Saturday, October 29, 2011

"What's eating Gilbert Grape"

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“What’s eating Gilbert Grape” Essay


“The film ‘What’s eating Gilbert Grape’ is about change, discuss.”


Lasse Hallstrom’s film ‘What’s eating Gilbert Grape’ is primarily about change, both within the Grape family and the whole town of Endora. In this film, in which nothing actually seems to happen and looks as thought it ends where it began, we see some clear changes within the characters. Some of them go through a long, hard journey to fight for their lives and encounter a change. The director implies that Becky is used as a catalyst, both for Gilbert and Arnie.


At the beginning of the film we see that Gilbert is ashamed of his family. When some kids try to sneak a look at Gilbert’s fat momma, he gives them a boost so they can see. He also refers to his mum as a “whale”, secretly re-enforces the floor because her obesity has caused it to nearly collapse and has to deal with the embarrassment of Arnie climbing the water tower. Gilbert feels trapped in Endora. He feels like he has no escape from this small town where everything he has ever known is. At the start of the film when Gilbert is narrating, he tells of his older brother who “got away” and you can almost sense jealousy in his tone of voice. Betty Carver quotes, “I knew you’d always be here” when she tries to explain why she wanted to be with Gilbert and not her husband. Arnie often says how they’re “not going anywhere” which ultimately drives Gilbert to his wits end.


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The major change in Gilbert’s life is the arrival of Becky and her grandmother. They arrive in Endora because their trailer breaks down. Becky becomes trapped in


Endora, much like Gilbert and his family. Becky is a very down-to-earth person who treats everyone as equals and she doesn’t expect anything major from anyone. Becky and Gilbert often have quite deep conversations about life and the things going on around them. In one conversation Becky asks Gilbert what he wants. Gilbert’s response is, “A new house for the family, Momma to take aerobics classes, Ellen to grow up, and a new brain for Arnie.” Becky then insists on what he wants and he replies with “I want to be a good person.” His response devalues himself and shows his need to do better.


A very important part in the film is where Gilbert “explodes” while trying to bath Arnie. Symbolism is used here where in a previous scene Gilbert is blowing up a red balloon (red representing anger/frustration) and it explodes, like Gilbert with Arnie. We see a clear difference in the way Gilbert handles this situation with Arnie, who refuses to get into the bath. Normally Gilbert is very passive but this time he shows pure anger. It is important to notice that both Gilbert and Arnie seek out Becky after this incident. They see her as comfort and warmth. Gilbert then returns home and makes peace with Amy, Ellen and Arnie. He then introduces Becky to Momma, assuring her that he is not ashamed of her.


When Momma decides to return to her bed upstairs, the whole Grape family get a shock. The conversation between Gilbert and Momma is one of reconciliation. Momma refers to Gilbert as her “knight in shimmering armour” and immediately they are at peace with each other. The burning of the old house represents a new life for the Grape family. Although Momma is no longer with them, it seems as though the family have re-united with one another Arnie helps move the furniture out of the house and Ellen seems to soften a bit too.


Arnie heavily relies on Gilbert at the beginning of the film. He needs Gilbert to bath him, dress him and get him into bed. A clear change in Arnie would be the way he looks at death. He dealt with the death of his father and the grasshopper very differently to the death of his mother (he over-reacted to the death of the grasshopper). He dealt with his mother’s death a little bit quieter and more peaceful, almost to the extent that he wasn’t totally aware of what was going on at first.


Arnie also became a lot more independent at the end of the film. Becky influenced this. Arnie isn’t seen as a burden to Gilbert anymore in the furniture scene. Arnie helps move the furniture instead of causing havoc (like when he runs around the house and destroys his birthday cake) and getting in everyone’s way. He also chooses to go and see Becky when Gilbert lashes out at him. This shows he is capable of making his own decisions of what to do in a situation like that, instead of just sitting in the bathroom feeling sorry for himself.


Maturity was another change seen in Arnie. He becomes more self-dependant and starts to understand the difference between right and wrong. In the party scene Arnie wears more mature clothes (shirt and tie) compared to, what seemed, quite childish clothes throughout the earlier parts in the film. When Arnie “makes up” with Gilbert he hits him because Gilbert hit Arnie when he lashed out. This shows that Arnie isn’t as dependent on Gilbert anymore and can stand up for himself.


A change is also seen in Momma. When Gilbert introduces the viewers to his family and home, we see Momma just sitting on the couch not really aware of what it going on. Everything in the house must come to her; she does not go to it. Although, when Arnie is arrested for climbing the water tower she demands that she goes to the jail to bail him out. This comes as a shock to the Grape family but they agree. The reaction of the public at the sight of Momma was quite a shock to her. It made her realise that she has become something quite “entertaining” to people. When Momma walks up the stairs to what can be portrayed as her “death bed” you can almost imagine that she is giving her last ounces of energy into the steps up the stairs. Instead of not bothering to do anything she tries to show her family that she is strong and can do it, but she is also aware of the consequences that follow.


Endora also goes through some changes with the introduction of “Burger Barn.” Endora is a town where not a lot seems to happen, much like the people that live there. There aren’t many things to do, apart from perhaps have an ice cream or visit the grocery store where Gilbert works. Burger Barn shows a new lease of life for Endora, which is first seen as the “ENDora of the line.”


So in this film that doesn’t seem to resolve much but actually does, we can clearly see as viewers that many of the main characters go through quite drastic changes in the way they look and feel about life, even though they don’t all survive at the end. Therefore it is also clear to see the Lasse Holstrom’s film ‘What’s eating Gilbert Grape’ is primarily about change, both within the Grape family and the whole town of Endora.





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