Forrest Gump and The Bad Jenny Problem

“Bad Jenny. Bad, misguided Jenny will, of course, pay for the sins of her wayward ways…” ~ Ken Hanke on The Bad Jenny Problem

Bad Jenny.

Jenny Curran, arguably the most important of the supporting characters in Forrest Gump, is also its biggest victim.

A victim of child sexual abuse, she is constantly punished by screenwriter, Eric Roth. We watch Jenny grow into a beautiful free spirit, who, due to the abuse she suffered at the hands of her father, wanders from one toxic relationship to another throughout the years.

It’s not that she’s a “bad person”. No. She’s a tormented soul. She’s broken. And so she keeps running. She doesn’t know what else to do.One thing that she does not do is bow to authority. While those around her, including Forrest, march along with the rest of the obedient soldiers, Jenny sets out on a heartbreaking journey to expand her mind. After her failed attempts at becoming a singer, she joins the anti-war movement and becomes a part of the sixties counterculture. She’s a wanderer. A seeker.

In her own way, Jenny wants to make the world a better place. It should be a wonderful thing to behold, but Eric Roth and director, Robert Zemekis, do not present it as such. Jenny is constantly seen as a living and breathing cautionary tale. Even as she is used and abused throughout the films running time, there is never any grace to be had for Jenny. During several scenes, we witness her gradual self-destruction, sometimes with Lynard Skynard blasting on the soundtrack.

In one of the film’s most heartbreaking scenes, Jenny comes upon the home that she grew up in during a casual walk with Forrest. In a tearful rage, she picks up several rocks from the ground, angrily hurling them as hard as she can in the direction of the house of horrors.

It’s one of the strongest moments in the film, and actress Robin Wright plays it with such conviction. And all for what? Forrest, who always assumed that Jenny’s father was “a very loving man, always kissing and touching Jenny and her sisters”, sits down beside Jenny as she sobs, and tosses out the line, “sometimes, they’re just aren’t enough rocks”. Cue the tension-breaking laughter from the audience. It’s just another belly laugh to be had at Forrest’s expense, given his limited intellect, and it interrupts the emotional gut-punch of an otherwise powerful moment. God forbid we allow Jenny to have any kind of catharsis, right?

jenny

The years come and go, with Forrest running into all manner of coincidences that bring him a great amount of wealth. Life is a box of chocolates after all, and an occasional dose of divine intervention doesn’t hurt!

But Jenny goes back to her waitress job, witnessing Forrest’s success by way of television and the newspaper. And then, later, we find out that she has a son.

And Forrest is the father.

Finally! Something positive for Jenny!

Yeah. HIV-positive.

That’s right. Jenny, after all of the abuse she has suffered, contracts the AIDS virus – although Roth and Zemekis never explicitly say it. It’s an unfortunate and incredibly suspect way for the only true “free bird” in a film full of conformists to part ways with us.

But, no worries. After her premature death, Forrest finally bulldozes her father’s house to the ground.

Innocent fairy tale? Or right wing propaganda? I don’t know.

Maybe it’s both.

 

© Written by Steven Adam Renkovish, ReelRenkovish 

 

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