Finding Forrester (2000)

Published: May 7, 2012 |Updated: Sep 11, 2023


Jamal, a young black man from the Bronx finds a mentor in an unexpected place and in developing his writing skills with the aid of William Forrester, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, they both learn they need each other.

The journey that both make holds blessing for them both and at the end of the film we see them both being fully alive in their journeys.

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Genre Drama
Production year 2000
Director Gus Van Sant
Male actors Sean Connery

We all need a mentor... and we all need to be one.

Let’s Reduce Suicides

This is a wonderful film that speaks to me about the importance of the mentor in life’s journey. In modern society we find 2 peak groups of risk to suicide: young men and old men. This observation screams to me that the solution here is that these two groups need each other: old men need to step up and be mentors and young men need them to do so that they can become their protégés.

The Hermit

The film opens with Jamal, a young black man in Manhattan, who is playing down his academic skills to fit in with the basketball crowd who see and value him for his skills on the court but he is fearful that this will not be acceptable to his peers. He crosses the threshold when he accepts a ‘dare’ from this group to invade the apartment of the mysterious old recluse whom the group refer to as, “The Window” and this is indeed what the old man proves to be – a window into a new world for Jamal.

‘The Window’ proves to be Pulitzer-prize winning author and recluse, William Forrester. The apartment is reached through a climb up a fire escape. It is dark and full of books – wisdom that belongs to this otherworldly ‘Window’. Jamal is supposed to ‘bring something out’ of the apartment but when confronted by the occupant he flees. We notice that he has left something of himself behind, his bag with his precious journals.

All seems lost: a failure. Often when we come in contact with the ‘Wise Old Man’, the Magician, the Hermit, we are frightened by the experience and like Jamal we flee the experience only to discover that we have been touched by it, leaving something of ourselves behind. So now we have a choice to take up the challenge or attempt to return to the World we came from. I say attempt because, ‘you can’t not know what you know’.

The Wounding

Forrester reads Jamal’s journals and marks them with comments, later returning them to Jamal by dropping the bag from the apartment window: wisdom literally from on high. The wisdom from the otherworldly window gives Jamal mixed emotions and he wants more. Forrester’s comments are written in red ink – the colour suggesting life, passion and lacerations – some comments are very negative and wounding for the young Jamal, “constipated thinking”, but it also contains the invitation, “I want to support this writer, can we get out of the Bronx for a second?”

In response Jamal confronts his fears and knocks on the door of Forrester’s apartment. He hears the voice from the otherworld – it shames him and sends him on his way with a challenge that Jamal takes up, “5000 words on why you should stay the fuck out of my home”. Jamal returns with the written work and is again seemly rejected and when the door remains shut to him he throws his paper at the door and leaves. He leaves dejected.

The film now sees Jamal gaining a scholarship to an exclusive school – on this occasion he gains the offer via his basketball skills. He returns to reclaim the manuscript from the hallway where he assumes his ‘5000 words’ still lie. The manuscript is gone and after a few words the door is now opened. Jamal now reveals to us that his father left and succumbed to his addictions. A fatherless boy in need of a mentor and a mentor in need of a protégé – a painful cameo of modern society.

At each meeting Forrester challenges Jamal and still he chooses to do what he must – he returns to the apartment choosing what is right and not opting for what is easy. The teachers in the prestigious academy are, “not interested in listening” instead they are, “too interested in hearing themselves talk”. Jamal wants Forrester to “read some more of my stuff” – here we see the contrast between a place where he can be successful (with Forrester) and a place where he can appear to be successful (the academy). Forrester points out the question that burns away at Jamal, which demands an answer, “where are you going with your life?”

Wisdom and Sons

At the new academy it is a young woman who gives Jamal the knowledge he needs to settle in and it is she who reveals to Jamal the identity of his mentor – the Window. In myths and stories it is often the feminine that is a symbol for wisdom. This naming of the teacher empowers Jamal and he returns again to the apartment where the two men make a contract as equals. Again we see the true teacher – Forrester – contrasted with the self-focused professor in the academy.

We all need people who can see the value in us. There is a lovely piece then where we see Forrester getting new socks and putting them on inside out, “socks are badly designed with the seams on the inside; hurts the toes.” – this is what my son does! This bit in the film just made me laugh as so often and in so many ways as I have made my journey into maturity I have seen my son be my teacher too. Relationship and growth is always reciprocal.

Hurt People Hurt People

Forrester also states that nothing that is written in the apartment is to leave the apartment. Jamal eventually ignores this contractual agreement and chooses an easy path in submitting some of the work he has written in this place of magic. The film then deals with the consequences of this choice. The Professor accuses Jamal of plagiarism and we later learn that the genesis of his bitterness was a wound inflicted by Forrester. Hurt people hurt people.

Once the accusation is made then we see Jamal learning through that experience and when he is confronted with another choice to breach the contract with his mentor, and tell the professor that he is working with Forrester, he takes the harder path and protects Forrester’s privacy. Having seen frailty within Forrester, as he panics on a trip outside of the apartment and speaks of the death of his brother.

We eventually see Forrester conquer his fear and come to the academy where he vindicates Jamal and gives him back his voice by reading out Jamal’s work to the school. In this last section of the film we see that the mentor, protégé relationship is something that blesses both parties. For centuries men have met in circles as equals. Boys are initiated into the frailty that is manhood and together we become stronger as we recognise what my mentor taught me, “out of the wound comes the gift’. Thank you, Bob.

Hurt People Hurt People

And so I finish with a return to the observation that old men and young men are the two peak ages of risk for suicide and they are also the answer to each other’s needs. Let us commit to be present with all our needs and wounds.

Powerful ideas from Finding Forrester

  • Take Home Elders - I invite you to step forward to be the mentors you can be.
  • From your wounds comes your gift
  • Community - Why do some communities have elders and others have the elderly?
  • Young Men - connect with the mentors you need. Look for them in unexpected places and persist in asking.

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