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Step into the Salon: Should 'Redemption' usurp 'Gump' as king of 1995?

Paramount

By Noah Cohen, Daily Arts Writer
and Tyler Bailey, Daily Arts Writer
Published February 21, 2013

Tyler: The choice of “Forrest Gump” over “Shawshank Redemption” in 1995 is, in my mind, one of the greatest atrocities in Oscar history. “Shawshank” is probably as close as you can get to a perfect movie — an elegantly crafted story of deliverance and friendship set in the harsh backdrop of an oppressive prison. Although some might argue that there was never a doubt that justice would finally run its course in the plot, the movie crafts situations that seem so convincingly hopeless they transcend the plane of the film screen and shake you to your core. And in that way, it’s easy to forget that it’s all part of a constructed narrative. “Forrest Gump,” while emotionally moving at points, falls too heavily on thinly worn tropes — the love story being the most obvious of all.

Noah: If you have a problem with obvious plot direction and worn tropes, I don’t understand how you can defend “Shawshank.” All the evidence points to your protagonist being guilty, so of course he’s innocent. All the evidence points to your protagonist dying in prison, so of course he escapes. Despite all the talk about unexpected plot twists, “Shawshank” follows the obvious direction of a jail movie to the letter. “Forrest Gump” does not derive its magic from the borrowed emotional taps of guilt, punishment and the desire for freedom. It makes its own emotional universe from scratch. “Shawshank” understands a prison. “Gump” understands a world.

Tyler: I can hardly agree that “Gump” understands a world when the character’s interactions with that world boil down to constant pandering to endless pop-culture references and a watered down romp through various bastardized historical events in search of his “one true love.” He may understand the bizzaro world where the good guy always gets the girl and mama always knows best, but I’ll take “Shawshank” ’s depiction of a prison any day. Although it does seem to end up that ultimate justice is finally realized for Andy Dufresne — the journey is much more harrowing than it may appear. His wife is still dead, and her killer still not brought to justice. I feel that no film that year was able to portray the deterioration and redemption of a man with such painstaking emotion.

Noah: As I took it, the simplicity of “Gump” ’s world was an homage to the idea that we complicate our own lives with needless worry about purpose and destiny. “Gump” welcomes us into a mind that has faith in simple virtues and juxtaposition. Jenny’s plot arc wildly diverges from Forrest’s to provide context for the sweet simplicity that Forrest constructs for himself and, in narration, superimposes upon his life story. What you deem a fault of “Gump” is, to me, its most lovable quirk: an appreciation for what you have and what you are that acknowledges you aren’t the smartest cookie in the batch, but gives you permission to love yourself anyway.

Tyler: Alright, I can understand the reasons why someone might appreciate “Forrest Gump,” and I can say that I’ve enjoyed watching it – but I just cannot justify the decision that was made to award “Gump” the most prestigious honor in film above both “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Pulp Fiction.” “Shawshank” is almost universally recognized as one of, if not the best movie ever made. It’s extremely sad that the superior movie was denied the award, just because it wasn’t as successful at the box office as “Forrest Gump.”

Noah: I don’t know how the Academy decides what movie should win Best Motion Picture, but they have to give some credence to popularity. This having been said, I don’t think it’s fair to sweep “Forrest Gump” off the table as though it can’t compete with the legends of “Shawshank” and “Pulp.” It’s not right to let the legend of something predetermine your opinion of it. “Forrest Gump” does not roar to its conclusion in the emotional chariot of some victorious singularity like redemption or freedom, and to win your respect, it shouldn’t need to. Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, “I will try again tomorrow.” “Forrest Gump” is the quiet voice whose reticence represents its virtue. Even as someone who thinks you might be right, I’m proud to fight for “Forrest Gump.” And that’s all I have to say about that.