Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Family, Disability, Cinema, Sociology, Film, Medicine, Social Issues, Movies

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/12/28

Analytic Essay on Disability Using the Film “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”

The world is a vast place with a spectrum of different people, personalities and communities. Some people are blessed with stable health while others deal with medical and social health challenges daily and even over their entire lifetime. The challenges of any form of disability give rise to difficult medical and social situations. Using the film “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”, I identify the social disability portrayed by two of the main characters, examine how this model fits the purpose of the film, and how the reality of our medical model does not coincide with this depiction.
“What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” was filmed in a fictitious rural town with a small population. Rural towns are usually fraught with gossip between members as everyone tends to know everyone else’s business. In this particular movie, the main characters are plagued with this issue which is exacerbated by their belonging to a family troubled with a difficult history and a unique perspective on life. Gilbert, Bonnie and Arnie are the three main characters of this family. Gilbert is the stable one, the caretaker and the breadwinner. Bonnie is the beloved mother, who suffers severely from obesity and a broken heart. And Arnie is an adolescent who suffers from a mental disability. When father died, the mother, Bonnie, had to raise the family of six on her own.
The only medical intervention in this film is the diagnosis of Arnie’s lifespan which was inaccurate. Naturally, the medical disability underlies the film; however its depiction is an oxymoron of any real medical model as this movie focuses more on the social model. The movie portrays a lot of emotion and thought on the daily life in this small community. It is a window to the social side of living with disability and how others react and perceive it rather than being medically accurate.
Although not demonstrated in the film, Bonnie suffers from a disability that can be cured. She is a chronic overeater, antisocial, and probably suffers from some form of depression. Her disabilities could be cured by way of therapy, counseling and forms of physical activity. She and her family choose not to address this and instead they sweep it under the rug. Bonnie is able to fix her disability but she chooses not to. Moreover, her children are enablers of her disability and instead of encouraging her to lift herself out of her situation, they cater to her obesity. They could have encouraged her more to get up and walk or eat less. Though the family had love, true inexplicable love for each other, they could have done much more to help their mother have a better chance at a longer life. This highlights a social responsibility to look after the weak and disabled even if they are seemingly able bodied.
Bonnie’s over-excessive eating habits puts her in a position where she physically unable to leave the house. And with that amount of weight to carry around, it is not emotionally easy to be seen in public. The film depicts little children riding by on bicycles trying to catch a peek at this overweight human being as if it is some sort of entertainment. At one point, Gilbert actually lifted one of the children up to the window to take a look at his obese mother. The form of discrimination is fairly mild compared to more aggressive forms of discrimination; however it does suggest a brutal societal truth. There was not any foul or degrading language mentioned. Bonnie’s own son, Gilbert, is the character that displayed the highest level of discrimination. He thought of his mother as a “beached whale”. The albeism was evident right in the home. However, this is mild compared to other instances of more severe cases of discrimination. In one scene of the movie, Gilbert’s friend, Tucker, was very supportive in easing Gilbert’s perception of his overweight mother. He said that she is not all that overweight and he has seen another person that was bigger and suggested a solution by taking her for a walk (Depp and Reilly). For Gilbert to encourage his mother to walk would be a good act of social responsibility.
There was no cure for Arnie’s disability illustrated in the film. He could have been provided with special education and/or special care but instead, he was a part of the family as if he could deal with it himself. This could be a combination of ignorance or lack of finance: “some disabled people live in abject poverty and issues of culture take a back seat to economic survival.” (Peters) He gets dirty playing outside, venturing the country terrain, and not much is requested of him other than to behave. He is fortunate to have his brother as a loving and loyal caretaker but he has none other than his family for support. He does not visit a single doctor during the course of the movie. He gets into some trouble because his disability does not allow him to reason properly or make responsible adult decisions. Arnie lives a very unrestricted lifestyle in the movie and does not subjected to much regulation. Contrary to realistic professional medical advice, he is free to live without assistance until death. The medical intervention in the film was inaccurate in many ways and Arnie was told he wouldn’t make it to age ten; eight years later and beyond he is still climbing trees.
If the movie depicted the realistic medical model of disability, then the audience would not have experienced the same type of emotions that this film tried to capture. This film is about sadness, poverty and disability; all concocted in a small community. However, the movie sparks some very significant incidences regarding how they cope with their situation. There will always be some sort of discrimination in any form of disability, gender, age and race. Looking at these issues from a social standpoint can be very beneficial to understanding how people cope when confronted. There are many positive messages in this film: there is an underlying feel that Bonnie and Arnie are discriminated against just because they are different but if you watch the movie you will see there are supportive people behaving actually quite nicely. Sure, Bonnie and Arnie attract attention, they are different but the negative attention is mild in this movie which entails that there is a positive notion to the social model. For example, Gilbert would take Arnie to work with him and the grocery store owner would even do a few activities with Arnie -- surely a positive quality.
Arnie had a habit of climbing a water tower repeatedly and the police department let him off with several warnings. After Arnie climbed up again after several warnings, the police took him into custody. Disabled individuals have to be accountable to a degree and this is not a case of discrimination or abuse. Because Arnie was in police custody, this was enough motivation for her to leave the house for the first time in seven years. As she rode in the passenger seat, the right side of the car was noticeably off balance. When Bonnie arrives at the police station, she demands that they give back her son. And the county jail does so. This is also another positive sign on the social model of disability in this particular film. They could have made her fill out the paperwork and followed “proper protocol” or even subjected him to a court order to receive medical attention. Yet they did not and that is why the social model in this movie is meaningful, useful and positive. That scene ended when they handed Arnie over and the pain ended.
The film depicts the Grape family like a flock of birds: free without strict regulation. They manage to do what they need to do to survive one day at a time which is the essence of raw life. They are not trapped in the course of medical treatment to try and survive longer, they just live. They embrace every emotion life throws at them. This is a very emotional and real perspective on society.
Whether the family was poor, troubled and disabled, they did have a love for each other like no other. They were a close family and had dinner at the dinner table, which was connected to the couch to accommodate the mother’s inability to eat in a chair. Some of these loving qualities can’t help to raise the question of their social responsibility to their mother’s disability. A person can find themselves disabled at least one time in their life, so disability can happen to anyone, whether it be permanent or temporary. “Disability scholars have further probed the sufficiency with which the social model of disability captures or represents the experience of disability.” (Conner and Valle) “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” captures the family’s experience through the disabilities and the emotional effects they cause and how they manage to deal with them.
Overall, the social model of disability was captivated and necessary in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” because it had a message of unity and it created a touching experience for the audience. Even though there are questions on the social responsibility of the children and how they can be viewed as enablers to their mother’s obesity. When a person is able bodied and chooses to self-destruct, there is a limit to what others can do to help. The only person that can help is the individual. Arnie was born challenged and considering his difficulties, he is fortunate to have his loving family and a mostly accepting community. Society plays a huge part in social perception of people and culture and it doesn’t always play nice. For “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?”, society’s role was more delicate and sensitive to the disabled compared to what it could have been. And therefore, the social model was the best depiction of this.

Works Cited

Conner, David J and Jan W Valle. Practicing Disability Studies in Education. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2015.
Peters, Susan. "Is there a disability culture? A syncretisation of three possible world views." Disability & Society (2000): 583-601.
What's Eating Gilbert Grape. Dir. Lasse Hallstrom. Perf. Johnny Depp and John C Reilly. 2006.

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WePapers. (2020, December, 28) Example Of Essay On Samara Weiss. Retrieved December 09, 2022, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/example-of-essay-on-samara-weiss/
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