In Winston Groom’s novel Forrest Gump (1986), Forrest is portrayed as an idiot savant. Quoting from Chapter 4, Dr. Mills says to a group assembled to study the strange case of Forrest: Idiot savant … A person who can not tie a necktie, who can barely lace up his shoes, who has the mental capacity of a perhaps a six- to ten-year-old, and – in this case – the body of, well, an Adonis. But the mind, the mind of the idiot savant has rare pockets of brilliance, so that Forrest here can solve advanced mathematical equations that would stump any of you and can pick up complex musical themes with the ease of Liszt or Beethoven. Idiot savant.
In the movie Forrest Gump (Paramount Pictures 1994), the term idiot savant is not used nor even implied. Forrest was depicted with a low IQ (75), although just above what is considered mental retardation (below 70). And there are two scenes in the movie that show Forrest demonstrating savant-like abilities:
- When he assembles and disassembles his rifle with lightning speed during his Army basic training.
- When he plays ping-pong with laser-like focus and superhuman physical performance.
Since Forrest Gump is a fictitious character and I’m not a doctor, my opinion is purely speculative and just for fun. I believe Forrest was an idiot savant in the book version but not in the blockbuster movie. In the movie version that starred Tom Hanks, Forrest was depicted as extremely simple yet profoundly wise … he was a sage.
Here are some more facts about savantism, idiots savants, and autism.
- By definition, an idiot savant is: 1. A person affected with a mental disability (such as autism or mental retardation) who exhibits exceptional skill or brilliance in some limited field (as mathematics or music) also called a savant; or 2. A person who is highly knowledgeable about one subject but knows little about anything else.
- Autistic savant is the current term. Idiot savant is now outdated and considered pejorative and imprecise.
- Autism is characterized by impaired development in social interaction, communication, and behavior.
- Savant syndrome, sometimes referred to as savantism, is a rare condition in which people with developmental disorders have one or more areas of expertise, ability, or brilliance that are in contrast with the individual?s overall limitations.
- A savant is someone of profound or extensive learning. A savant is considered a sage or learned scholar.
The Hollywood version of Forrest Gump depicted Forrest as much kinder and gentler than the original book version.
Forrest in the movie was portrayed as more intelligent, more empathetic, and less savant-like than in the book.
The movie showed Forrest as a man with the all the wisdom of a sage. It’s not difficult for me to imagine that goodness and kindheartedness can also create savant-like brilliance … despite the lack of a high IQ or extensive learning.
In that regard, the Forrest we all came to admire and love from the movie was a sage, possibly a savant … but certainly not an idiot savant.
Next Blog Title: Gumption and Decision Making
Next Blog Date: July 5, 2011