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Jenny Curran in Forrest Gump is, I think, one of the most misunderstood film characters in cinema history. I know many people who have seen Forrest Gump and constantly tell me that although they love the film, they hate the character of Jenny.
Warning: Spoilers are contained below!
I guess on the surface, it is easy to see why Jenny is not the most likeable of characters. She is annoyed at Forrest for trying to protect her in the face of hostile men. She only seems to return to Forrest when she needs somewhere to stay. Forrest writes to her constantly when he is in Vietnam, only for her to not receive any of the letters as she is out travelling with her hippie friends.
Forrest and Jenny have very different lives – Forrest is trying to do his best throughout life and is seemingly the nicest protagonist that any film has ever had. Although naive, he is a loveable character who has good intentions at heart. It is easy to see that Jenny is the antagonist of the film, and her lifestyle varies from Forrest’s greatly, as she becomes part of the hippie movement in the 1960s through to the drugs culture of the 1970s.
It is clear that Jenny does hurt Forrest, more than once, but why does Forrest always stick by her? For one simple reason, love (awww!)
Forrest loves Jenny, and Jenny loves Forrest. She loves Forrest throughout the whole film, but she is scared to express this love. From what we know of Jenny’s childhood, she had an unhappy time living with her abusive father (her mother is dead) and she eventually moves in with her Grandmother.
After being thrown out of University, she becomes a singer in a sleazy bar, where Forrest sees someone throw a drink at her feet, and he tries to pick Jenny up and carry her out to safety, much to her annoyance. It is not long after this that we see Jenny join the hippie community, and eventually the drugs culture, whilst we see Forrest constantly thinking about Jenny and wondering what she is doing as she is off in the world.
We know that Jenny has had a difficult childhood, so her relationship with men is messed up. When Forrest tells Jenny that he loves her for the first time, she replies with ‘Forrest, you don’t know what love is.’ As much as Jenny cares for Forrest, although it may not be completely obvious, she convinces herself that he cannot love her. Everytime she and Forrest get a little closer, Jenny ends up moving further away.
As Jenny’s life takes darker turns, from her sad childhood and abusive boyfriends, to her drug usage and suicidal thoughts, the only bit of optimism we have is that she will return to Forrest, who is good and wholesome. This leaves the audience with a very clear line between both characters – Forrest is good, Jenny is bad.
We can see a clear change in the character of Jenny, when she finally returns to Forrest to escape from the drugs culture that she has become embroiled in. One evening, Forrest asks Jenny to marry him. After she refuses him, Forrest says ‘I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is.’ Later that evening, Jenny tells Forrest that she does love him, and they sleep together, only for Jenny to leave the next morning.
Jenny has now left again, and a few years later when she writes to Forrest to tell him to come and visit her, we find out that Jenny has had Forrest Gump Junior. This is also the first instance when Jenny apologises to Forrest, telling him she was ‘messed up for a long time’. In Forrest’s eyes, there is seemingly nothing to forgive, even though he only finds out at the moment that he has become a father.
We now find out that Jenny is dying, and she asks Forrest to marry her. They get married, and finally the love that they have felt for each other throughout the whole film is cemented.
Jenny has always loved Forrest, but thought she was helping Forrest by running away from him, only for her to realise as her life is coming to an end that she and Forrest make each other happy and that is what love is. It is simple enough for even Forrest to understand, and now they only have a few months to enjoy what they have before it’s all over.
I assume there will be some people who don’t agree with this, and will still see Jenny as someone who uses Forrest, but I think there is more to her character than that. She is undoubtedly messed up, and trying not to let Forrest get too close because of it, but her true feelings of love for him are undeniable by the end of the film.
Next time you watch Forrest Gump, try and see everything from Jenny’s point of view, and you may get a different perspective on her character. Added bonus – the Forrest Gump soundtrack is A-MAZ-ING!
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