Third year university work for which I was awarded a first.

Analysis of the music featured in Forrest Gump: In this essay I will discuss the music used in the feature film ‘Forrest Gump’ and the theories of film music presented by Jerrold Levinson, Phillip Tagg, Zofia Lissa, and Claudia Gorbman.

Forrest Gump (1994) was released on Paramount Pictures and was directed by Robert Zemeckis, but the film was originally a book written by Winston Groom. The film has won various awards and is a widely critically acclaimed film. The film is about the life of a man called Forrest Gump who tells his incredible story, which revolves around real historical events and a women whom he loves. In this case Claudia Gorbman (1980, p196) states the film is ‘metadiegetic’ and that this narration is ‘is a common element of film discourse.

Gorbman (1980, p183) also states, film ‘music sets moods and tonalities in a film narrative.’ The music featured in the film also appropriately connects with the historical timeline that Forrest encounters during his adventures, but it also appropriately connects with the feelings and emotions of the characters featured in the film.
Jerold Levinson (1996, p249) states that there are two types of film music: the first being ‘a composed score’ which ‘consists of music composed specifically for the film in question’. The second being an ‘appropriated score’ which ‘consists of preexistent music chosen by the filmmaker, often in conjunction with a musical consultant‘.
Forrest Gump features both of these approaches of film music. The film features 56 popular songs which mostly are popular rock music, and it also features 21 original post-classical scores conducted by an award-winning American man named Alan Silvestri.
Silvestri and Zemeckis have established a great working collaboration, and have worked on a number of films for example Cast Away (2000), and The Polar Express (2004):

When you’re fortunate enough to have a relationship with a composer where he is your soulmate you hold on to that very tightly… Right now I want to stay working with Alan because we are pretty much of the same mind.’ – (Zemeckis 2010)

The music supervisor for Forrest Gump is Joel Sill and has also worked with Zemeckis and Silvestri before.


The first score experienced in Forrest Gump is the original score ‘I’m Forrest… Forrest Gump’ (1994) by Silvestri that features in the opening sequence of the film (00:00:21-00:02:45). According to Philip Tagg (1999, webpage); the ‘title music’, originating from early film music ‘derives much from the classical-romantic overture to opera and other dramatic presentations.’ As Forrest Gump falls under the romantic-comedy drama, it isn’t surprising that the film makers decided to stick with the traditional title sequence.

This opening scene starts with credits and a low-angle of a feather in the sky with the musical score slowly and softly becoming more apparent.  The feather is then moved by the wind and continues to be moved by the wind in a dolly shot, we know the feather is being moved by the wind due to the recognizable sounds at 00:00:24. Overtime in the long take the geography becomes clearer and the music also accompanies this, slowly becoming more apparent.  At the end of the dolly shot, Forrest puts the feather in a book which is in his briefcase (00:02:33), and whilst this is happening the music lightens until the sound of a bus is eventually heard.

Although this score can be seen as non-diegetic, it seems to help make the viewer feel positively about the narrative. Levinson states that non-diegetic music can still affect viewers:
Where non-diegetic music adds atmosphere to a scene without plausibly making anything fictional in the film’s world, simply producing a mood in viewers, it seems that responsibility for it.’  (Levinson 1996, p266)
Furthermore, on Silvestri’s sheet music for this score, it orders for the piece to be played ‘sweetly’. This opening sequence reflects not only on Forrest’s personality, but also the heart-warming, sweet and innocent narrative ahead which agrees with Gorbman’s theory that film music has certain ‘musical codes’:

We may see music as “meaning”, or organizing discourse… For example, the music that plays while a film’s credits unroll activates these cultural codes, and can reveal beforehand a great deal about the style and subject of the narrative to come.’ (Gorbman 1980, p184-185)


The second scene in Forrest Gump I am going to discuss is when Forrest meets Elvis (00:10:18-00:11:42). The appropriate score for this scene is ‘Hound Dog’ (1956) by Elvis Presley. In this scene there is a dolly shot of Forrest’s mother looking for him whilst Forrest narrates over the scene, finishing his narration saying: ‘One time a young man was staying with us, and he had him a guitar case’ (Forrest Gump, 1994, 00:10:15).
His mother hears something coming from one of the rooms (00:10:19) and as she gets closer to the source of the music (the room) it appears louder, but however is muffled. She eventually opens the door and the over-shoulder medium long-shot shows Forrest with Elvis who is singing ‘Hound Dog’ (00:10:28).

