What’s Eating Gilbert Grape

“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation,” wrote Henry David Thoreau, “and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Thoreau easily could have been describing Gilbert Grape, the character Johnny Depp portrays in Lasse Hallstrom’s brilliant 1993 film, WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE. Gilbert is being eaten alive by family responsibilities and his own unfulfilled yearnings; too conscientious to desert his needy, morbidly obese mother (Darlene Cates in a riveting film debut) and his retarded younger brother Arnie (Leonardo DiCaprio in an Oscar-nominated supporting turn), Gilbert sacrifices his own dreams to care for others. But his gritty, day-to-day heroism is constantly overlooked; again and again, he puts forth his best effort only to be told that it’s not good enough, and he’ll have to “do better.”

Johnny Depp’s silent-movie skills serve him well here, as his tormented eyes reveal the hurt Gilbert Grape can never put into words. Consolation comes from a clandestine affair with a lonely housewife (Mary Steenburgen), but the possibility of real change—the dangerous, liberating kind that can permanently alter the track of one’s life—arrives in the person of free-spirited Becky (Juliette Lewis), who reminds Gilbert of all that he’s missing. “Movies like WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE are not easily summarized,” notes Roger Ebert in his rave review of the film. “But some of the best movies are like this: They show everyday life, carefully observed, and as we grow to know the people in the film, maybe we find out something about ourselves.” Ebert adds, “The special quality of WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE is […] its warmth,” and Ebert traces that warmth directly to Johnny: “Johnny Depp […] brings a quiet, gentle sweetness that suffuses the whole film.” Johnny’s noble Gilbert is the still center of this complex and heartfelt story; the one who speaks for us, the one we know too well.

Posters for WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE carry the tagline, “Life is a terrible thing to sleep through.” Thoreau would have agreed: “When it’s time to die, let us not discover that we have never lived.”

--Part-Time Poet







The Johnny Depp Zone's original content is copyright 2001-2016 by Theresa, Natalie and Rosemary. Original HTML and graphic design is copyright 2004 by Maria, updated by Andre. This fansite has no official affiliation with Johnny Depp, his family or management. No copyright infringement is intended: images and articles are used without permission and are copyright of their respective owners.