Books and Movies Reviews

Whats Eating Gilbert Grape: Struggles with his life and dysfunctional family

In director Lasse Hallstrom’s film, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape
showcases the exceptionality of the mentally handicapped within the context
of a family situation.The clearly non-traditional and dysfunctional
family struggles to care for their mentally handicapped son, Arne, and yet
manage to show love and support for each other throughout some trying and
difficult time.The struggles that the family faces often illustrate the
difficulties faced by families and caregivers of the mentally handicapped,
especially in regard to the balance between personal needs and family
In the movie, Arne (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) is the 17-year-old
mentally handicapped brother of the lead character, Gilbert (played by
Johnny Depp).While the majority of the movie is about Gilbert’s struggles
with his life and dysfunctional family, much of his anxiety and trouble
comes from Arne. Leonardo DiCaprio does a fantastic job of portraying the
mentally handicapped Arne.He manages to get the viewer to sympathize with
both Arne and Gilbert’s problems, and yet never really elicits a feeling of
pity.Arne is seen as a complex, three-dimensional personality, with needs
and wants of his own. He is alternatively loveable and wonderful, and the
cause of a great deal of trouble to Gilbert.In one occasion, Arne manages
to climb the local water tower, but forgets how to get down.Here,
DiCaprio does an excellent job of showing Arne’s confusion, without making
him seem pitiful or falling back on may clich;s about the mentally
In Hallstrom’s film, the family pays an important and crucial role to
both the lives of Gilbert and Arne.The family is clearly dysfunctional
and non-traditional.Gilbert’s father committed suicide, and his mother,
formerly a teacher, is without a job and has eaten herself to the
staggering weight of 500 lbs.Gilbert is largely left with the work of


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