You’re my knight in shimmering armour. Did you know that?’
‘I think you mean shining.’
‘No shimmering. You shimmer, and you glow.’
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape was a movie I often showed senior students back in the day. It is beautifully told and, in my mind remains one of DiCaprio’s finest performances.
A prisoner of his dysfunctional family’s broken dreams in tiny Endora, IA, Gilbert (Depp) serves as breadwinner and caretaker for his mother and siblings following his father’s suicide and his older brother’s defection. Momma (Darlene Cates) is a morbidly obese shut-in who hasn’t left the house in seven years; her children include Arnie (DiCaprio), who’s about to turn 18 despite a host of negative medical forecasts, and terminally embarrassed Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt), who is emerging from awkward adolescence.
When he’s not taking care of the difficult but tender Arnie, Gilbert spends his time fixing up the family’s tattered farmhouse, working at a failing mom-and-pop grocery store and hanging with local misfits Bobby (Crispin Glover), an overly ambitious junior undertaker, and Tucker (John C. Reilly), a handyman who hankers after a job at the new burger franchise.
Into this complicated but essentially unchanging social universe steps Becky (Juliette Lewis), a thoughtful young woman who’s been escorting her nomadic grandmother from state to state in a mobile-home caravan. As Becky teaches Gilbert to finally consider his own happiness for a change, she disrupts both his family obligations and his long-running affair with a lonely housewife (Mary Steenburgen).
Gilbert’s life, his future, is thwarted. He was not able to let go until …..
This 1993 classic is available for free online or with SBS in Australia.
Grab your notebook. Make sure you have some wine and nibbles you enjoy. Settle down to really see this movie and make notes about what really is eating Gilbert. Take particular notice of Ellen and Amy and the everyday chores they are engaged in. As memories of your own teenage years rise up don’t let them escape. Make sure to capture these by writing them down. Make lists of random thoughts and memories of lived experiences! Consider the things that have bound you, the things you have not been able to let go of, sibling rivalry and memories of young love.