“Forrest Gump” Movie Review: Description and Characters

The 1994 film, Forrest Gump, is one of the most popular movies in the history of cinematography. It tells the story of an abnormal kid who lives in Alabama with his mother. The protagonist of the movie, Forrest, has an IQ below average, and the movie narrates how the individual transforms from being an unusual child with marginal physical abilities to a hero of war and a good husband. Forrest’s story, therefore, is of interest to scholars that study theories of social and psychological development. In this paper, Forrest Gump will be analyzed in the context of Developmental Social Behavior and Humanistic Theory.

Brief Movie Description & Character Introduction

Forrest Gump is a fictional biography of a person who is limited in some ways by his low IQ but has the advantage of a mother who helps him to develop his potential. She equips him with a stockpile of sayings that give him a strong moral compass and guide him through a wide range of events. Some are sad involving bullying, rejection, lack of impulse control, war, and death. Others show great success in sports, business, social interactions, and establishing his own family. Regardless of the situation, Forrest maintains a positive outlook and is kind to everyone.

The main character is Forrest Gump, a person with mental and physical limitations. He has never thought of himself as disadvantaged. Thanks to his supportive mother, he has never felt different from others. Throughout the movie, Forrest is shown in several roles. Whether he is a college football star, soldier fighting in Vietnam, or captain of a shrimp boat, Forrest inspires people with his childlike optimism. Highest priority goes to the people in his life. He immediately leaves his successful business to care for his mother in her last days. He goes back to carry his dying military friend Bubba away from the battlefield. He refuses to let Lieutenant Dan give up and die. Despite being rebuffed, Forrest maintains his love for Jenny and cares for her until the end. Adversity turns into strength. Through the bullying, one thing Forrest discovers is his love of running. Growing up and not being similar to the ones around him did not stop the relationships and success to come.

A Social Worker could learn several things from analyzing Forrest Gump. One is the importance of a parent who provides for all a child’s needs in a safe, loving, and positive environment. Another is to avoid attaching a label that will limit development. For Forrest, when classmates told him he was stupid, or the school principal wanted to send him to a special school, his mother made accommodations for him to achieve in the regular school and told Forrest, “Stupid is as stupid does.” (Forrest Gump) An analysis can identify interests that might not be evident by casual observation. The Social Worker wants to avoid limiting opportunities or judging their worth. Forrest felt fulfillment from mowing the local football field. One might think that is a menial task, but it provided a real service and gave Forrest a sense of fulfillment. A valuable outcome of an analysis could be the development of a plan for resources to help a person live independently. In this case, Forrest could afford to pay for services, but accessing services for low-income persons would be a part of the plan. Possible parts of the plan for Forrest, after the analysis, might include housekeeping service, transportation, parenting class, homework help for Forrest Junior, mentoring programs, counseling, support groups, and medical services. The Social Worker strives to enable clients to live their best lives, and Forrest Gump does lead his best life.

Character / Case Analysis

Forrest Gump was born to a single mother in Alabama in 1944. He never knows his father, and there are no relationships with other family members on either side of the family. Forrest has a crooked spine which was probably caused by polio. He wears leg braces in order to walk but not run. Mentally, his I.Q. is 75. Forrest’s mother rents rooms in their large house to travelers for income. This allows her to be with her son to serve as a positive role model and help him to develop his potential. This includes advocating for him to attend regular school and make accommodations for his learning disability before individual learning plans were available. The only peer who accepts him is Jenny, a troubled girl from an abusive home. She helps him with his studies and with the severe bullying he receives from other classmates.

Forrest impulsively reacts to each life event rather than having the ability to set goals and carefully solve problems and plan his life. Starting with the need to outrun the bullies, he overcomes his spine handicap to become a runner, leading to playing football, graduating from high school, playing college football, and recruitment to the U.S. Army to fight in the Vietnam War. The morals instilled by his mother lead him to automatically rush into battle to rescue other soldiers and to start a shrimp business to fulfill a promise made to Bubba, a fellow soldier Forrest couldn’t save. The platoon leader, Lieutenant Dan, reluctantly joins Forrest as first mate on the shrimp boat. Business is horrible until a hurricane destroys the rest of the shrimp boats leaving them with an automatic monopoly and all the profits. When Forrest learns that his mother is seriously ill, he impulsively jumps from the boat to swim to shore and return home to care for her until she dies. Again, Forrest is automatically rewarded when Lieutenant Dan’s computer stock investment with shrimping income becomes very profitable. Jenny temporarily leaves her wild lifestyle to move in with Forrest. For one night, they make love, and Forrest proposes. Jenny turns him down and is gone early the next morning. To cope, Forrest impulsively starts running across the country until he stops abruptly and goes to find Jenny. He learns that she has a young son, Forrest, the result of their one night together. She is ill and is now ready to marry Forrest and spend her last days under his care. After she dies, Forrest assumes the care of his son.

