Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"What's Eating Gilbert Grape" with Johnny Depp and Leonardo DiCaprio (1993)

When Albert Grape passes away he leaves behind a family of 5; a wife with emotional problems, 2 daughters, and two sons; one of whom is developmentally disabled. Johnny Depp plays Gilbert Grape, the older brother to Arnie, played by Leonardo DiCaprio in one of his finest roles ever.

Set in the town of Endora, where nothing ever happens, this film explores the nature of relationships and family. Gilbert feels trapped by his dead end job working in the town’s old grocery store. There is a new supermarket located just outside of town which serves as a harbinger of change which is set to come to Endora, and seems to symbolize the impending changes that will take place in Gilbert’s life, if he will only let go.

A new girl named Becky, played with great sensitivity by Juliette Lewis, arrives in town at the same time that Gilbert is having an affair with the wife of a local insurance salesman. She is able to understand and deal with Arnie, and does not view him as an obstacle to a relationship with Gilbert. As he begins to see that Becky may be the key to his freedom, he questions his relationship to the older woman. He realizes that he has been taking care of her emotional needs, much in the same way that he has always had to care for his widowed mother and siblings.

Gilberts mother, who was once the local beauty pageant winner, deals with all of the sadness and problems in her life by eating. She tops 500 pounds and has not left the living room sofa in years. She eats and sleeps there, with the family catering to her every need, which has a stifling effect on the rest of the family. They love her, but her problems complicate their own lives. It’s as if they cannot move forward as individuals while having to care for their mother. And she knows this.

Arnie manages to get into mischief in many different ways; the least of which is climbing the town’s water tower. Eventually this gets him taken into custody by the town police, which forces his mother to leave the house for the first time since her husband’s passing. She goes to the police station, demanding his release. When the family leaves the police station with Arnie, she sees most of the people in town have gathered to stare at her, some even taking pictures.

Realizing how her emotional problems have affected her family, she goes home and climbs the stairs to her bedroom for the first time in years. Gilbert and his sisters tuck her in, relieved that she is going to finally get some rest. But her excessive weight causes her to suffocate in her sleep, leaving the family seemingly rudderless.

But there is still one card left to play in this high stakes emotional drama, and Gilbert, along with his siblings, play that card, freeing them to live their own lives. A very emotional film, this movie underscores the ways in which all of our problems intersect with one another. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again; we are all connected. What we do as individuals has an effect on all those around us. It’s up to us all to try and make those effects positive ones.

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