Tagg (1999, webpage) states that this diegetic score is called a ‘set piece’, and Gorbman states this type of diegetic music creates ‘depth in space’ and provides a ‘double function’:

‘The diegetic music in this scene has a double function… It provides absolute temporal continuity to two spatially discontinuous shots’ And ‘It provides depth cues: since loud means “near” and soft means “far”, acontinuous progression from soft to loud means a continuous movement forward in cinematic space, toward the sound source.’ (Gorbman 1980, p200-201)

Later on in the scene (00:11:10-00:11:42) it shows Forrest and his mother walking past a store with a television in the window playing footage from a non-fictional Elvis performance (Milton Berle Show, 5th June 1956).
Knowing that Forrest is a fictional character but, Elvis once being a figure in the non-fictional world could confuse audiences as the director is mixing a fictional character with real-life events. Levinson states: ‘the music makes something fictionally true-true in the story being conveyed-that would not otherwise be true, or not to the same degree or with the same definiteness.’ (Levinson 1996, p259)

Gorbman also makes an interesting theory that diegetic music like in this scene help create irony. In the scene Forrest dances to Elvis’s music (00:10:28-00:10:33, 00:10:57-00:11:09), later when they see the performance in the window, Elvis is using the same dance moves that Forrest showed him:

What we may indeed remark about the special expressive effect of diegetic music is its capacity to create irony… By taking music meant as extranarrative comment and rendering it diegetic… The narration motivates, naturalizes the music, makes its disparity with the filmed events acceptable.’ (Gorbman 1980, p198-199)


The third scene I am going to analyse is the character Jenny leaving an unknown location on the New Year’s Eve count down (1:17:10-1:17:41). Again this is another scene that starts after Forrest’s narration saying that: ‘in the middle of all that fun I began to think about Jenny’ (Forrest Gump 1994, 1:17:08). The song being played is ‘Love Her Madly’ (1971) by The Doors, and this is yet another scene that uses a dolly shot, but this time focussing on Jenny as she rushes to leave an unknown apartment. The lyrics of the song may be seen as to act as a narration of what’s happening in the scene, and this happens more than once. The lyrics ‘don’t you love her madly?’ could be seen to portray Forrest’s feelings towards Jenny. At 1:17:26 there is an over the shoulder close-up of Jenny looking at herself in the mirror, and the close-up continues until 1:17:31. This selective focussing is concentrating on the black eye Jenny has. When you see the close up of Jenny’s face (1:17:29) the lyrics heard are ‘don’t you love her face?’ This same music and visual parallel happens again at 1:17:34 when the lyrics ‘as she’s walking out the door’ are heard, visually you can see Jenny walking out the door.

Tagg would state this is called ‘cue music’, and this particular type of cue music is called a ‘verbal que’: ‘Visual editing can be based on musical cues such as… [being] in sync with particular words in the lyrics.’ (Tagg 1999, webpage)

This could be seen as coincidental or not, and it can be argued whether this music is diegetic or non-diegetic. However, speaking on diegetic terms, Gorbman states that this method of film music makes the audience view the characters as unrealistic:

Characters in the narrative film… unquestionably become objects when their movements and speech coincide strictly with the music… Contributing to a definite departure from psychological realism.’ (Gorbman 1980, p200)


The final scene I am going to analyse is Jenny standing on the balcony debating whether to take her life (01:26:04-01:27:31). Before analysing this scene, it is important to note the similarities between this scene and the third scene. Both feature appropriate popular rock scores, and the music in both can be seen to run parallel to the visuals. It is also important to note that both these scenes feature the character Jenny in despair, whom in the beginning of the film at 00:18:13, asked Forrest to pray with her ‘to become a bird to fly far, far away from here’ (Forrest Gump 1994), Gorbman 1980 (p198-199) might state this again gives a sense of irony. Coincidently, the appropriate score in this scene is ‘Free Bird’ (1973) by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Although you don’t technically see Jenny take any drugs, seeing them at 01:26:04, 01:26:28, the way she acts in the scene, and the arguably non-diegetic implies this:

We should note that non-diegetic music may, indeed, generate fictional truths… It will do this by causing a viewer to… Perceive a scene as fraught with danger, even if the viewer is not aware of what is making her have that perception.’ (Levinson 1996, p260)

The scene starts similarly to scene two and three. Forrest’s narration introduces the scene: ‘I thought about her a lot, and whatever she was doing was making her happy’ (Forrest Gump, 01:26:03).

