JFK Scene from “Forrest Gump” and Its Russian Precursor

This romantic comedy of epic proportions, filled with dramatic events, directed by Robert Zemeckis and released by Paramount Pictures in 1994. One of the funniest scenes of the fictionalized movie comes, when a slow-witted protagonist tells President Kennedy: “I Gotta Pee”. This comic moment has no complex implications of political nature. However, a masterpiece of Russian literature, epic novel And Quiet Flows the Don (1928-1940) by Mikhail Sholokhov had similar scene, where a disenchanted WWI hero has mocked royal characters in the same way, but with far-reaching consequences. We also furnish the audience with appropriate video excerpts from Soviet movies, based on the book. One directed by Olga Preobrazhenskaya and Ivan Pravov, produced by Soyuzkino, 1930, and another shot by Sergey Gerasimov, produced by Gorky Film Studios, 1958. Let us quote the novel, translated by Stephen Garry, revised and completed by Robert Daglish.

“A high personage, one of the imperial family, came to pay a visit to the hospital. Informed of this in the morning, the staff of the hospital scurried about like mice in a burning granary. They redressed the wounded, changed the bedclothes before the time appointed, and one young doctor even tried to instruct the men how to reply to the personage and how to conduct themselves in conversation with him. The anxiety was communicated to the patients also, and some of them began to talk in whispers long before the time fixed for the visit. At noon a motor horn sounded at the front door, and accompanied by the usual number of officials and officers, the personage passed through the hospital portals. One of the wounded, a gay fellow and a joker, assured his fellow patients afterwards that at the moment of the distinguished visitors’ entry the Red Cross flag hanging outside the hospital suddenly began to flutter furiously, although the weather was unusually fine and still, while on the other side of the street the dandy with elegant curls portrayed on a hairdresser’s signboard actually made a low bow.

The distinguished personage went the round of the wards, asking the usual absurd questions befitting one of his position and circumstances. The wounded, their eyes staring out of their heads, replied in accordance with the instructions of the junior surgeon. “Just so, Your Imperial Highness,” and “Not at all, Your Imperial Highness.” The chief surgeon supplied commentaries to their answers, squirming like a grass-snake pierced by a fork; he was a pitiful sight even from afar. The regal personage distributed little icons to the soldiers. The throng of brilliant uniforms and the heavy wave of expensive perfumes rolled towards Grigory. He stood by his bed, unshaven, gaunt, with feverish eyes. The slight tremor of the brown skin over his angular cheekbones revealed his agitation.

“There they are!” he was thinking. “There are the people who get pleasure out of driving us from our native villages and flinging us to death. Ah! The swine! Curse them! There are the lice on our backs. Was it for them we trampled other people’s grain with our horses and killed strangers? And I crawled over the stubble and shouted? And our fear? They dragged us away from our families, starved us in barracks.” The burning thoughts choked his brain. His lips quivered with fury. “Look at their fat shining faces! I’d send you out there, curse you. Put you on a horse, with a rifle on your back, load you with lice, feed you on rotten bread and maggoty meat!”

Grigory’s eyes bored into the sleek-faced officers of the retinue, and rested on the marsupial cheeks of the royal personage.

“A Don Cossack, Cross of St. George,” the chief surgeon smirked as he pointed to Grigory, and from the tone of his voice one would have thought it was he who had won the cross.

“From what district?” the personage inquired, holding an icon ready.

“Vyeshenskaya, Your Imperial Highness.”

“How did you win the cross?”

Boredom and satiety lurked in the clear, empty eyes of the royal personage. His left eyebrow was artificially raised, in a manner intended to give his face greater expression. For a moment Grigory felt cold, and a queer chopping sensation went on inside him. He had felt a similar sensation when going into attack. His lips twisted and quivered irresistibly.

“Excuse me… I badly want to… Your Imperial…  Just a little need.” Grigory swayed as though his back were broken, and pointed under the bed.

The personage’s left eyebrow rose still higher. The hand holding the icon half-extended towards Grigory froze stiffly. His flabby lips gaping with astonishment, the personage turned to a grey-haired general at his side and asked him something in English. A hardly perceptible embarrassment troubled the members of his suite. A tall officer with epaulettes touched his eye with his white gloved hand; a second bowed his head; a third glanced inquiringly at his neighbour. The grey-haired general smiled respectfully and replied in English to His Imperial Highness, and His Highness was pleased to thrust the icon into Grigory’s hand, and even to bestow on him the highest of honours, a touch on the shoulder.

After the guests had departed Grigory dropped on to his bed and, burying his face in his pillow, lay for some minutes, his shoulders shaking. It was impossible to tell whether he was crying or laughing. Certain it is that he rose with dry eyes. He was immediately summoned to the room of the chief surgeon.

“You common lout!” the doctor began, crushing his mousy-coloured beard in his fingers.

“I’m not a lout, you snake!” Grigory replied, striding towards the doctor. “I never saw you at the front.” Then, recovering his self-control, he said quietly: “Send me home.”

The doctor retreated behind his writing table, saying more gently: “We’ll send you! You can go to the devil!”

Grigory went out, his lips trembling with a smile, his eyes glaring. For his monstrous, unpardonable behaviour in the presence of the royal personage he was deprived of his food for three days.”

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