Film: What's Eating Gilbert Grape

"Life is a terrible thing to sleep through."

A 1993 film starring Johnny Depp as the eponymous Gilbert Grape. The story deals with the Grape household and their friends and acquaintances from Endora, Iowa. Picking up a few years after the suicide of Gilbert's father, we see its impact on everyone involved.

One of the main difficulties the family is having concerns Arnie Grape (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), who is developmentally disabled which creates a great deal of problems for everyone involved, especially the multiple times he climbs the town water tower and refuses to come down for anyone except his brother Gilbert.

Gilbert ends up chaffing against his role as the new man of the house, along with having to find his way through romantic tensions with a married woman, preparations for a grand party for Arnie's 18th Birthday, his morbidly obese mother's declining health, and worrying about his future career.


Tropes featured include:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: In the novel, Arnie is overweight, and one of his eyes is prosthetic. Amy is also described as "not bad looking", but gradually eating herself into another version of her mother.
  • Big Eater: Bonnie Grape is a very tragic-comical example of the fat version.
  • Big Sleep: Bonnie goes upstairs to her bedroom for the first time in ages, goes to sleep in her bed and dies there.
  • Bookends: The trailers going through Endora.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Ellen Grape.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mr. Grape, before the movie begins.
  • Fat Girl: When Gilbert says his mother is the size of a beached whale, he's not far off.
  • Foreshadowing: The Fire! pinball game that Arnie plays in the cafe is a hint of how the family eventually deals with Bonnie's obese corpse.
  • Graceful Loser: Mrs Carver graciously handing Gilbert to Becky, knowing she has the youth and joyful-heart to give him the happiness she never could.
  • I Was Quite a Looker: Bonnie Grape, in a picture (a real picture of the actress), taken before she gained the weight
  • Kids Are Cruel: The kids of Endora likes to hang around the Grape residence, hoping to have a chance to catch a glimpse of, and laugh at the morbidly obese Bonnie. Curiously enough, they are never shown to bully Arnie, and are actually very accepting of him.
    • It's implied at the end that Ellen herself was anxious to switch schools; probably not many friends to leave behind if she was constantly teased. By the way she treats Arnie throughout the movie, Ellen was most likely teased in his and her mother's account.
  • Knight in Sour Armor: Gilbert does everything for his family without complaint, but is secretly resentful about it to his friends.
  • Let The Past Burn: The family's solution to how to deal with their dead mother's immovably heavy corpse at the end of the film. The protagonists light the house on fire to burn along with their deceased morbidly obese mother who is on the top floor, as this is the only way to dispose of her body without public humiliation. In this case the fire symbolises protection.
  • Make It Look Like an Accident: Discussed by Gilbert's friends about Mr. Carver (who also happens to be offering Gilbert a job while his wife tries to get Gilbert to sleep with her) after he drowns to death in a kiddy pool party, argued to be subverted because he had a heart attack that caused him to collapse in such a way that he drowned in a kiddy pool.
    • Actually, while it appeared that way, Carver wasn't offering him a job, ironically he was trying to sell Gilbert life insurance, just before his own fatal cardiac arrest.
  • Mama Bear: Bonnie Grape. When the cops detain Arnie for climbing the water tower again, she risks her own health and being humiliated in public due to her weight, walking to the police station demanding to know where Arnie is.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Becky seems to be one for Gilbert.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: At the beginning of the movie, Arnie - the mentally challenged young man - kills a grasshopper by beheading it, and then cries to Gilbert about it. Later on in the movie, Gilbert loses his cool - leading him to slap Arnie around, after being so protective of him.
  • No OSHA Compliance: The town water tower is incredibly easy to climb up. All access to the ladder should be locked off.
  • The One Who Made It Out: Janice and Larry.
    • Also done with Gilbert and Arnie, who look to leave the town with Becky and her grandma when the latter two revisit the town in their trailer.
  • Pun-Based Title
  • Small Town Boredom: Welcome to Endora, Iowa where they look up to the majestic happenings of Des Moines, Iowa.
  • Super Drowning Skills: Arnie fears that he has this and refuses to go in or near water after he is left in a bathtub all night and almost drowns.
  • Those Two Guys: Gilbert's friends, a handyman and a mortician who often discuss the new Burger Barn that's about to open and how much better than other fast food chains they are.
  • Two-Person Pool Party: With their clothes on no less, and while Arnie watches...
  • What the Hell, Hero?: When Gilbert lifts up a little boy to gawk at his obese mother, his friends chastise him for it.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Mrs. Carver cheats on her husband with Gilbert.