What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

What's Eating Gilbert Grape

What's Eating Gilbert Grape is a 1993 drama movie directed by Lasse Hallström and starring Johnny Depp, Juliette Lewis and Leonardo DiCaprio. It is based on a book of the same name by author Peter Hedges. It was filmed in Manor, Texas.


In the small town of Endora, Iowa, Gilbert Grape is busy caring for his mentally handicapped brother, Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio). His morbidly obese mother, Bonnie (Darlene Cates) gave up on life after her husband hanged himself seventeen years earlier. She spends almost all of her time on the couch watching television. With Bonnie unable to care for her children on her own, Gilbert has taken responsibility for repairing the old house and looking after Arnie, who has a habit of climbing up the town water tower, while his sisters Amy and Ellen do the rest. The relationship between the brothers is both of care and protection - Gilbert continually enforces the 'nobody touches Arnie' policy. A new "Foodland" supermarket has opened, threatening the small Lamson's Grocery where Gilbert works. To make things more complicated, Gilbert is having an affair with a married woman named Betty Carver (Mary Steenburgen), whose husband, unaware of his wife's infidelity, tries to sell Gilbert life insurance. With all the weight on his shoulders, Gilbert tries to handle his situation the best he can.

As the film begins, the family is preparing for Arnie's 18th birthday. A young woman named Becky (Juliette Lewis) and her grandmother are stuck in town when their truck pulling their Airstream trailer 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 sunset, Gilbert leaves Arnie alone in the bath with the words; 'You're a big boy now, right?'. He returns home to find Arnie still shivering in the bath and his guilt is compounded by his family's anger. His affair with Mrs Carver ends when she leaves town in search of a new life following her husbands death - he drowned in the children's paddling pool after suffering a heart attack. As the film progresses Becky becomes close to both Gilbert and Arnie and as she talks to Gilbert she begins to unlock some buried hopes, dreams and happiness. During one of their talks they are distracted from Arnie who returns to the water tower he is forever trying to climb. Arnie is arrested after being rescued from the top of the tower, causing his mother - who has not left the house in seven years - to become the object of pointing, laughing and gawking from the townspeople as she goes to the police station, forcing Arnie's release.

Soon after, Arnie tries to run away yet again from his bath and in his frustration Gilbert finally snaps, hitting Arnie several times. Guilty and appalled at himself, Gilbert takes the car and runs out without another word. Arnie also runs out but goes to Becky's, who takes care of him for the evening before he is picked up by his sisters. After some soul searching aided by Becky, and a night spent asleep with her by the river bank, Gilbert returns home during the birthday party to make amends to his family for running out and to be forgiven by Arnie which, with only the slightest hesitation, he is. He shares a tender scene with his mother in which apologies, explanations and promises are made and he then, promising his mother that he isn't ashamed of her and that he won't let her be hurt anymore, he introduces her to Becky - something he has been reluctant to do throughout the story.

Following Arnie's 18th birthday party, their mother climbs the stairs to her bedroom for the first time since her husband's suicide. Arnie later tries to wake her but discovers she has died. The children, not willing to let their mother become the joke of the town by having her corpse lifted from the house by crane, empty their family home of possessions and set it on fire. The film cuts to the blaze and fades out with the family looking on at their burning home.

A year later, Gilbert describes what happens to his family after his mother's death, as Gilbert and his brother Arnie wait by the side of a road for Becky. The film fades out with Gilbert and Arnie riding with Becky and her grandmother as they leave town together.



While the film was not a box-office success (only grossing $10,032,765), the film was well received by critics and has garnered a large fanbase since its release on Home Video. On Rotten Tomatoes, 32 out of 36 reviewers marked the film as "fresh", thus giving it a mark of 89%.

Awards and nominations

Leonardo DiCaprio earned his first Academy Award nomination for this movie as well as a Golden Globe nomination. For this role he was awarded the Best Supporting Actor Award from the National Board of Review. He trained for his part at children's hospitals for mentally challenged children. New York Times film critic Janet Maslin praised his performance, writing "the film's real show-stopping turn comes from Mr. DiCaprio, who makes Arnie's many tics so startling and vivid that at first he is difficult to watch.... The performance has a sharp, desperate intensity from beginning to end."

The film itself was awarded the Best Foreign Film Award by the Guild of German Art House Cinemas in 1995.

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