Forrest Gump, who is sitting at a bus stop in Savannah, Georgia, tells the story of his life to a woman seated next to him. The listeners at the bus stop change regularly throughout his narration, each showing a different attitude ranging from disbelief and indifference to fascination and enthrallment.
On his first day of school, Forrest meets a girl named Jenny Curran, with whom he forms a strong friendship. Forrest and Jenny spend all their time together, and Jenny defends Forrest from school bullies. Despite his below-average intelligence quotient (IQ), Forrest's ability to run gets him a football scholarship at the University of Alabama, where he plays under the legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. After his college graduation, he enlists in the army, where he makes friends with a man named Bubba, who talks of nothing but his family shrimping business, and convinces Forrest to go into the business with him when the war is over, splitting the profits 50-50. They are sent to Vietnam and are both assigned to the 9th Infantry Division. During an ambush, Bubba is killed in action. Forrest ends up saving much of his platoon, including his platoon leader, Second Lieutenant Dan Taylor (known throughout the film as Lieutenant Dan), who loses both his legs as a result of injuries. Forrest repeatedly returns to the front line to retrieve his platoon members and carry them to safety, actions which earn him a Medal of Honor for his heroism. While he is rewarded for his actions however Forrest is resented by Lieutenant Dan, who felt his destiny was to die gloriously in action, rather than live as a cripple. Forrest tells Lieutenant Dan of his plans to one day be a shrimp boat captain. Lieutenant Dan responds with sarcasm, saying that if Forrest ever became the captain of a shrimp boat, he would be his first mate.
While Forrest is in recovery for a shot to his buttocks, he discovers his uncanny ability for ping-pong, eventually gaining popularity and rising to celebrity status, and later playing ping-pong competitively against Chinese teams in ping pong diplomacy. He is subsequently promoted to sergeant. At an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C., Sergeant Gump is reunited with Jenny, who has been living a hippie counterculture lifestyle. Forrest witnesses Jenny being slapped across the face by her boyfriend and responds by attacking him, but Jenny convinces Forrest to leave him alone. They walk together all night talking before Jenny leaves on a bus in the morning. On New Years 1972 Jenny is later shown to be addicted to heroin and cocaine, while Forrest meets John Lennon on a talk show.
Returning home, Forrest is encouraged by his mother to endorse a company which makes ping-pong paddles, earning himself $25,000. Thinking of his promise to Bubba, he uses the money to buy a shrimping boat, which he names after Jenny. Lieutenant Dan, who is warming to Forrest, keeps his promise to join him as his first mate; although they initially have little success, In 1974 Hurricane Carmen leaves theirs the only shrimping boat in operation, yielding immense catches. They use their income to buy an entire fleet of shrimp boats. Dan invests the money in Apple Computer and Forrest is left financially secure for the rest of his life, also donating half of the money to Bubba's family. After hearing that his mother is seriously ill he returns home to spend her remaining time with her.
One day, Jenny returns to visit Forrest and live with him in his family home, which he now owns. After they have lived together for some time he asks her to marry him. She declines, although later joins him in his room and spends the night with him, leaving the next morning before he wakes. Despondent at the fact that Jenny has left him yet again, Forrest elects to go for a run. He decides to keep running, eventually crossing the country several times over the course of three and a half years, becoming famous and accumulating a large following in the process.
In present-day, Forrest reveals that he is waiting at the bus stop because he received a letter from Jenny who, having seen him run on television, asks him to visit her. Once he is reunited with Jenny, she introduces him to his son, also named Forrest. Jenny tells Forrest she is suffering from a virus (likely HIV, though this is never definitively stated).Together the three move back to Greenbow, Alabama. Jenny and Forrest finally marry but she dies soon afterwards. The film ends in 1983 with father and son waiting for the school bus on little Forrest's first day of school.
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