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The Wonderful World of English Resources

What's Eating Gilbert Grape? - a film study

Narrative Summary

Gilbert Grape lives in a town called Endora in Iowa, USA. He is in his early 20s and has many more responsibilities than most men his age. His father committed suicide, leaving Gilbert to be the man around the house. Gilbert's momma, once thin and beautiful, is now anything but due to her husband's actions. Ellen and Amy are Gilbert's sisters. Arnie, his intellectually disabled brother is about to turn 18 and have a big party.
Gilbert feels trapped. He is trapped in the small town, trapped in his responsibilities and trapped in his own inabilities to change what happens around him. He is a passive character.
Gilbert is having an affair with a married woman, Mrs Carver, not out of love for her but due to the emotional void in his life.
All this changed when lovely, lively Becky arrives in town with her Grandma. They are driving through in their mobile home which breaks down. Becky is a breath of fresh air for Gilbert and she seems to represent the world that seems beyond his reach. What will happen when she shows his the possibilities in the world?

Film Analysis Questions

1. In detail, describe all the family relationships in the Grape Household. (i.e. Gilbert and his mother, Gilbert and his sisters, Arnie and Gilbert, Arnie and his sisters, etc) What role do each of them play in the household? How do they treat one another? Why do they behave the way they do?
2. What is Gilbert frustrated about in the film? How do we know this?
3. How does Gilbert’s attitude change when Becky arrives? How important is her arrival?
4. Why do you think Gilbert has the affair with Mrs Carver? Why do you think she has the affair with him?
5. Which person in the Grape family is the strongest? Mentally? Emotionally? Justify your answers.
6. ENDORA – What do you think is the significance of the name of the town given what happens in the film and what the film is about?
7. What do you think are the ten main events in the film? List them in your books and explain the significance of each of them.
8. How does everyone treat Arnie? Why? How does Arnie behave towards everyone else? Why?
9. Why does Arnie keep climbing the water tower? Do you think the police were justified in the end when they arrested him?
10. Why do you think Momma went to the police station? (remembering this was the first time she had left the house in years)
11. Did you find the discussions which Gilbert, Tucker and Bob had in the café were important? Explain.
12. Why is Gilbert reluctant to introduce Becky to his mother at first? What makes him change his mind?
13. Is the death of Mr Carver significant? Why?
14. After Arnie is left in the bath, he has a fear of water. But later, Becky is able to coax him into jumping into the lake. What do you think makes him change his mind?
15. Lamson’s Grocery is where Gilbert works. ‘Foodland is where everyone shops’. Do you think the Grocery store symbolically represents Gilbert? If this is the case, what or who does Foodland symbolize?
16. In what ways is the Grape house important to the family who lives there?
17. In what ways does the memory of Albert Grape (Gilbert’s father) still rule the lives of the Grape family?
18. What is the symbolic significance of the burning of the Grape house at the end of the film? Why did they burn it down? How do you think the children felt when it happened?
19. Why do you think Gilbert tries to hide the fact that Tucker is fixing the house (when he passes the wood in through the basement)?
20. In what ways do Ellen and Gilbert treat Arnie differently? In what ways do they treat him similarly? Why?
21. ‘Did you ever see a beached whale on television? That’s her. That’s my mum’ – Gilbert. How did you feel when you heard Gilbert describe his mother in this way?
22. ‘got to do better’ – This is a phrase that Gilbert hears from several people. Do you think Gilbert could ‘do better’ or was he already doing the best he could? Was it fair that he was being told to ‘do better’? Discuss.
23. ‘Do you ever think about your family?’ – Mr Carver (when discussing life insurance with Gilbert). How do you think Gilbert felt hearing this question?
24. When Becky asks Gilbert what he wants he replies ‘a new house for momma, for momma to take aerobics classes. I want Ellen to grow up. I want a new brain for Arnie … I want to be a good person’. Do you think Gilbert is a ‘good person’ throughout the film? Why do you think he wants all those other things for the people in his family?
25. What do you think Gilbert was thinking when he looked at the map of America in Becky’s campervan?
26. How did you feel as you watched the scene where Momma and the family walked from the police station back to the car and people stared at her?
27. Why do Becky and Gilbert smile when her Nana’s truck stops running?
28. Why do you think Gilbert is so cold towards Becky the night before she is meant to leave?
29. How did Gilbert feel when he went into Foodland to get a cake? How do you think he felt when he came out and Mr Lamson was there in his car?
30. Was Gilbert’s actions towards Arnie justified when he hit him? Can we blame him for his actions? Why do you think he did hit his brother?
31. ‘I know what a burden I am. I know that you’re ashamed of me. I never meant to be like this. I never wanted to be a joke … Please don’t disappear – Momma. Why is she such an emotional woman? Why is she afraid Gilbert will disappear?
32. ‘I’m not gonna let you be a joke’ – Gilbert. How does this comment indicate that Gilbert’s attitude towards his mother has changed compared to earlier in the film?
33. ‘We can go anywhere’ – Did you find this an appropriate ending to the film? Discuss.
34. If you had to decide what the climax of the film was, when would it have been? How did you reach your decision?
35. In what ways was Gilbert’s life blessed during the film? In what ways was it cursed?
36. What is ‘eating Gilbert Grape’? Explain in detail with reference to the film.

Essay Questions

1. Arnie is the character around whom all the action in the film revolves. Discuss.

2. The family relationships in the Grape household are the key to the film. Discuss.

3. The Grape household is where the main events of the novel unfold. Discuss.

4. Gilbert is the main character in the film and the film focuses on his dreams and desires. Discuss.

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