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What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?. Director: Lasse Hallstrom, Paramount Pictures, 1993. Cast: Gilbert Grape – Johnny Depp Becky – Juliette Lewis Betty Carver – Mary Steenburger Arnie – Leonardo DiCaprio Momma (Bonnie) – Darlene Cates. Type:.

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what s eating gilbert grape2
What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?


  • Lasse Hallstrom, Paramount Pictures, 1993.


  • Gilbert Grape – Johnny Depp
  • Becky – Juliette Lewis
  • Betty Carver – Mary Steenburger
  • Arnie – Leonardo DiCaprio
  • Momma (Bonnie) – Darlene Cates
  • What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a ‘slice of life’ film. This film is taken from the life of an ordinary person and is about their experiences.
  • Gilbert is the narrator at the start and clearly the film is from his point of view. Gilbert talks in the movie, telling the audience about his town/family etc. This technique is called voice-over.

Gilbert Grape:

  • Johnny Depp plays Gilbert as a kind, self-sacrificing young man who sees no escape in the world. He has more burdens than any young man ought to have.
gilbert s burdens
Gilbert’s Burdens:
  • He lives in isolated Endora, a dying town.
  • He stacks shelves at a shop whose business has dropped to a new mall supermarket.
  • His large Mother needs care
  • No father
  • His sisters are always quarreling
  • His mentally challenged brother Arnie requires constant attention/supervision
  • His affair with Betty isn’t going anywhere

Gilbert Grape:

  • All appears grim until worldly Becky arrives opening his eyes to the outside world.
  • We see several interesting sides to his character: escape from his boring routine; frustration; and a change in his attitude.
  • What’s “eating him” is how he can balance his own needs with those of his family.
questions on gilbert grape
Questions on Gilbert Grape:
  • Gilbert finds an escape from the boredom of his everyday life, from?
  • Why does he ‘lose it’ with Arnie?
  • Why does he feel his relationship with Betty is hopeless?
  • How does his attitude towards his Momma change?
  • Explain how Gilbert finds a new freedom
  • Leonardo DiCaprio shows us a real person, both likeable and infuriating. He keeps doing things he shouldn’t such as climbing the tower, yet is helpless and dependent.
questions on arnie
Questions on Arnie:
  • Why is he frightened of the basement?
  • How does he overcome his fear of water?
  • Give an example of his helplessness.
  • Darlene Cates performs Momma, a complex person, not a stereotype fat lady. She controls her children’s lives, but is also dependent upon them. Her march into the police station is the key moment of the film: nothing will be the same again.
questions on bonnie
Questions on Bonnie:
  • Apart from her march to the police station, what is her other significant accomplishment in the film?
  • Give 3 examples that show her as being treated like a figure of fun.
  • Give an example that shows the director’s intention to treat Momma with respect.
  • Juliette Lewis is the outsider who offers Gilbert an escape route. But it is important that she reaches out to his family too. She comes to understand Arnie and overcomes his fear of water. When she meets Momma, and they get on well, it’s as if Momma can now hand Gilbert over: he has someone else to go to.
questions on becky
Questions on Becky:
  • Give examples of how her lifestyle and personality contrast with Gilberts.
  • Why would Gilbert and Becky make a good match?
  • What does the ending suggest for the couple?
betty carver
Betty Carver:
  • Betty is having an affair with Gilbert. She is a lonely housewife. Because Gilbert quits the affair because of Becky, she goes mad while her husband commits suicide. When she leaves she shows she understands Gilbert by pointing out that he is always thinking of other people, but should think of his own future.
setting time and place
Setting - Time and Place


  • Small town of Endora, Iowa, U.S.A


  • 1980’s – 1990’s
  • Could easily be present day
setting time and place18
Setting - Time and Place
  • Films usually establish a time, place and social setting very early on with establishing long shots, giving the audience a clear idea of the location.
  • Once these have been established, the events and characters should appear realistic and convincing in this setting.
setting time and place24
Setting - Time and Place


  • How is a setting conveyed (shown) in a film? – Think about time and place.
  • Vehicles, clothes, hairstyles, dialogue, music, buildings etc.
from the opening sequence
From the opening sequence:
  • What sort of place is the film set in? What do you know about it?
  • What do we learn about the characters?
  • What is the relationship between the 2 boys?

