What's Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)


What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a 1993 film directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio. Peter Hedges wrote the screenplay adapted from his 1991 novel of the same name. It was filmed in the Texas cities of Manor, Elgin, and Lockhart.


The film opens in the small town of Endora, Iowa, where Gilbert Grape (Johnny Depp) is busy caring for Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), his brother with a developmental disability as they wait for the many tourists' trailers to pass through town during their "yearly ritual" of camping at a nearby recreational area. His mother, Bonnie (Darlene Cates) is severely obese, after years of depression following her husband's suicide. With Bonnie unable to care for the children by herself, Gilbert has taken responsibility for repairing their old farmhouse and looking after Arnie, who has a habit of climbing the town water tower if he is left unsupervised for too long, while his sisters Amy (Laura Harrington) and Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt) do the chores and the cooking. The relationship between the brothers is of both care and protection, as Gilbert continually enforces the "Nobody touches Arnie" policy. A new "FoodLand" supermarket has opened, threatening the small Lamson's Grocery store where Gilbert works. In addition, Gilbert is having an affair with a married woman, Betty Carver (Mary Steenburgen). While the family is preparing for Arnie's 18th birthday party, a young woman named Becky (Juliette Lewis) and her grandmother are stuck in town when their trailer in tow breaks down. Gilbert's unusual life circumstances threaten to get in the way of their budding romance. In order to spend time with Becky watching the sun set, Gilbert leaves Arnie alone in the bathtub by himself. He returns home late and wakes up the following morning to find Arnie still in the bath, shivering in the now freezing cold water. Gilbert's guilt is compounded by his family's anger. From then on Arnie refuses to get anywhere near water, including the pond by Becky's trailer, making him incredibly dirty all the time, unfortunately adding to the many problems Gilbert is facing. Betty's affair with Gilbert ends when she tries to have sex with him while he's on the phone with her husband and begins to make demands on him. She eventually leaves town in search of a new life following her husband's death — he drowns after suffering a heart attack. Many of the townspeople believe she killed him, despite the insistence by Bobby McBurney's, one of the town coroners (Crispin Glover), that it was just a heart attack. Besides Bobby, Gilbert was the only one who believed Betty didn't kill her husband. Becky bonds with Gilbert and Arnie and helps Gilbert reflect on his feelings. They become deeply involved in one of their talks, until Gilbert realizes that Arnie is missing. He has returned to the water tower he is forever trying to climb, and this time has succeeded. Arnie is arrested, compelling Bonnie — who has not left the house in seven years — to rush to the police station to demand his release, making her the object of ridicule. Later at home, Arnie prematurely eats an expensive birthday cake, and resists Gilbert's trying to force him to take a bath. Losing his temper, Gilbert strikes Arnie. Appalled, Gilbert drives away. Arnie leaves the house to find Becky, who takes care of him. Gilbert sees him with Becky, who is able to get Arnie to enter the lake. And thus, Arnie overcomes his fear of water, something Gilbert realizes he was able to do and feels bad for his earlier behavior. After their sisters come to Becky's and take Arnie home, Gilbert approaches Becky and the two talk about his own frustration and the reality of his father's death. The next day he returns home during Arnie's birthday party to apologize. Following Arnie's eighteenth birthday and meeting Becky for the first time, Bonnie climbs the stairs to her bedroom for the first time in years. That evening she passes away in her bed. Arnie tries to wake her, thinking that she is just playing. He runs out of the house and begins to hurt himself. As his sisters' try to stop him, they realize that Bonnie has died. The police officers tell the Grape family that they would need a crane and the National Guard to get Bonnie out of the house. After the police leave, Gilbert and his sisters soon cry over losing her. The siblings realize that this would draw a gawking crowd and want to protect their mother from being a spectacle. They empty the house except for their mother's body laying on the bed she was sleeping on, then they set everything on fire. One year later, Gilbert and Arnie are looking out again to watch the trailers pass. Through voiceover, Gilbert tells of Amy getting a job offer to manage a bakery in Des Moines, and Ellen being thrilled to switch schools. Arnie chases the vehicles, arms flailing, excited to see Becky again. Gilbert and Becky hug and laugh.