The Woodshed: Forrest Gump Turns 20

Top film composer Alan Silvestri '70 shares insights about one of his most memorable scores.

Other Prominent Themes

Forrest Gump Movie Poster

Although Silvestri’s initial theme didn’t provide melodic resources for other cues, the sound of the piano heard at the outset remains central to his score. “The piano itself became thematic,” he says. “We used it as a sort of connective tissue throughout the score.” Silvestri wrote different themes to flesh out the characters and their relationships. The second theme heard, “You’re No Different,” also features the piano (see page 27, example 1). While it differs from the opening theme, it also has a childlike quality and is played over an ostinato.

The cue titled “You Can’t Sit Here” (example 2) is an important theme that reappears in various instrumental settings. It’s the third theme heard in the movie when Forrest, as a child, boards the school bus for the first time. Most of the kids refuse him a seat next to them, but Jenny Curran (played by Robin Wright) says that he can sit next to her. She becomes Forrest’s first friend and, eventually, his love interest and wife.

Example 1
Example 1

Silvestri chose the clarinet for the voice of the first half of this cue (bars 1 to 16) in its first few appearances in the film. Silvestri refers to it as “The Forrest Lonely Man Theme.” “The clarinet doesn’t generate the same number of harmonics as a flute or an oboe,” Silvestri says. “Acoustically, that’s a real thing. So to me, the sound of the clarinet is capable of suggesting loneliness. I used it to help communicate Forrest’s isolation and his inability to makes sense of what he sees happening around him. He didn’t understand so much of the world. Stating the theme with a solo instrument already has you on the path, but then the choice of the clarinet took that intimacy beyond to a sense of loneliness.”

Forrest Gump Theme Score
Example 2
Bars 1-16 “The Forrest Lonely Man Theme” Bars 17-27 “Forrest and Jenny Theme”

Note the poignancy added by the wider interval leaps Silvestri employs in these themes as compared to the more scalar movement found in the previous themes. With the second half of that cue (example 2, beginning with the pickup to bar 17), Silvestri underscores the emotional spectrum of the relationship between Forrest and Jenny in scenes where their paths cross in future years. “I wanted to convey the feeling of someone looking back thinking of when life was the best it ever was,” Silvestri says. “When Forrest 

and Jenny were kids sitting in the tree, life felt good and uncomplicated, this was before life’s problems came crashing down. That girl was going to become a drug addict and die of AIDS. Forrest would fall in love with her and ultimately see her—his best friend—die. The future was filled with pain for these two, but at this point, things were just rolling along, everything was fresh and wonderful. I was just following what I saw in the film.”

Run Forrest Run Sheet Music
Example 3
The “Forrest and Jenny Theme” appears prominently in two other scenes. It’s played on the piano when Forrest meets the toddler son he’s just learned is his when he reunites with Jenny. It’s also given a dramatic reading by the strings when Lieutenant Dan, the officer whose life Forrest saves in Vietnam, shows up at the wedding of Forrest and Jenny.

The “Run Forrest Run” theme supports the action during several scenes when Forrest is running. It’s epic and gallant and played by the full orchestra. “The spotting of this scene was very interesting,” Silvestri says. “There were a number of earlier places where a composer could have dug into it. When the rock hits little Forrest in the head, there could have been music. But the whole scene is about the moment when Forrest discovers that he’s not crippled.”

Early in the movie, young Forrest is fitted with leg braces to help straighten his spine. As grade-school kids, Jenny and Forrest encounter bullying classmates who throw rocks and chase him as Jenny screams, “Run Forrest, run!”

“At this point we’re really doing movie music,” Silvestri says. “Bob had the camera on Forrest’s face as he runs and the braces break and fall from his legs. He over-cranked the camera to make it seem like time was slowing down. When Forrest looks down and sees that he is running like the wind without the braces, that’s when the theme finally kicks in. The music is about him celebrating that something he felt was an infirmity not only doesn’t exist, but he is actually a brilliant runner.” Silvestri’s theme is heroic and inspirational. A key change comes at the voiceover line spoken by Forrest: “From that day on, if I was going anywhere, I was running!” The theme reappears at key points in the film, always elevating the energy and drama of the onscreen action.

Telling the Story

Silvestri is well known among top movie directors as a composer who can write memorable themes and additional music that supports a storyline. “For a film composer, understanding the story and helping to tell it with music is very important,” he says. “There are a lot who write brilliantly but can’t write a movie cue because they don’t have a sense of story. Writing a movie theme is like songwriting. Helping a story with a theme is what I love and feel I understand. I see myself as a filmmaker who writes music.”