he is in the novel.

3.3 Military service and the Vietnam War

Winston Groom decided to describe Forrest Gump's time in the army and in Vietnam in a very detailed way,

and so he emphasises one of the most cruel and unnecessary chapters in American history through the eyes

of the title character.

In his naive way of experiencing and judging things Forrest does not see a reason to his training, but he does

not question it either. His descriptions of the time in Fort Benning show his impressions: "It was just doin

what they tole us an getting yelled at in the months to come. They taught us to shoot guns, thow hand

grenades an crawl aroun on our bellies." (p. 57, l.21-25). The screenplay shows that same attitude very

convincingly, and Gump's naive acceptance that things just are the way they are shows in two dialogs

between Private Gump and his drill sergeant. The sergeant asks Gump "What's your sole purpose in this

army?". Gump's prompt answer is: "To do whatever you tell me, drill sergeant!". Another time Forrest is the

first who assembles his gun, and the astonished sergeant wants to know: "Why have you put that weapon

together so quickly Gump?" - "You've told me to, drill sergeant." Although Groom's Forrest Gump gives

more information about his views on the training, these scenes show that the conversion into the movie is

done appropriately.

But differences to the novel plot can be found at the beginning of Private Gump's military career. The movie

differs from Groom's original plot in two instances. First, instead of being drafted Forrest is offered to go to

the U.S. Army voluntarily. The reason for that change is not completely clear, it appears unnecessary. And

second, after signing up he finds the new friend on the way to his camp - Bubba. In the novel however the

two of them are friends at the university already and they meet only at a later time in Vietnam. In this case it is

clear why the filmmakers had to find a way to introduce Bubba at later point of time: The school where the two

boys originally met is not mentioned in the screenplay.

The film also differs in many other instances from the novel, especially the duration of Forrest's service in

Vietnam is shorter. Because it is impossible to pack all the different missions and battle situations Gump

experienced together into a comparable short time in the film, the producers had to find priorities again. And

so, they only showed an introduction to the Vietnam chapter and one short battle where Forrest saves the

lives of his comrades.

But the Vietnam time is also a time where we can see the first quotations of the novel that have been used in

the movie as well. One of the funniest scenes is Forrest's description of the weather in Vietnam (although it

was not taken over word by word): "It commenced rainin one day an did not stop for two months. [...] It came

sidewise an straight down an sometimes even seem to come up from the groun." (p. 77, l. 21-26)

The probably most important influence on Forrest's life - Bubba's death in Vietnam - was fortunately almost

completely taken over into the screenplay plot. In fact, the idea of having Forrest save his comrades

"accidentally" when searching for Bubba was already an idea of Winston Groom. The movie adapts that

heroic deed and the dialog between the dying Bubba and Forrest remains almost unchanged - especially in

this case the filmmakers made the right choice. As they obviously understood what the death of Bubba meant

to the story, they even tried their everything they could to get the best possible results from that scene.

Generally, the Vietnam War episode of Forrest's life is portrayed well enough to show what Groom intended

to say about this awful time - except for one fact: In the movie, Forrest does not altogether understand what

is going on (e.g. he talks of "taking this real long walks" and searching "this guy named Charlie"). In

Groom's portrayal of Private Gump's service he becomes more and more aware of what happens around him,

and in the end he sees the war maybe even clearer than many of his comrades.

3.4 The shrimp business

After living through quite a few adventures the Forrest Gump of the novel finally gets the chance to start off

his own little shrimp farm, just the way he had intended to do all the time after Bubba's death. With expanding

and reinvesting money Forrest's little business grows from a one-pond-system to an enormous enterprise

with lots of corporations.

Groom's portrayal however has one disadvantage on the big screen: It would certainly not look very beautiful

if Forrest pulled out a few nets of shrimps out of a little dirty pond and it would not appear very heroic either.

The filmmakers decided to solve that problem by changing the facts a little. They turned the pond facility into

a shrimp boat and additionally gave the scenery emotional weight by showing Lieutenant Dan's fight and

reconciliation with God. In the end the audience is able to see wonderful scenes of a boat on the sea followed

by a great thunderstorm.

