What's Eating Gilbert Grape? is a movie about a young man who is struggling to find himself while also caring for his family. One of his family members includes his brother, a 17-year-old boy named Arnie Grape. Arnie is a teenage boy who loves his mother, enjoys climbing trees, and is excited about his upcoming birthday. He also happens to be mentally handicapped.
Though there are a few lighthearted moments in the film where you laugh at some of the situations involving Arnie, the film portrays Arnie's disability with understanding and sensitivity. The family is excited about Arnie's 18th birthday, because doctors predicted that he would never live to celebrate it. His mother is severely obese but it seems that she goes on living out of pure love for her son, whom she is very proud of.
There are a few scenes in the movie that show some of the struggles that many families go through when caring for a mentally handicapped child. Arnie loves climbing, but refuses to listen to his brother who forbids him to go near the water tower. He doesn't understand the consequences of misbehaving, and his adventures always end with a visit from the police. Arnie is also shown playing with a grasshopper without realizing how fragile the creature is. When he accidentally kills it, he spends the next hour bawling about how he "murdered" it. There are a few scenes that also portray Arnie's brother, Gilbert, struggling with the realization that he will have to care for his brother for the rest of the life. He sometimes treats his brother unfairly, but the movie shows that he feels guilty about this and cares for him deeply.