What's Eating Gilbert Grape: A Journey of Family, Responsibility, and Self-Discovery

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What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a coming of age American drama film produced by Paramount Pictures and was first released on 17th December 1993 in the USA. The movie was filmed in Texas, USA, and Georgetown. The film is directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Darlene Cates, and Juliette Lewis. In this film, “What's Eating Gilbert Grape”, Gilbert (Depp), a clerk in a grocery store in Endora tries to make a life of his own as he takes care of his dependent family. After his father’s death, Gilbert is left to take care of his mentally disabled brother (Arnie) and his obese mother (Cate) (IMDb).

Lasse Hallstrom in this film follows up to the life of Gilbert Grape and his brother Arnie Grape. Gilbert serves as the breadwinner for his siblings and obese mother after his father commits suicide. His mother Bonnie (Darlene Cate) is obese due to depression and has not left the house for seven years and has spent most of her time eating and watching TV.  Gilbert’s siblings include Ellen Mary Kate Schellhardt), Amy (Laura Harrington) and Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Arnie is mentally retarded and about to turn 18 years (IMDb).

When Gilbert is not looking after Arnie, he spends his time repairing up the family's farmhouse which is in a tattered condition, working in the grocery and hanging out with his friends Tucker and Bobby. Becky comes into Gilbert’s life and teaches him to be considerate of others and his happiness. In the end, Becky disrupts his relationship with Betty and his family responsibilities (IMDb).

Gilbert Grapes becomes the breadwinner of his family after his father commits suicide. As the story continues, he is torn between his family’s reliance on him and his search for Independence. In the end, he is able to balance between making time for others and himself. Arnie is a mentally retarded brother who turns eighteen during the time covered in the film. Despite this love, he has difficulty realizing how his family is affected by his behavior.  Bonnie Grape is Gilbert’s mother suffering from obesity due to depression following her husband’s death (Hallström 2).

Becky is an adventurous woman who develops a relationship with Gilbert and demonstrates care and concern on the wellbeing to him. Amy and Ellen are Gilbert’s sisters with Amy playing parental roles while Ellen indicates frustrations. Betty Carver is a married woman who has an affair with Gilbert. Mr. Carver is an insurance broker and Betty’s husband who dies after drowning and dies in a pool. Tucker Van Dyke is Gilbert’s friend who sympathizes with Gilbert and gets a job at Burger Ban during Arnie’s 18th

birthday party. Bobby is Gilbert Grape’s friend and a funeral director (Hallström 3).

Family responsibility is expressed as a theme in this film. The theme is indicated by how Gilbert Grapes gives his brother a bath while in another scene when he is coaxing Arnie down from the water tower. Gilbert takes responsibility for his mentally retarded brother who becomes a burden to him. The theme of responsibility is also by Amy who takes the roles of a mother. This is seen when she is introduced into the film while cooking for her family.

Love is expressed throughout the film as a major theme. Bonnie loves her children despite her inability to take care of them. This love is brought out in the film when she hugs Arnie and did not want to let go after he had been left in the bath overnight. Gilbert also falls in love with Becky and they shared their first kiss indicating a growth in their relationship.  As indicated in the film, Gilbert had sexual relationships with Betty for some time. This relationship was only sexual since Gilbert had no developed feelings for Betty.

Though this film was made and cast in the late 90s, it still holds a place in today’s world. The struggle that young people face in their lives as they seek freedom and try to make ends meet for their struggling families is well expressed in the film. The film also has major lessons that can be learned as shown by the characters. For example, people can learn to take responsibility for their families in hard times as expressed by Gilbert as he takes care of his mentally retarded brother (Arnie) and repairs their dilapidated house.  Lack of responsibility has been shown to cause harm.

In summary, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a great drama movie that I would recommend to young adults. They would find it interesting because of how well the movie is acted and the way the actors bring out their characters in the film to develop main themes such as love and family responsibility. Gilbert, in his effort to have time with Becky, leaves Arnie in a bath. In a different setup, after leaves Arnie in a car to deliver food to Betty, Arnie climbs the water tower.

Works cited

Hallström, Lasse, What's Eating Gilbert Grape Insight Publications, 2011.

IMDb. “What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)?” https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108550/

September 25, 2023




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