Where there’s a (free) Will there’s a way… and a Forrest Gump

Many of you have probably seen or heard of the movie Forrest Gump, an absolute classic and personally my favorite movie of all time. The director, Robert Zemeckis, can be seen as a film genius with the creation of the character Forrest Gump. Gump is one of the most gullible people you will ever see on screen. You will most likely never meet someone who’s exactly like this in real life. Although he’s gullible he possesses all the traits that people look for in a good person: loyal, kind, devoted, forgiving, loving, generous, trusting, genuine, etc. This list could go on for a while, but this is also why you would most likely never meet someone like this no matter how hard you try. However, in the beginning of this movie Gump starts out as this gullible young man who follows any kind of directions someone gives him, and eventually develops his own free will. Throughout the movie, Gump grows more and more as a person with the more difficult experiences that he has to go through.

If you have ever seen Forrest Gump (which I would recommend stopping whatever you’re doing now and watching if you haven’t) then you would know that Gump starts out as a young boy who gets bullied for the weird braces that help him walk. The bullies throw rocks at him and Forrest ends up taking the hits and runs off as the kids chase him on the bikes. He ends up running because Jenny, his best friend, told him to. He breaks the braces off his legs which helps him run faster and get away from the bullies. I think this was the first realization from Forrest that he doesn’t have to listen to what everyone tells him to do and that he could actually break free from others’s restraints. Although this may be his first realization of his own free will, he still could be seen as a pushover who would do anything for anyone who asks him. I will take you back to a later scene from the movie where Forrest graduates college. With Forrest still in his cap and gown and talking to his mom, a man in a military uniform comes over and simply hands him a brochure to join the army. The movie then cuts to Forrest getting on a bus that is heading to some kind of bootcamp for training. This goes to show just how much of a follower that Forrest Gump seemed to be.

I was once this same person that Forrest was; a follower to some people. Early in my 8th grade year and freshman year of high school I used to be friends with kids who I would let boss me around. It wasn’t like this all of the time, but was like this enough to the point where I didn’t enjoy hanging around them anymore. One day after a spring dance during my freshman year of high school I finally decided I was done hanging out with these people. One of my other friends who used to hang out with us invited me to a different after party with new people. I immediately felt a lot happier after making this switch. I started hanging out with these people every day and started to develop my own free will and started to stick up for myself. Although this is such a small thing it ended up becoming one of the biggest turning points of my life. I started to actually enjoy everything I was doing whether it was homework, sports, getting dinner, etc. My development of my own free will led me to surround myself with good people which lead me to do things that I want to do. In a way I was like Forrest Gump, kind of a pushover, but not nearly as gullible. We both needed that one friend to help push us to start having our own free will.

After much loss and hardship however, Forrest starts to pave a path for himself. After the war and loss of his best friend Forrest starts to act on his own free will. One day he picks up a ping pong paddle and realizes that he’s pretty good at ping pong, so he starts to compete at a high level. He eventually becomes so good that he becomes a national ping pong champion and ends up finding a check for $25,000 from a businessman who works in making paddles. Amongst finding this, Forrest yet again acts on his own free will and ends up buying a shrimping boat in the process. This is when you really start to see Forrest become his own person and start to do new things in his life. One day Forrest decides to go on a little run, which turns into Forrest running across America… three times. This turned Forrest into quite the simple man. He explained how he did things by saying, “When I got tired I slept, when I got hungry I ate…”. This is a very simplistic way to live by, but eventually everyone needs a good break from life to do this for a week or extended weekend. Eventually after running across America for three years Forrest eventually says, “I’m pretty tired, I think I’ll go home now.” I think this is something that we could all do a better job at; letting ourselves adventure away from reality, but not nearly for as long as Forrest did. I don’t condone doing this, but it could be something as simple as calling out sick from work one day and going to the beach with your friends or a significant other which could improve happiness within yourself. If more people did this on a monthly basis, not only would society as a whole be a lot happier, but also people would start achieving their goals of going to the beach or their favorite getaway spot more often. I also think that more work could get done if there was more of these days. For example if an employer gave every other Friday off, more work would be completed because the employees have something to look forward to.

Another key line that Forrest uses in the movie is, “Stupid is as stupid does”. What this truly means is that one should be judged by their actions and not what he or she looks like. I think nowadays people have been doing this, but at the same time a lot of people have been making fools of themselves with the actions and decisions they make on a daily basis. It’s getting to the point where someone will post another person’s actions on the internet which will go viral and people will start to judge them off of who they were at the time of the event and not give them a chance to show them who they truly are.

After the movie finishes, you see Forrest Gump become a star-athlete, businessman, hero, good friend, etc. all because of his free will and unknowing confidence in himself. Although it is almost impossible to achieve all of the things that Forrest achieved, it is very possible to work and achieve your goals by acting on your own free will and having the necessary confidence to do this. A huge reason for Forrest’s development of free will was his honesty with others and himself. He was one of the most honest and genuine people which is why he ended up being as successful as he was.

One man in particular who, unlike Forrest Gump, had a strong belief in free will from the very start was William James. James said, “ My first act of free will shal be to believe in free will.” A big factor in James’s idea of free will is the two factors of chance and choice. James describes chance as, “the in-deterministic free element” and choice as the, “arguably determinate decision that follows causally from one’s character, values, and especially feelings and desires at the moment of decision”. His idea of chance also falls in line with his idea of indeterminism; basically meaning that things aren’t predetermined. The way I see how James talks about chance and indeterminism is how there’s many possible outcomes of what can happen in one’s future. It is that person’s job to choose what path they want to take.

I know personally in my life I’ve had a lot of different choices I could have made that would’ve significantly changed it and I’m sure many people could say the same thing. The development of my own free will helped me change my thought process and actions along with choices that I would make everyday. I stopped letting other people make decisions for me and instead used other’s decisions to help make mine. Like I said earlier the first decision I made when I started making my own choices and realized I had my own free will was meeting new people and letting go of others. It could be something as simple as that, but once I started making my own decisions I felt as if they were a little less predetermined. With free will you are more likely to live your life indeterminately and may even surprise yourself with certain decisions you make down the road.

To go along with the “free element” that James talks about, he also mentions past decisions. He says when it comes to choice, “We make a choice based on different experiences. It comes from our own past experiences, the observations of others, or: A supply of ideas of the various movements that are…left in the memory by experiences of their involuntary performance is thus the first prerequisite of the voluntary life.” One key aspect that James talks about in this quote is “the observations of others”. I think you can agree with me here when I say that almost everyone has someone that they have looked up to or still look up to. That person could be a relative, celebrity, tv or movie character, philosopher, etc. For example when writing this essay I am looking up to Jenny Odell and trying to take inspiration from her work. Also like James said a big part of the choices we make “comes from our own past experiences”. For example, if someone sticks their hand in fire and burns their hand they aren’t likely to make that same mistake again. We learn from our past mistakes and the mistakes of others. These things all end up helping us with our free will and the decisions we make.

In the end, it is up to your own free will to actually listen to anything that was talked about throughout this essay. Forrest Gump is a fictional character, William James has his own views, and my life examples could be very different to what’s been going on in yours. So ultimately it is your choice to listen to what I’ve said. You may have gotten here by chance, but at the end of the day it was your decision to read this paper.


Robert Zemeckis, et al. FORREST GUMP . USA, 1994.

James, William, and Robert Drummond. The Principles of Psychology. , 1890. Print.

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