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Mental Retardation in the Movie “Forrest Gump” Term Paper

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Updated: Mar 22nd, 2022

The movie was about the life and times of Forrest Gump a fictitious character who suffers from a disability known as mental retardation. The movie starts at the very beginning as a child growing up in Alabama and one who was brought up by a single parent. His mother took care of him and never gave up on him. Although the world sees him and treated him as a person with disability his mother refuses to back down and wanted nothing more but to see his son grow up, receive education and enjoy life as a normal person would.

She opposed everyone who said that her son will amount to nothing. It was her love that instilled in Forrest Gump the faith that everything is possible. Although he was mentally retarded Forrest Gump had another quality in him and it is the innocence and the graciousness of a gentleman. He only wanted to make other around him comfortable and because of that his disability never became a stumbling stone for him and instead it became a stepping stone to success.

Mental Retardation

According to the World Health Organization mental retardation is under a group of health problem called developmental disabilities (WHO, 2010). It is generally understood as the failure of the brain to mature and grow correctly and as a result affects the whole person. In addition the WHO also pointed out that in mental retardation there is deficiency in all aspects of development such as: “…noticeable deficiency in the development of motor, cognitive, social, and language functions” (WHO, 2010). This definition applies to Forrest Gump.

Forrest Gump was slow to pick up with regards to conversation and absorbing information that would usually be of no concern to a normal child. As a result a young Forrest Gump is seen as slow in speech. He could not seem to answer correctly questions directed at him; however, the movie made it appear funny as if all the good breaks happen to him and so what was supposed to be a disaster turned out to be for good.

Aside from his deficiency when it comes to cognitive skills, as a boy Forrest Gump also had to endure a physical problem and it has something to do with his legs. It did not develop normally and so he had to use braces to support his lower limbs and for him to walk from his house to his school. It gave him a great deal of discomfort and it also pained his mother. This is a typical example in the life of a mentally retarded person.

Body Image and Self-Perception

The consequence of mental retardation made Forrest Gump realize that he was different. His classmates treated him different and he knew deep down that there is something wrong with him or at least there is something odd about him. He became a target for bullies and the whole community made fun of him.

This was demonstrated in one continuous scene when bullies riding in a vehicle tried to hit him with stones and so Forrest Gump ran as fast as he could until his braces broke off and he ran straight into a football game and one spectator asked another who is this guy running like a wild man across a football field, to which his friend replied that Gump is the village idiot.

Gump made the conclusion that no one really likes him or loves him because in one scene he opened up to an elderly couple and he said that he only had one friend in the world and her name is Jenny. This is probably the reason why he was intensely loyal to those who gave him the time of the day. For instance he was devoted to Bubba and Lt. Dan even if the former veteran was mean to him. Unfortunately Jenny will not reciprocate his love and it created a deep wound in him.

Employment and Career

He experienced a great deal of trouble in his hometown, especially in his school and so one would probably expect him to face the same type of hurdles or even greater when he decided that it was time for him as an adult to find work. Surprisingly he did not have a hard time in the U.S. Army.

It was a place where his mental retardation became an asset rather than a liability. His disability allowed him to throw all inhibitions to the wind and he was not struggling when it comes to following orders and doing things that other normal enlisted men would complain about. He simply did what the drill sergeant told him to do.

It was like a drug for him that altered his perception. He viewed the world different. For example, the Vietnam War was not frightening for him. When it was time to rescue someone behind enemy lines he went there without thinking about his safety. And so he succeeded in his chosen profession.

If a case study is going to be made to understand the impact of mental retardation to employment and career this movie should not be a good starting point. It does not require a rocket scientist to understand that people with mental disabilities will have a hard time securing a job and be promoted. In this case however Forrest Gump received the highest honor that could ever be awarded to an enlisted army man.

Social Barriers

One of the most difficult stage in his life as a mentally retarded person is the challenge of making Jenny fall in love with him. He wanted to be married to Jenny but the woman she fondly calls his “girl” is not ready to make the same commitment. But there were only a few things that can be considered as social barriers especially when he reached adulthood. The twist in the movie is how his disability became a blessing in disguise for him.

Aside from receiving the Medal of Honor from the president, Gump also became a household name when he did a fun run that became a national event. He became a ping-pong champion and product endorser. Aside from that he was able to capitalize on the idea that his friend Bubba gave him and with that he was able to establish a shrimp business. In short he was financially secure something that is almost impossible to achieve for someone with a below average IQ.


Needless to say the movie was not believable but it must be pointed out that the movie did not create a stereotyped character in fact it tried to show the opposite – a disabled man who became world famous and earned a lot of money.

The purpose of the movie was not to show what disabled people specifically what the mentally retarded people had to go through in life but to demonstrate the irony of life. The irony is this, those who are normal does not know how to live life but Forrest Gump who was mentally retarded succeeded beyond his wildest dreams.

Aside from that the movie showcased an admirable feature of the U.S. Army and it is to give opportunities to those who have disabilities. According to the official website of the U.S. Army, “…individuals with disabilities must be given the same opportunities as individuals without disabilities” (Graves, 2010). Their spokesperson also cited laws that were legislated to encourage this practice and one example is the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Graves, 2010).


The main character in the movie had a disability he was mentally retarded. However, the movie did not focus on what normally happens in the life of a mentally retarded person. In the early phase of the movie one can see the typical scenes such as bullying, he experienced rejection from the people of the community and from his peers.

But immediately the movie left the stereotyped mentally retarded character behind and invoked in a make-believe fantasy world wherein the mentally retarded was able to amass wealth, fame and fortune. The saying that says it can only happen in the movies is very much exemplified in Forrest Gump. However, it can be used as an inspirational film for those who suffer from mental retardation.


World Health Organization. (2010). “Mental Retardation from Knowledge to Action.” Web.

Graves, J. (2010). “Hire Individuals with Disabilities.” Retrieved from

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IvyPanda. "Mental Retardation in the Movie "Forrest Gump"." March 22, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/forrest-gump-2/.


IvyPanda. 2022. "Mental Retardation in the Movie "Forrest Gump"." March 22, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/forrest-gump-2/.


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