Aspects of Mental Disability in the Movie Forest Gump

In general, the movie depicts the main character’s mental illness in a positive light because it is his mental disability, which allows him to become the leader and inspiration. Although such an approach is better than the use of generic and typical stereotypes about people with disabilities, the film is not entirely accurate. The primary reason lies in the fact that Forrest Gump is shown as a person who has difficulty interacting with people and understanding the consequences. These aspects of mental disability are depicted in an accurate manner, but he is also shown to be child-like and naïve. The latter characteristics can be considered as stigma about people with the given form of disability because intellectual impairment might not be seen in such away.

The overall depiction of mental illness in the movie is harmful because it promotes the stigmatization of such a condition. The first example can be seen in an optimistic take of the director on a society revolving around Forrest Gump. There is only a single major demonstration of discrimination and hate when school bullies attack the main character when he was a boy (Forrest Gump 1994). In other words, the film fails to properly illuminate the issues in regards to society’s attitude towards people with mental illnesses. It is stated that across many nations, a substantial portion of the population stigmatizes and discriminates against individuals with disabilities (Seeman et al. 2016). Such a struggle and reality should be shown more accurately in a film with such a main character.

The film wants to build a positive image of a person with a mental problem but utilizes normalized traits to make him successful. The next instance of inaccurate representation can be seen during Forrest’s military service when he outperforms everyone in rebuilding a rifle (Forrest Gump 1994). The story requires the main character to be a quicker learner than able-minded people in order to make him likable. Therefore, the scene both inaccurately depicts people with mental issues and fails to build the plot around more common slow learners. It is stated that the movie’s flaw is that it continues to normalize able-bodiedness and able-mindedness (Barkman and Sanna 2020). It means that the depiction does not generally beneficial to the majority of people with mental illness. The third example takes place during the scene when Forrest is with his mother on her deathbed. She uses the analogy of a box of chocolate in order to explain to her son that life is unpredictable (Forrest Gump 1994). The given instance returns to the fact that Forrest might not be capable of understanding complex terms, which are not as evident and sometimes absent throughout the movie.

The movie about Forrest Gump can be significantly improved by introducing more relevant and common issues of people with mental illnesses. This means that the plot should be built around depicting the main character, who lags behind regular folk but is able to succeed nonetheless. The movie should also be consistent with the learning capability of Forrest because occasionally, he seems to be a faster learner than his peers. The film could also shed more light on issues, such as discrimination and stigma internalization. Forrest does not face serious discrimination challenges from regular people because he is mostly surrounded by supportive individuals, which is not the case in reality. In addition, it could illuminate the issue of stigma internalization, which is the result of continuous discrimination (Quinn, Williams, and Weisz 2015). The victims develop strong negative feelings about themselves and aim at them internally, which hinders their well-being.


Barkman, Adam, and Antonio Sanna. 2020. A Critical Companion to Robert Zemeckis. Maryland: Lexington Books.

Forrest Gump. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. 1994. Los Angeles: Paramount Pictures.

Quinn, Diane, Michelle Williams, and Bradley Weisz. 2015. “From Discrimination to Internalized Mental Illness Stigma: The Mediating Roles of Anticipated Discrimination and Anticipated Stigma.” Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal 38 (2): 103-108. Web.

Seeman, Neil, Sabrina Tang, Adalsteinn Brown, and Alton Ing. 2016. ” World Survey of Mental Illness Stigma.” Journal of Affective Disorders 190 (1): 115-121. Web.