Full quote for context:

My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get.

I understand the surface meaning of this line. Boxes of chocolates contain a variety of shapes and flavors, and if you grab one, you could get anything. Life is unpredictable. That's how I've always interpreted the line.

However, I recently realized that you do know what you're going to get with a box of chocolates. Most of them come with a card or a printing that tells you which chocolate is which, and as far as I can tell, this was commonplace by the time the movie came out in 1994. So is it meant to be funny to an audience that will hear irony in the line?

On the other hand, Forrest grew up in the 40s-50s, at which time I don't think those cards existed in boxes of chocolates. So it would make sense as something she would say. And Forrest's mother, unlike Forrest, is not made out to be unintelligent herself. But we only hear the line through Forrest's retelling, so the humor could be in his misremembering a quote in a way that makes it completely untrue.

The more I think about this, the more likely I think it is that the line is meant to be a joke (to be clear, a joke told by the film itself, not a joke told by the character of Forrest) - it's not particularly poignant, so its cultural staying power is surprising to me unless I assume that it's meant to be funny. And I think it is quite funny when viewed with that lens. But I'm just not sure if the general public has been viewing it that way.

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    It is a joke, and not at the same time. It's just a funny little saying, with a bit of wisdom in it. And don't forget, it came from Forrest's mother - if Forrest grew up in the 40's and 50's, she grew up even earlier.
    – user25730
    Jul 27, 2022 at 22:27
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    I when I was young, (the 1980s) I had pieces from many boxes of chocolates that did not have any card or explanation of which chocolate you were going to get. I don’t see any reason to question your initial interpretation of the line, and I can’t figure out how it would be a joke. Jul 28, 2022 at 1:41
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    Life is like a box of chocolates: it's built on the backs of wage-slaves, and it gives you diabetes. Jul 28, 2022 at 11:47
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    To whoever suggested editing the quote in the title to match the movie verbatim - it's an indirect quote. If there had been a scene in the movie showing Forrest's mother saying the line, it would have used "is". It's pedantic and unnecessary to insist the quote from the movie never uses the word "is" - we all understand the context. Jul 28, 2022 at 23:48
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    Just to clarify, are you asking whether the writer intended it to be a joke? Or are you asking whether "the general public has been viewing it that way"? Or are you interested in answers that address either of those questions"?
    – user96544
    Jul 29, 2022 at 1:48

1 Answer 1


Please forgive the amateur psychology hour…

I always thought it was meant to be, in effect, a truism and therefore accepted, unquestioned, by Forrest - who wasn't really smart enough to question it on his own.

I don't see it as a joke, but as a way we are given to see that Forrest's view of the world is quite limited. He believes what he is told by his mother, without question. That we can see outside the box [no pun intended] of this little 'inspirational quote' is a clue for us, the audience, of Forrest's personality. We are given this quite early in the plot. It's a teaser, something you don't immediately see as a fallible philosophy, because it 'sounds true' at first hearing.

His mother gave him [probably amongst others] something to explain life's surprises. She was obviously at the same time very aware and very forgiving, if not defensive, of his special needs.
She was also aware of her own mortality and the need to prepare Forrest for life on his own in the big, wide world.

Taken that way, it isn't a joke, it's a preparation; an education.
That we immediately would think to look under the lid/on a card for an index to the contents is not a leap Forrest would take. He would accept this truism in the spirit it was intended.

I see this as one of the many clues to his character. Because the entire story is told from his perspective and he himself is unaware of his unusually low intelligence - though he tells of others in different ways remarking on it, in ways kind, unkind, even 'medical' - what he tells is only true from his perspective. Anything he didn't understand, we never see the misunderstanding, only Forrest's interpretation of it.

The very first time we see Forrest in the opening sequence, we are given some major clues for what is to come. The apparent randomness of the feather which he picks up. We don't yet know it, but the juxtaposition of muddy trainers and clean suit, the box of chocolates and him apparently waiting for something as yet unknown. His attempts at conversation, hesitant yet somehow inwardly confident are all clues as to his personality. We then set out on a journey, told from his perspective.
The perfect unreliable witness.
Slightly reminiscent of Peter Sellers' Chancy Gardener in Being There. You never know quite what is true, other than it is all true to the narrator.
Events in his life unfold without him ever looking under the lid. The feather analogy, writ large.

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    Do you have any sense of whether your interpretation is typical or more widely accepted?
    – user96544
    Jul 31, 2022 at 1:09
  • In conversations about this over the years, I can only conclude that as it stands it is not perceived as a joke, but as a truism. It only becomes one when quoted out of universe & some smart alec [like myself] adds "…unless you look under the lid" to reveal the inherent failing of the logic.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 31, 2022 at 8:31
  • "Because the entire story is told from his perspective and he himself is unaware of his unusually low intelligence". He actually literally states at 2 points that he knows he's not smart. But I agree with the rest of your answer. Jul 31, 2022 at 14:02
  • @JohnnyBones - I don't disagree with that, but the thing about being 'not smart' is the awareness of precisely how 'not smart' that actually is. I'm thinking Dunning Kruger, etc. whilst trying hard not to be denigrating to Forrest himself.
    – Tetsujin
    Jul 31, 2022 at 16:03
  • @Tetsujin - Well, there's this moment: youtu.be/3KOLTgNKXdw?t=110 and there's also the clip at the end of the movie where Forrest worries about his son having the same learning disability as him. I don't think it's denigrating, and I'm positive he's aware that he's got a disability. Aug 1, 2022 at 12:56

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