But this change is indeed justified, since on the one hand it does not change the plot too dramatically and the

shots on the sea are worth it on the other hand. The only thing one can find fault with is the participation of

the character Dan Taylor, whose last appearance in the novel shows him changed to a homeless and

forgotten veteran of war, who becomes a bitter communist. But since his personality has already been

transformed to a great extent for the screenplay this way of involving the Ex-Lieutenant can be "overlooked"

when judging the adapted screenplay.

However, it remains fascinating why the movie shows Dan at Forrest's side, for the author of the novel shows

that Gump employs almost every character the reader already knows in his shrimp enterprise, but not

Lieutenant Dan.

3.5 The continuing relationship with Jenny Curran

The film shows a Forrest who is in love with Jenny from beginning to the end, although they see each other

only in between Forrest's strange adventures. All the time the audience can see that Forrest remembers the

time with Jenny, he writes letters to her, even names all his shrimp boats after her and when he has been

separated for a long time he misses her extremely. When it turns out that the two of them have a son (who

grew up alone with his mother for more than three years), they finally marry. Shortly after the marriage Jenny

dies. Therefore, one of the last scenes of the movie - when Forrest says goodbye to his wife on her grave - is

the most tragic and moving part of the film.

In the novel the reader can pursue a similar relationship, but here the times that Forrest and Jenny spend

together are longer and Jenny returns the love much sooner than in the movie. Although Forrest often thinks

about Jenny, he does not often say that he misses her, and when he finds out that she finally married another

man he is somewhat shocked - but after a while he gets along with it. At the end of the novel, when Forrest is

older, it seems that he has almost forgotten his relation to Jenny and looking back over his life he can say. "At

least I ain't led no hum-drum life." (p.288, l20-21)


4. The missing chapters and events of Forrest's life

During the discussion of the adaptation of Forrest Gump's life I have only mentioned the events that have

actually been taken over into the movie. However, the novel contains many other elements that the film does

not show. A certain part of those things had to be left out because the screenplay would have been far too

long for the cinema audience. Some of the elements do not contribute much to the action of the novel (nor

would they have to the film) but others seem to be quite necessary to clarify the characterisation of Forrest


The most important missing details can be summarised in the following list:

Private Gump brings a boiler with hot stew to explode during his basic training for the army.

Forrest saves Mao Tse Tung from drowning.

Forrest plays several times together with Jenny Curran's band, the "Cracked Eggs".

During a time when he lives together with Jenny, Forrest is addicted to drugs and so destroys the


After "accidentally" throwing his Congressional Medal of Honor at the Clerk of the U.S. Senate, Gump

is taken to psychiatric observation.

Because of his great logical capabilities (which he showed before in his physics class), Forrest is

drafted by NASA to participate in an outer space mission - he is the "backup computer".

Forrest lives for a couple of years with cannibals after his crew had crashed into the rain forest.

Gump learns to play chess very well during his time with the chief cannibal and therefore is able to

play chess at a big tournament.

He acts in a movie remake of a classical movie in Hollywood.

Forrest becomes a wrestler; named "The Turd" he becomes quite popular.

Having achieved a high status as the head of a big enterprise, Forrest is more or less pushed to be a

candidate for the Unites States Senate.

The two most important things that contribute an important detail to Forrest's character are the NASA

mission and the his greatness in playing chess, which he achieved during his time in the rain forest. Those

parts give information about Gump's enormous logical capabilities, for he even serves as a backup for the

space vehicle's board computer. Unfortunately this part of his character is completely left out in the

adaptation of the novel.

While leaving such important chapters of the novel out it is unintelligible why a completely meaningless

chapter was added to the plot: Forrest Gump runs through all America "for no particular reason at all", as he

says himself. It may look funny to the audience to see the title character run and run and run for more than

three years, but instead of wasting time for such an unimportant and unnecessary addition the screenplay

should rather include any one of the missing chapters listed above.


5. The transformation of the other characters

5.1 Mama Gump

It is amazing to see that in the novel a relation between Forrest and his mother is almost not present. He refers

to her only a few times and he basically lets the reader know that he does not care much about his mother. A

characterisation of Mama Gump can therefore not be made.

It is even more fascinating to see a loving son and a loving mother in the movie. From the beginning of the

film to her death Forrest's mother has a decisive influence to his life. Idioms like "Stupid is as stupid does" or

"Life is like a box of chocolates, you never now what you're gonna get" are very important guidelines to her

son's life.

