Josephine O'Grady

United States

If a particle of your observations tugs at you a certain way, don't forget to write it down.

Message from Writer

"It might be easier
To fail with land in sight
Than gain my blue peninsula
To perish of delight."
-Emily Dickinson

What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)

January 19, 2016

Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is 24 years old and lives in a small house with his mother, Bonnie (Darlene Gates), his two sisters, Amy (Laura Harrington) and Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt), and his , Arnie (Learardo DeCaprio), who has autism and is about to turn eighteen. The movie takes place during autism is poorly understood; most people have never even heard of it. The doctor told Gilbert's family thar Arnie would die at 10 years old, if not before, and when ten came and passed, the answer became  "any minute now."

Gilbert's father commited suicide years ago, and Bonnie since has become morbidly obese and in a state of depression. She hasn't left the house in seven years. Arnie is closest with Gilbert; it is Gilbert who bathes Arnie, dresses him, and keeps a close eye on him always to make sure he doesn't climb the water tower, which he has done many times.

Throughout the story, Gilbert is reminded constantly that he is not going anywhere. He'll never get get to see more of the world than his house, his community, and his day-to-day struggles because he is weighed down with taking care of Arnie  and his mother, helping pay the bills by working at the local grocery store, and handling the chores his sisters don't have time to do.

But Gilbert meers Becky (Juliette Lewis), who has traveled so much in her lifetime that all she wants to do is settle down somewhere. Becky's grandmother (Penelope Branning), is trying to repair their car, which leaves her and Becky stranded in town for a couple of days. Becky teaches Gilbert to make peace with his life by treasuring the precious moments he has to himself, and using that time to forget about his troubles; to enjoy what's around him that carries beauty. She reminds him also that though it is important to care for his family, he must look after what he wants, and where his future lies.

One night after visiting Becky, Gilbert tries to give Arnie his bath, but Arnie screams and tries to run. Finally fed up, Gilbert hits him several times on the face before driving off, leaving Arnie in the tub. On the road, he feels guilty once he recalls that he tells Arnie day and night, "Don't let anybody hurt you. If they do, tell me." 

He goes to Becky's camper, where she has been living until her car gets fixed. She comforts him and lets him spend the night. However, Gilbert wakes up in the morning and remembers that it's Arnie's birthday. So he quickly drives home and is relieved to be forgiven by Arnie. In the middle of Arnie's party, Becky arrives and confesses to Gilbert that the car is fixed and she and her grandmother are on the road out of town. Before she leaves, Gilbert intruduces her to Bonnie, whom Becky had wanted to meet in the beginning. 

Later in the night, after the party, Bonnie gets off the couch and tries to walk up the stairs to her bedroom, something she hasn't done in years. Struggling step by step, she finally makes it. Arnie finds her a few hours later, dead. To avoid humiliation when the town finds out, with the knowledge that it would take a crane to lift their mother out of the house, Gilbert and his siblings pack their belongings and light the house on fire with a match.

The last scene fast forwards a year later. Gilbert and Arnie stand on the side of the road. Amy and Ellen have moved since Amy was offered a job out of town, and Gilbert and Arnie wait for Becky to pick them up.

This movie caused me to to think hard, leaving me drying my eyes by the end. Humor is twisted into the plot, despite the bitter circumstances, and I wondered while I watched if I would be able to keep on loving, faced with those circumstances. Gilbert's love for his family isn't perfect; after all nobody can produce perfect love, but how could he even go on loving? The story's hardships promote not only sadness, not only helplessness for people in simular situations, but courage to the listener; that we cannot be without our family, even though family frustrates us and makes us go through times when we are upset, scared, or wishing we were without our sister, brother, mother, or father. It's sort of like the times when my cat goes missing for days. Those days are hard and rigid with worry, but when he comes home, everything is alright again.



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