Even though the young Forrest has no physical or mental limitations, his dad will need a strong support system. Forrest, the dad, has a strong moral code to guide him, an abundance of love for his son, and the money to provide for basic needs. Forrest makes his son his first priority but finds self-fulfillment in mowing the football field. One could assume that the church and medical center Forrest funded will be a part of the support system. Household helpers are shown who could help with home management and routine problem solving. In modern days, many social services are available to help. Philosophically, Forrest is left at the bus stop to wonder if his mother was right about this being the destiny for his life or if Lieutenant Dan was right about life events being accidental like a feather floating in the breeze. In the moment of deepest thinking, Forrest decides that it may be both.

Perspective / Theory Description (Developmental vs Social Behavioral)

Scientists throughout the history of humanity have attempted to develop frameworks that would help explain how people develop both socially, physically, and psychologically. These frameworks are called development theories, and one of the most prominent examples is the theory of evolution. According to this model, humans develop in order to survive and reproduce. This theory is applicable to Forrest Gump because the protagonist’s story can be perceived as his struggle to become stronger in order to be attractive to Jenny Curran and become a worthy father. In fact, the movie ends with a scene where Forrest watches his son depart for school. Another popular framework is the theory of psychosocial development, which perceives all development to be connected to changes in the psychology of an individual. Humanistic development theory was first proposed by Abraham Maslow, who devised the pyramid of needs. Under closer inspection, it can be seen that the humanistic approach, psychosocial theory, and developmental perspective are complementary to each other.

The developmental perspective describes an individual over a lifetime and how behavior will change or stay the same. Several models have been developed, but the most prominent is by Erikson. He divides development into eight stages with defined ages starting with learning trust from 1-2 years of age to ego integrity from ages 65-death. Each stage is influenced by biological, psychological, and social factors. Most agree with the general categories and timelines, but more scientists are believing that more flexibility is needed. Some think that the model is based on white, heterosexual, middle class men and that it may not fit other groups as well. The model may need to be adjusted for the change in times or for different cultures. An example may be the worker who faces retraining throughout life as job markets change. With unrest around the world, a family may have to move to a country with different culture and language. As a wider variety of lifestyles may be accepted, the traditional definitions may not fit for all.

In determining effectiveness of the developmental perspective, it can be evaluated by five criteria. It is clear and consistent but presents contradictions with society’s increasing diversity. Even though the theory is research based, the subjects do not represent diversity. This perspective is very comprehensive but relies on time to the expense of other factors. Universal developmental stages are being altered by some traditional models to more adequately reflect the changing more diverse culture. The traditional Erickson theory can help a social worker in the assessment process and in finding resources to develop potential. The process may be more difficult than the theory suggests.

According to the social behavioral perspective individuals learn as they interact with their environment. The text categorizes the environment into friends, family, work/school, public organizations, and private institutions. With this perspective, learning takes place by classical conditioning, operant conditioning, or cognitive social learning theory. An example for classical conditioning might be a recovering alcoholic who wants a drink when he walks by a bar where he used to join friends for drinks. With operant conditioning, one behaves to receive a reward or avoid a punishment as a teenager cleaning his room to get to go out with friends rather than being grounded. He may see no personal value in cleaning the room. The cognitive social learning theory involves thinking one has agency or can effect change. Besides herself, she can influence others to achieve her goals or work with others for a group goal. Scientists may not agree on methodology, but all agree that there are undesirable behaviors that can be changed.

The social behavioral perspective rates high on coherence and conceptual clarity. The theory is tested by laboratory research, but lab research doesn’t consider all factors in real life. In striving for factors that could be tested, this theory isn’t comprehensive in looking at spiritual factors thus seeming to neglect the human. It may also be limiting in identifying only one cause for a behavior. It receives a poor rating on diversity and power. It does not factor in oppression which can lead to learned helplessness. This theory is widely used and can be helpful to the social worker in reinforcing positive behavior and changing negative behavior.

