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Heroes and Film

When we go to the movies, we like to see heroes. Those figures that are literally larger than life we also like to perceive as larger than life in terms of personality. They dare to do the kinds of things that we ourselves lack the courage or the imagination to do. But our heroes on the screen - as is true in other arenas of popular culture from traditional folk ballads to urban legends to political office - are not always straightforward heroes. They are as often the outlaw as the sheriff, the robber as the cop. This desire for heroes who are outside social conventions in part reflects values that are particularly American - as Robert Ray argues - and in part that are nearly ubiquitous. The tradition of the anti-hero in American film - such as we see in Forrest Gump, the subject of this paper - is both a variation on some of the most important and enduring elements of our national character and at the same time a continuation of the trickster character, who has appeared in a number of different guises in literature from the ancient to the modern and from Africa to Polynesia. The kind of hero represented by Forrest Gump is indeed an expression of the conflict of particular kinds of American values. But it also speaks more generally to a standard archetype. Humans from a wide range of cultures have long understood that the hero is the person who does the right thing; for just as long we have understood that doing the right thing by one's own moral standards may well mean breaking the rules.

Ray presents us with a paradigm through which we can analyze Forrest Gump - the hero of the 1994 movie of the same name, directed by Robert Zemeckis. Gump more closely fits the model that Ray puts forth of the outlaw hero, although he also incorporates elements of the official hero. The movie follows Gump (played by Tom Hanks), beginning with his childhood through middle age. The character is what used to be called "slow" and now is generally cal...

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Heroes and Film. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 00:44, December 14, 2019, from