Despite bookending the various episodes we see of Gump’s life, the importance of the bench scenes was lost on Hanks. The actor revealed on the ReelBlend Podcast that he actually asked director Robert Zemeckis if anyone in the audience would even understand or care about his character’s ramblings to complete strangers (via CNN). “I said to Bob [Zemeckis], ‘Is anyone going to care about this nut sitting on a [bench]? What is this? No one knows what’s in this thing I mean.'”
At that point, Hanks had been under the impression that the scenes shot in Savannah, Georgia were just “fodder for a possible narrative piece.” This might explain why the actor didn’t see anything crucial in them. It probably didn’t help that they also had to shoot thirteen pages of dialogue in a day and a half. Hanks told the New York Times that Zemeckis’ answer to his question is something he’ll always remember. “Bob said: ‘It’s a minefield, Tom. You never know what’s good. Are you going to make it through safe? Or are you gonna step on a Bouncing Betty that’s going to blow your balls off?'”
In other words, who knows what’s going to stick and what audiences will hate? After all, the whole reason Gump is there on that bench is to set up the film’s final act: reuniting with Jenny and meeting his son. While all his other bench interactions are perhaps frivolous to the plot, they are exceptionally important in fleshing out Gump’s personality. Zemeckis’ words ring true decades later given just how iconic those shots of Hanks’ character sitting on the bench are today. People even flock every year to the humid South in search of the spot where those scenes were filmed.