5.2 Lieutenant Dan Taylor

In the novel, Forrest Gump meets Dan Taylor in a military hospital. He was "blowed up inside a tank" (p. 82, l.

20) and has therefore been severely wounded. He finally loses both his legs.

He is a learned man and a philosopher and he therefore often thinks about his fate and his destiny. During

conversations with Forrest he finds out about the strange adventures his friend lived through, which lead him

to conclude that Gump has a very special destiny on his own, although (or maybe because) he is not

intelligent enough to realise that.

The first meeting with Dan in the movie is when Forrest and Bubba report to Lieutenant Taylor for duty in

Vietnam. In this first scene Dan is already characterised as a honourable warrior who is searching for his

destiny in glorious battles, just like all of his ancestors did before him. He wants to find his honour in the

battlefield, but when Forrest saves him during a battle, Taylor feels cheated and he does not see a point to his

life anymore.

Unlike the Lieutenant Dan of the novel, whose life gets worse and worse because he is really cheated by the

American "system", the movie makes Dan an upright and honourable American citizen who "found his peace

with God" (and with Forrest) in the end.

5.3 Jenny Curran

In both novel and movie Jenny is characterised as a woman who actively lives through the sixties and

seventies of American history. That means she is a peace demonstrator against the Vietnam War, travels

homeless with other Hippies through the country, becomes addicted to drugs, and in the end calms and

settles down and starts an "ordinary" life as a mother and wife.

The film adds an important detail to her life: It shows that Jenny was abused by her father when she was

young; this is meant to explain her "career" that leads to drugs and prostitution, but it also gives Forrest a

chance to be the firm anchor in her life.

None of this is described in the novel though, and although the relation between Forrest and Jenny was

stronger at times, she finally marries someone else, because Forrest does not give her the hope that a marriage

between the two of them would work.


6. Tom Hanks = Forrest Gump?

Obviously the plot is not the only thing the producers of the movie had to change - in fact, some of the new

ideas originate in the change of the outward appearance of Forrest Gump himself.

The reader of the novel has the image of a six foot six giant weighing "two hundrit forty-two pounds" (comp.

p. 10, l. 12), whereas Tom Hanks portrays a completely different stature of Forrest Gump. Therefore it was

necessary to refit some details of Gump's life.

It seems that the filmmakers intended to keep Forrest playing football, but since his giant-like appearance was

the true reason for him to do so in the novel a different explanation had to be found. Finally then, the creators

of the movie had Forrest run "as fast as wind blows", and for a movie this explanation as a reason for playing

football is even better. It is simply something new, something the audience is not used to - it is one of the

miracles the people want to see rather than an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Silvester Stallone blowing the other

football players away (as Groom intended to show).

This need for someone special partly answers the basic question that arises when discussing the actor of the

title role: Why did the filmmakers use a completely contradictory person to the novel at all, why did they not

use an actor that fitted Winston Grooms' descriptions?

Among the many changes the action of the novel had to sustain the "visual transformation" of the main

character has its true cause in one fact: The Forrest Gump of the novel would not have looked very good on

the big movie screen. Since the novel of Winston Groom was different from "normal", the filmmakers wanted

to make a different type of movie as well, and so they had to use a different kind of actor. In the case of this

movie the chosen actor was Tom Hanks.

He has shown his talents in many different films. Among others, Hanks played a boy who fell in love with a

fish (Splash, 1984), a child that virtually grew up over night in BIG (1988), a man who lost his wife (Sleepless

in Seattle, 1993) and before that one Hanks had his best performance as a gay HIV-positive who fights

against prejudice and misunderstanding from people who are afraid of AIDS (Philadelphia, 1993). All those

films belong to a group of movies that are just different. Many of the sooner films are funny, whereas shortly

before Forrest Gump, Hanks showed that he can play very serious roles as well. Therefore, Tom Hanks was

chosen to portray the title character; he proved that he could play funny and tragic parts very convincingly.

It was exactly the choice for this actor that made the movie capable of that much success. As a celebrated

Oscar winner of the year before the audience expected to see Tom Hanks on the screen again, his face was

known and there were no doubts about his acting abilities.

In Forrest Gump Hanks was able to show his talents once more. His portray of a mentally handicapped,

therefore naive and innocent man seems in no way unrealistic or unprofessional. Tom Hanks even does

justice to the novel with his way of acting: Apart from his stature the presentation of the story as both

narrator and actor would have worked even with a one-to-one adaptation of the novel. Even the way Tom

Hanks speaks matches with the language used by the Forrest of the novel.

