What's Eating Gilbert Grape
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An amazing story told in the film What's Eating Gilbert Grape is an example of the hardships of family relationships, unexpected life experience, dealing with ongoing problems, and the everlasting ability to love, give, share, and care. The plot of the film is about the family without father, who killed himself, an obese mother, and four children, who had to go through humiliation, constant ridiculing of the young son Arnie, who had a brain disability, live in an old house, and try to make ends meet. The chosen scene identifies how difficult it is to take care of someone disabled who makes a very hard time for the family to adjust to this type of behavior. However, it is possible if treated with love and care, as a game.
The Swedish director of the film, Lasse Hallström, did a very good job in directing this film, which turned out a success and a very powerful and emotional piece. Lasse Hallström suggested Gilbert (Johnny Depp) play his character half-asleep and half-awake at all times, signifying his tiredness of work, and constantly taking care of his problematic younger brother, who had no time for private life or even taking care of himself. Such suggestions breathed real life into Gilbert’s character making him more than just a character of a film, but a real person.
The work of the art director John Myhre impacts the viewer through the messages sent by each and every piece in the motion picture starting from decorations and finishing by such details of make up as bruises and wounds. I suppose the best of his work in the film is the higgledy-piggledy, sometimes even gruesome, way of showing the settings and inhabitants in the picture.
Production design by Bernt Amadeus Capra is important as it collects all the smaller details into a smooth and clear picture of visual allegory of the family life. Capra keeps the situation in the film as close as possible to the life realities and helps in making the plot of the story another variety show by understanding and feeling shame, guilt, and pity.
The scene where Gilbert protects Arnie from Ellen is really important, as it brings together all of the problems portrayed in the film: the problem of duality, family relations, and hardships. In the chosen scene, three characters are present: the older brother Gilbert (Johnny Depp), the younger brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and the younger sister Ellen Grape (Mary Kate Schellhardt). The rest of the characters present in the scene are not so relevant. The plot of this scene dennotates a controversial resolution of the argument between the two parenting styles of Gilbert and Ellen. Arnie wants to climb the water tower again even though he had been warned by the police officers before they were going to take him to the station. Ellen sees Arnie and grabs him on the hand. She doesn’t want him to get into trouble and drags him away from the tower. Gilbert, who is walking from the store, sees Ellen hurting Arnie, runs up to him and defends him. The scene is concluded by Gilbert explaining Arnie that no one has the right to hurt him or touch him. In case one does that, he has to deal with the older brother “because he is Gilbert”.
In this scene, Ellen (Mary Kate Schellhardt) represents the “bad cop”: she is strict, she is in rage, she even hurts the poor Arnie, who doesn’t understand that life is not a game. She is the opposite of what parenting, or taking care of someone, should look like. However, we should remember that she is still a teenager, perfectly embodied by the actress. Nonetheless, she loves her family and her brother, but can’t make it through with the hardships she faces.
Gilbert represents the “good cop” in this scene. He is the one that comes and saves his brother from the physical abuse of his sister. Gilbert plays the role of a guardian angel, who by all means keeps his family safe, sometimes even at his own stake. This caring causes him a lot of trouble and makes him tired. For this reason, Johnny Depp has wonderfully played a half awake, half asleep both in body and soul. Gilbert seems lost, but doing the right thing comes naturally to him, because he is a good person inside.
Brilliant play of Arnie by Leonardo DiCaprio of a mentally challenged boy keeps the viewer in suspense for his every deed, truly worrying whether he will be fine this time and feeling pity for him at the same time. Mental problems, pain, happiness, or foolishness – nothing seems impossible for this young actor to embody in his character. The eyes make the viewer live this film through with him.
The lighting in this scene is mostly the same in every frame. The scene is shot outside, and the main light illuminates the face of Arnie almost all the time. Except when Gilbert walks of the store, his face is in light. The reason why the actors keep their faces closer to light is because this scene emphasizes the feelings of each character, represented by the facial expressions: fear, pain, worry, and anger. The lighting evokes empathy to Arnie and his brother Gilbert. Overall, the story is shown in yellow-grayish colors, increasing the feeling of the decay of the society in the village.
The scene is located near the water tower in one of the American small towns in the South. Such elements in the scene as the supermarket, cars, clothes, and occupations of the villagers indicate that the situation takes place in contemporary times. The sky is cloudy, which indicates that this must be afternoon or an early evening. The scene and the film overall have a grayish tone, which signifies the drab existence of this small town with all its problems and dysfunctional regress in every aspect of life. Nothing stands out and everything seems monotonous. In addition, when Ellen fights with Arnie and wants to make him go home, the people on the background continue to do what they were doing before: no one seems to react, which suggests that this happens not for the first time. Everyone is used to this kind of behavior. The situation with the decoration leaves the place for action and allows the camera to capture the characters and the scene itself freely. The director chose an interesting way to portray the indifference of the villagers to the problem, sort of leaving the micro-life of the grape family to the town. All these elements belong to this small, hardworking town.
We can see the same graying pattern in the clothes and hairstyles of the villagers. The clothes look simple. They are often cheap, dirty and hang casually, carelessly, not ironed. Arnie wears what seem to be childlike clothes. Nonetheless he is about to turn nineteen; he acts and looks like a young boy. In such a way, his mental disease is emphasized and a disposition towards Arnie is created to the viewer. Gilbert looks groomed in his work clothes. A simple shirt and a pair of jeans imply that Gilbert is a simple worker, who doesn’t have time to care after himself. Also, the same is implied by his hair style.
Gilbert’s hair is always messy and never combed. It signifies his background: the small town he is from, his unfortunate family, a lack of time and care for his appearance. The same can be said about Arnie, who is also messy from head to toes. Not only his hair looks not taken care of, but also his face is always dirty. This indicates his inability to take care of himself. Ellen, in contrast, looks clean, well-groomed, and braided. Being the youngest child in this family, she already grew up as an independent girl knowing that no one will have time to take care of her, as there is already enough to do.
The mise-en-scene proceeds in a coherent homogenous flow, portraying the life of the town as it is. The director’s choices keep the viewer attached to the plot of the story as in a real-life situation rather than film. The only discordance in the scene is a too distant relation of the background elements to the action of the scene. Other than that, the mise-en-scene of this film sets a high mark for the film production and semantics of the elements, which are entwined in a congruent vision of the scene of the filmmaker.