And similarly to scene three agreeing with Tagg’s ‘cue music’, the lyrics ‘and this bird you cannot change, lord knows I can’t change, lord help me, I can’t change’ appear parallel to Jenny and the emotions she is feeling in this scene (01:26:14-01:26:32). During this time there is a dolly shot that begins as a close up of the side of Jenny sat on the bed, it then zooms out slowly to show Jenny in a medium long shot looking absent. A matched cut then occurs and shows a close up of Jenny’s hand moving in white power (01:26:27), there is then an over the shoulder close up at 01:26:31 (similar to scene three) of Jenny looking at herself in the mirror. As this happens the tempo of the song picks up making the audience feel like somethings about to happen. Differentiating slightly from scene three, scene four’s score, rather than coinciding with lyrics, it coincides with the tempo, or the actual music itself.
This method continues throughout the rest of the scene, more noticeably between 01:26:51-01:27:13 once Jenny steps onto the balcony, the score at this point picks up tempo over matched cuts. The notes become hard to hear, the score then loses its structure reflecting what is happening in the scene. At 01:27:13 the music regains structure as she steps of the balcony. Just like scene three, this scene agrees with Tagg’s (1999, webpage) theory of cue points. In this case it would be a ‘visual que’.

Gorbman (1980, p198), states that: ‘the mood of any music on the soundtrack, be it diegetic or nondiegetic music, will be felt in association with diegetic events’. So although no matter what the music, it can always be seen to be associated with the visuals on screen. And although the score for scene four can be seen as non-diegectic, it agrees with Gorbman theory:

In the dominant filmmaking tradition, the rhythm and mood of diegetic music that “coincidentally” plays with a scene has been made to match the scene’s mood and pace with an uncanny consistency. This practice in fact implies a departure of diegetic music… And a movement toward the action-imitating roles we might more readily expect of non-diegetic music.’ (Gorbmman 1980, p199)


To conclude Forrest Gump as a whole features a variety of scores and traditional film music techniques. The composed scores reflect the sweet fairy-tale like story and encourages the audience to feel a certain way about the film. Specifically in regards to the appropriate score; one similarity found in the scenes that are spoken about in this essay, is that the film music mirrors what is happening on the screen, and therefore the music chosen serves a purpose to the visuals on the screen. But why is this music used? This may be obvious or not, but as the film is historical, and its narrative is based around real life events the appropriate scores reflect the era that they appear in. But analysing these scores more, we can see these scores also serve other purposes, for example reflecting characters emotions, acting as que points and more.
Gorbman states this is called ‘parallelism’, and when looking at these four scenes the music ‘resembles’ it: ‘The concepts of parallelism and counterpoint. Either the music “resembles” or it “contradicts” the action or mood of what happens on the screen’ (Gorbman 1980, p189)


Alan Silvestri. 1994. FORREST GUMP – MAIN TITLE. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 17 December 15].

Forrest Gump, 1994. [DVD] Robert Zemeckis, America: Paramount Pictures.

Gorbman, C, 1980. Narrative Film Music. Yale French Studies, No. 60, Cinema/Sound (1980), pp. 183-203, 60, 183-203.

lasoo88. (2011). Elvis – Hound Dog & Dialogue – Milton Berle Show – 5 June 1956. [Online Video]. 13 March 2011. Available from: [Accessed: 05 January 2016].

LEVINSON, J., 1996. Film music and narrative agency. In: D. BORDWELL and N. CARROLL, eds. Post-theory reconstructing film studies. Madison, Wis: University of Wisconsin Press, pp.248-282

Philip Tagg. 1999. Functions of film music. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 05 January 16].

sentieriselvaggi. (2010). ROBERT ZEMECKIS ON WORKING WITH TOM HANKS AND ALAN SILVESTRI. [Online Video]. 19 July 2010. Available from: [Accessed: 17 December 2015].