Perspective / Theory Analysis


The developmental perspective can be used to understand Forrest Gump’s behavior. His mother could be counted on to provide for his needs so that he developed basic trust in her and his world following Erikson’s 8 stages of development. Again, through the efforts of his mother, Forrest learned that it was okay to be himself. When he doubted his mental capability, she assured him he was fine and that only people with stupid actions were stupid. She helped him develop a sense of autonomy. By the time he entered school, he was taking initiative to do the things he wanted to do with his mother’s blessing. With physical and mental limitations, Forrest could have experienced feelings of inferiority, especially since he had negative feedback in the form of bullying. However, his friend Jenny gave him motivation to escape the bullies, and his mother insisted on a regular education for him. Both provided support so that he learned that he could make it in the world. As a teenager, Forrest was free to explore who he wanted to be. He experienced some problems because Jenny thought of him as a platonic friend, and he wanted to be her boyfriend. He had difficulty with controlling his emotions when Jenny chose someone else as her boyfriend. Forrest did experience success on the football field and was recruited to play football in college.

Humanistic theory can be perceived as a ladder on which a person climbs as he progresses. The first step is fulfilling the basic needs, such as food, water, and shelter. The latter element is significant for feeling safe – one cannot think of further development until they are confident that no threat is likely to be inflicted on their lives. Without meeting these necessities, it is impossible to demand that a person flourishes (Jex & Britt, 2014). When an individual has food and shelter, they are motivated to attain love and care on behalf of others (Jex & Britt, 2014). When a person achieves respect from others and from themselves, it is considered that the individual is self-actualized (Jex & Britt, 2014). It is evident that this model is appropriate in the context of organizational behavior and employee retention (Jex & Britt, 2014). As workers reach their respective steps in Maslow’s pyramid, they required different items to stay motivated (Jex & Britt, 2014). Forrest’s development, too, can be analyzed using this theory, although the framework of psychosocial development would aid in understanding the specific phases of Forrest’s progress. The reason is that, in some cases, the main character’s narrative does not strictly follow Maslow’s model.

Forrest Gump and Humanistic Development Theory

During childhood, Forrest lives a harsh life because of external pressure. He lives with his mother, who owns a boarding house, in Greenbow. Before his first day of school, Forrest receives leg braces to fix his curved spine. The equipment poses a hindrance to proper walking, which leads to Forrest being mocked at school. Furthermore, the main character lacks cognitive and physical capabilities. He is perceived as a weak individual with a low intelligent quotient. The combination of abnormal properties makes Forrest a target for bullies at school. This stage of the protagonist’s life can be perceived as his struggle to achieve safety. Constant abuse on behalf of fellow schoolboys enforces Forrest’s progress. When attempting to run away from the bullies, his leg braces come off, and Forrest discovers that he is a fast runner. In terms of Maslow’s model, Forrest attains his basic need of estranging tormentors from his life. After this step of the pyramid is reached, the protagonist can now pursue the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy.

Some phases of Forrest’s development are intertwined when studied in the context of humanistic development theory. For instance, the theory suggests that the need for love and belonging comes only after the basic needs, such as food and safety, are achieved. However, Forrest meets Jenny on his first day at school and continues to be friends with her even when bullies start occupying the protagonist’s attention. This situation suggests that safety was not an issue until Forrest came to school, but the need for love and belonging had existed long before. The absence of a father may have influenced Forrest’s development, and although his mother loves and cares for her child, Forrest needs more support because of his limited physical and cognitive capacities. Jenny serves as the character who cares for Forrest – when the rest of the children in the school bus refuse to allow the protagonist to sit with them, Jenny Curran invites Forrest to sit next to her. This willingness of Jennifer to show the main character that he can be loved has a significant influence on Forrest.

The most important part of the movie is when Forrest develops self-esteem. When he discovers that he can run fast, he starts progressing in this route. Forrest attains a sports scholarship from the University of Alabama and even becomes a notable player in the team. The protagonist graduates from college and has the respect of many people at the university. Then, Forrest enlists into the army and goes to Vietnam, where he once again proves his quality. This period of Forrest’s life can be labeled as the esteem step of Maslow’s pyramid. Forrest is a respected individual who receives a Medal of Honor from the President for his courage and military capacities at war. He also becomes proficient in ping-pong and has moderate success in the shrimp business. After reuniting with Jenny and quickly becoming apart, Forrest becomes famous again when he decides to run across the whole country. After running for several years, he decides that it is time to leave this activity because he has grown tired. Tiredness, in this context, can be perceived as a state when an individual has received enough esteem and respect on behalf of others. The person is confident in every aspect, and he does not need to prove anything. Therefore, Forrest stops running and returns home to Greenbow, Alabama.

