The Interpretation of Imagine in

Forrest Gump

In the 1994 movie Forrest Gump (Zemeckis), the main character, Forrest Gump, played by Tom Hanks, is depicted as a participant in many historical events. The lm uses special eects to make it appear that Forrest Gump While Forrest Gump is clever from a While is actually present in historical scenes with historical gures, such as Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. lm-making perspective, it is distorted from a historical perspective.

viewers will understand that obviously Forrest Gump was really not actually present during these scenes, viewers will still tend to assume that the presentation of the underlying historical events is still valid. in this way appears to present history, are two brief, related scenes that demonstrate this. The rst scene is the one in which Forrest Gump recalls how he was so good at ping-pong that he was sent to China to play ping-pong. ...the Army decided I should be on the All-American Ping-Pong Team. We were the rst Americans to visit the land of China in like a million years or something like that, and somebody said that world peace was in our hands. But all I did was play ping-pong. (Roth) During this scene, the lm shows Forrest Gump playing against a Chinese player in a huge building with a huge picture of Mao Tse-tung. As a result, Gump becomes a national celebrity. Famouser even than Although the lm There it actually distorts history.

Captain Kangaroo, and he is invited to appear on the Dick Cavett show. This leads to the second scene, in which Forrest Gump appears to be sitting between Dick Cavett and John Lennon. Cavett introduces the two to each other, and the following dialogue takes place JOHN LENNON: Welcome home. DICK CAVETT: was China like? FORREST GUMP: Well, in the land of China, people hardly got nothing at all. JOHN LENNON: No possessions? You had quite a trip. Can you, uh, tell us, uh, what


And in China, they never go to church.

No religion, too?

DICK CAVETT: Oh. Hard to imagine. JOHN LENNON: Well, it's easy if you try, Dick. (Roth)

The phrases no possessions, no religion, imagine, hard to [imagine] and it's easy if you try are from the John Lennon song, Imagine (Choukri, 1998, Lyrics007, 2007,, 2006,, 2007). on the conditions in China. These two scenes are a distortion of history in subtle but signicant ways. Regarding the American relationship with China, Forrest Gump states that that China had been closed to Americans for a million years or something like that, and he is sarcastic about the importance of the ping-pong trip for world peace. In reality, China had only been closed to Americans since the Communists took control in 1949, and the table tennis competition in 1971 actually was an important part of President Nixon's ability to make a better American relationship with the Communist Chinese government.  [T]he President has oered to help expose [the Chinese] to contact `with the outside world', to draw them into `a constructive relationship' with other nations, and to let them nd `full scope for the inuence to which China's achievements entitle it' The great promise in today's table tennis competition, therefore, is the implication that Peking, too, will no longer let its claim to Taiwan interfere with increasing contacts with the United States. Attitude on China) Also, when Forrest Gump says, about the Chinese, they never go to church, it implies a contrast between the Chinese who do not go to church and the Americans who do go to church. American history. This distorts both Chinese and Many It fails to recognize that one reason the Chinese people (Frankel, Changing US The lm implies that Forrest Gump helped John Lennon compose the song based

did not go to church is that they were forbidden by the government.

Chinese actually continued a secret observance of religion, and then were able

to be openly religious one the government became less restrictive eld, 1980). are not Christian and who do not go to church.


It also fails to recognize that there are many Americans who

The lm is also very misleading regarding John Lennon and the song, Imagine. In the appearance on the Dick Cavett show, Lennon appears shocked and appalled by the lack of religion and the lack of possessions in China, and the lm gives the impression that Forrest Gump inspired John Lennon to write the song as a way of criticizing the situation in China. of possessions were bad. The reality is that John Lennon did not feel that the lack of religion and the lack It is clear from the lyrics and the melody that his ideas of no religion and no possessions were really idealistic and utopian. 

Imagine there's no Heaven It's easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky Imagine all the people Living for today Imagine there's no countries It isn't hard to do Nothing to kill or die for And no religion too Imagine all the people Living life in peace You may say that I'm a dreamer But I'm not the only one I hope someday you'll join us And the world will be as one Imagine no possessions I wonder if you can No need for greed or hunger A brotherhood of man Imagine all the people Sharing all the world

You may say that I'm a dreamer But I'm not the only one I hope someday you'll join us And the world will live as one (Choukri, 1998, Lyrics007, 2007,, 2006,, 2007, Wang, 2000)

In real life the song Imagine has a much more positive tone. Lennon asks people to imagine a utopia. This mischaracterization of John Lennon and his song was noted by one observer, as follows  [T]he lm features an account of the on-air composition of John Lennon's antiwar song Imagine, a plea for peace that decries the power of materialism, nationalism, and religion. In the hands of the lm's producers, the song is transformed into a denitive statement about Americanness. As composed by Forrest Gump in a televised interview with Dick Cavett, Imagine denigrates atheism and antimaterialism in China and extols Gump's love of American consumerism and Christianity. In Gump's hands, a revolutionary message becomes a celebration of conformity to dominant values. (Wang, 2000) An alternative possible interpretation is that the lm is saying that John Lennon actually wrote the song Imagine because he endorsed or admired the situation in Communist China. This is also misleading because it omits that Lennon was imagining  dreaming  of a future peaceful and happy state, and because it contradicts the song's hope for a future in which there are no countries There is no question the Lennon's song was radical and that it makes a political statement, as even he acknowledged, Imagine, both the song and the album, Lennon said, is the same thing as Working Class Hero and Mother and God on the rst disc. But the rst record was too real for people, so nobody bought it . . . Imagine was the same message but sugarcoated. . . . Imagine is a big hit almost everywhere  anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic, but because it is sugarcoated it is accepted. 2005) Now I understand what you have to do: Put your political message across with a little honey. (Gilmore,

However, it is misleading for the lm to suggest that John Lennon supported or admired the Communist dictatorship in China. These simple examples of how Forrest Gump misstates and distorts history tells us that it is very dangerous to think you can learn history from lms. Films may change the understanding of history even in short incidents that seem insignicant at rst. A famous quotation from 1984, by George Orwell, shows how history can be manipulated. Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past (Orwell). What this means is that those who Filmmakers control the present can control how history is understood, and by controlling peoples' understanding of history, they can inuence the future. are part of who controls the present, so they should understand that they have a responsibility to not create a distorted, dishonest rewriting of history.

Fox Buttereld. At a Reopened Church in China, a Crowd Is Due on Easter.
The New York Times, 5 April 1980.

Sam Choukri.




6 November 1998.

URL Imagine lyrics.,




Max Frankel. Changing U.S. Attitude on China. The New York Times, 14 April 1971. Mkial Gilmore. Lennon Lives Forever. Rolling Stone, 5 December 2005. URL
Lyrics007. John Lennon - Imagine lyrics. Lyrics007, 12 February 2007. URL
George Orwell.




Eric Roth. Forrest Gump.
The Internet Movie Script Database.

Jennifer Hyland Wang. `A Struggle of Contending Stories': Race, Gender, and Political Memory in `Forrest Gump'. Cinema Journal, 39(3):92115, 2000. ine". JOHN LENNON 12 June lyrics 2006. "ImagURL,
Robert Zemeckis. Forrest Gump, 6 July 1994.