When searching for one of the best possible actors for the film Hanks was certainly the right choice, but

under the aspect of authenticity towards the novel the role was not cast properly. It is an error that here and

in many other examples the adapted screenplay is not accurate to the novel's plot, even though Tom Hanks'

performance in this movie is undoubtedly outstanding.


7. The role of special effects in the movie

Forrest Gump confronts the audience with the past 30 years of their history. To get the reader efficiently

involved into that time Winston Groom used a simple and yet brilliant method: He had his title character

participate in striking historical events that almost everyone of the readers automatically assigns to that era.

Forrest does not only fight in the Vietnam War and go to outer space, he also directly interacts with

presidents of the United States, saves Mao Tse Tung's life and meets other historical figures.

This method of involving the reader produced a problem for the creators of the movie: If they wanted to get

the audience involved in the same way - and they surely wanted to do that - they had to find means of

having Forrest Gump interact with quite a few dead persons.

The only possible option the filmmakers had was common: Find someone to play the part of J.F.K., Nixon and

the others. It seemed to be impossible to work with Groom's element any other way. But the new era of

computer-generated effects and high-speed digital data processing has definitely proven one thing: Not

everything is possible, but it can be made possible on the screen.

And so, apparently someone had the idea of integrating Tom Hanks' picture into authentic footage from the

real presidents of the United States. The results of this technique were astonishing and they may have been

the reason why many other stars of American history have additionally been cut together with Tom Hanks

(e.g. John Lennon). It seems that the producers got so fond of having Forrest Gump together with famous

people of American history that they came to bet on one simple strategy: the more - the better.


8. Can the transformation be called appropriate or successful?

While analysing the changes the writer of the screenplay and the creators of the movie made for the

adaptation of the novel, it becomes obvious that they were in quite a dilemma. On the one hand they certainly

wanted their film to be as authentic to the novel as possible, but on the other hand everyone wanted the

movie to be successful at the same time.

It was therefore not easy to engineer the screenplay to meet both of these criteria, and the final result of the

filmmakers is not very well balanced out. It shows that the wish for success dominated the authenticity to a

certain degree. This can be seen in the many changes that have only been made to the appearance of

characters (such as Forrest Gump himself), the look of landscapes, Gump's work (e.g. the shrimp boat) and the

use of new special effects. In this case however, the conversions are justified, for they do not basically

interfere with the action of the novel. No one can blame a director or producer for the wish for some

beautiful-looking scenes in their movie. One of the best examples of this is the otherwise absolutely

unnecessary addition of the scenes where Forrest runs through all America for more than three years.

Other changes, such as the description of Lieutenant Dan, Jenny Curran and the Forrest's mother, his

absolutely loving attitude towards Jenny, his innocence and his purity show the same wish for success. The

goal of these changes is clear as well: The audience is to be emotionally involved the same way they can

enjoy the many marvellous-looking scenes.

Of course it was and it still is worth watching the film. It is definitely not bad if judged apart from the novel

(for many people have only seen the film) and even to people knowing the original story the movie remains

one great example for the capabilities of Hollywood.

Nonetheless I think that the transformation from the novel into the movie could have been carried out more

carefully. Converting the novel without changing and adding so many details might even have decreased

success, but it definitely falsifies the plot of Winston Groom's novel.

When answering the question "Was the transformation appropriate?" I have to say "No", because the movie

does not cover the action and characterisations in novel well enough.

But when answering the question "Was the transformation successful?" I have to say "Yes", for the movie

still shows many elements of Groom's original plot and lots of references to the novel are still visible.



I only used the following two sources:

1.The novel "Forrest Gump", written by Winston Groom

(© 1986 by Perch Creek Realty and Investments Corp., published by the "Reclam

Universal-Bibliothek", © 1996 Philipp Reclam jun. GmbH & Co., Stuttgart, printed in Germany 1996)

(all quotations given with page and line are taken from this editionof the novel)

2.The movie "Forrest Gump", presented by Paramount

Pictures (produced by

Steve Tisch / Wendy Finerman, directed by Robert Zemeckis. © 1994 by Paramount Pictures. All

Rights reserved) (all quotations printed in italics are transcripted from this


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