(Apart from the obvious – they are brothers. Use one of yesterdays quotes to help answer this).

from the opening sequence26
From the opening sequence:
  • How much do you rely on the visuals and how much on the narration for information?
  • How important is the music? What is the effect?
  • Whose story is mainly in focus?
  • What techniques have been used to create this viewpoint?
your task
Your Task:
  • List all the techniques used in the opening scene that you can remember.

Different shots/angles, narrative, music.

setting a metaphor
Setting – A Metaphor
  • The setting for this story is also a metaphor for Gilbert’s life so far. He is stuck at the ‘end of the line’ – a place where others just cruise on through. The opening scene emphasises this.
  • We see the store sign.


It’s a joke but it is also truthful.

setting a metaphor30
Setting – A Metaphor
  • The house is another metaphor. The beam on which Gilbert’s father hanged himself is now crumbling under the weight of his mother, the house is collapsing, just as Gilbert’s old life is falling apart.
your task31
Your Task:
  • Write a paragraph describing the opening sequence, and explain how the effects have been used to create an impact on the audience and contribute to the film as a whole.
  • Make sure you answer both parts of the question. Try to use at least 1 quote!
the pace
The Pace:
  • The film pace is slow.


  • The film regularly uses fades to divide the film up into sections.
  • A lack of emotions & suspense.
  • The film does not show a lot of emotions.


  • The husband of Betty (whom Gilbert is having an affair with) is aware of what’s going on. Although he makes threats to him, there is no fight or real confrontation.
Emotions :
  • When Momma dies it is unemotional. The camera moves away from the house so that Arnie’s reaction is seen only from a distance, without using close-ups.
  • Suspense is present in the film but it’s brief without a dramatic outcome.


Can you think of examples of suspense in the film – when you think something bad is going to happen but doesn’t?



  • An undertaker waits as Arnie climbs the water-tower. He carries with him an atmosphere of death but this is misleading. No one is killed and when someone does (Momma) the children make their own funeral.
  • Arnie expresses his fear of swimming and when he goes missing we fear he might have drowned. Later however, we see him happily splashing about with Becky.
  • Betty meets Becky in the store one day but they don’t fight over Gilbert, rather she tells Becky “he’s all yours” and leaves.
  • Gilbert appears to be getting fed up with the family and has a moment of loosing it. He drives to the edge of town as if leaving, but turns around and returns to his duties.
close reading
Close Reading:

Arne up the water tower

  • What camera techniques are used in this sequence?
  • What is the effect?
  • Why does Gilbert feel so responsible for what happens in this episode?
close reading40
Close Reading:

Momma leaves the police station

  • What camera techniques are used in this sequence?
  • What is the effect?
  • What do we think of Momma now?
  • A theme is a “big” or “main” idea in a text.

1. Frustration with ordinary life

2. Caring for others

3. Responsibility

4. Desire for Freedom

(There are many themes but we will look at 4.)

theme 1 frustrations with ordinary life
Theme 1- Frustrations with ordinary life


  • What frustrations do the different characters face in the film?
  • Gilbert –
  • Momma –
  • Betty –
  • Arnie –
  • Etc.
theme 2 caring for others
Theme 2 – Caring for others


  • What are examples of caring for others in the film?
  • Which characters care the most?
  • Which characters don’t care for others at all?
theme 3 responsibility
Theme 3 - Responsibility

Gilbert has the most responsibility in the film.

  • What are his responsibilities?
  • How does he handle them?
theme 4 desire for freedom
Theme 4 – Desire for Freedom

Gilbert shows the most desire for freedom in the film. He wants to escape Endora and all that it holds.

Becky has got the freedom Gilbert wants. With Becky in his life Gilbert can achieve this freedom.