In 1981, Forrest is seen as a mature and self-actualized individual who has gone through insecurity, the need for love and care, public acceptance and respect, to the state of self-actualization. He is waiting for Jenny at a bus stop, and the latter arrives with her son, who is also Forrest’s child. At this moment, Forrest realizes that a new phase of his life has come. After progressing and achieving the top of his own Maslow’s pyramid, now he has to care for his child. A year after Forrest’s and Jenny’s marriage, the protagonist’s wife dies, and the movie ends with a scene where Forrest watches how his boy goes to school for the first time. This scene has a reference to the evolutionary theory of development. The cycle is repeated once humans are reproduced, and the continuity of life is ensured. Forrest’s story started when he first went to school, and now, his child has to pass through the same stages. In summary, the narrative in Forrest Gump depicts how individuals develop socially, physically, and psychologically. As suggested by many scholars, all development is often tied to psychological changes. In the case of Forrest, the progress was yielded only after the protagonist realized that he is capable of achieving the greater good.

Theory Application and Integration

The Social Worker needs to learn about theory and then be able to apply it to help clients meet their needs and lead fulfilling lives. Since there is not a crisis or a specific behavior needing attention, the psychosocial theory, which understands the person and the problem, was chosen for this intervention plan. Since Forrest fits the demographic for the type of person used for developing instruments that define human development, it works well for Forrest. He does have physical and mental limitations that deviate from the norms, but the accommodations made for him by his mother have rendered the deviation irrelevant. Because Forrest has successfully gone through the stages of development, he has become a well-rounded, positive, healthy, and fulfilled individual.

Several considerations could be included in an intervention plan for Forrest. His mother, Jenny, and Bubba are dead. Lieutenant Dan has moved on with his life. Forrest is facing an empty nest in a few years. Young Forrest is a healthy intelligent growing boy. Forrest seems to have adequate financial resources and has physical skills in many areas. He is a very caring and social person. After thinking about these conditions, the primary concerns center around helping young Forrest to successfully go through the stages of development and to help Forrest lead a satisfying life as he transitions through the final stages of his life. A Social Worker could help them individually and as a team to set goals and involve them in the planning of how to accomplish and evaluate the goals. The goals should be specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and have timelines.

A micro-level intervention plan might include these goals:

Young Forrest

  1. Complete schoolwork and score at or above grade level on each subject
  2. Participate in at least one extracurricular activity and replace it with another if he does not want to continue with his first choice.
  3. Choose his friends and role models and find resources to resolve conflicts.
  4. Choose elective classes that might point toward possible career choices.


  1. Identify resources to assist in parenting, household management, and developing new relationships.
  2. Choose a new hobby and replace it with another if it doesn’t bring joy.
  3. Choose a community service project and replace it with another if it doesn’t give a sense of fulfillment.
  4. Join a group and replace it with another if it doesn’t result in positive connections with others.

Methods for achieving the goals might include:

Young Forrest

  • School tutoring program
  • School club, summer camp, youth sports teams, Boy Scouts, music lessons, Sunday school class
  • Big Brother mentoring program
  • School and community counseling program


  • Support group for parents
  • Social services to determine where help is needed
  • Social services to determine resources to help him meet his personal goals
  • In Home homemaking service worker


At first glance, Forrest Gump is a simple story of how a marginalized child achieves success in his life. However, under closer inspection, the movie is a description of developmental theories, including Maslow’s Humanistic approach, evolutionary theory, and psychosocial development. The progress of the narrative is a close resemblance of how an individual climbs the pyramid of needs. Forrest starts in a situation where he lacks security because of constant bullying on behalf of students at school. After the discovery of his hidden talent, Forrest literally runs away from the source of insecurity. He develops bonds with Jenny, who cares for and supports Forrest. The protagonist graduates from school, receives a scholarship to attend college, enlists into the army, and attains the Medal of Honor from the President. He achieves self-actualization after years of running when he marries Jenny and becomes a family man.


Hutchison, E. D. (2016). Essentials of human behavior: Integrating person, environment, and the life course. Sage Publications.

Jex, S. M., & Britt, T. W. (2014). Organizational psychology: A scientist-practitioner approach. John Wiley & Sons.

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