OSH Matters

Growing interest in Occupational Safety and Health

Cyber Managers Analyse OSH Issues In The Movie “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993)”

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The Grape Family

Meet the Grape Family, immediately from right to left you may notice some familiar faces. In the movie What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Arnie, the younger differently-abled brother, to the right of him their younger sister Ellen, in the middle Johnny Depp who plays the eldest brother and breadwinner for the family, their mother Bonnie who’s morbidly obese and avoids leaving the house, and finally Amy the eldest sister. The movie in a nutshell depicts Gilbert’s desire to leave their hometown of Endora, however after their Father’s suicide several years prior, Bonnie gains an incredible amount of weight causing her to hide away in the family home. Gilbert is left to be the breadwinner, working alongside Arnie in the local grocery store. He and Amy run the household, looking after the family and in particular Arnie and Bonnie.

The Grape family truly live under a set of unique conditions, their two-story wooden home is old and in need of renovations. Arnie, who turns eighteen in the movie, is more like a young child, he is unable to take proper care of himself, and lacks the ability to fully understand when given instructions or asked questions. Their youngest sister Ellen plays a small role in the film, she is more concerned about her image and so becomes angry with Arnie for embarrassing her.

Throughout the movie there are obvious hazards and safety concerns:

  • Let’s start with the home’s foundation and floorboards. Because of her unwillingness and lack of mobility Bonnie spends most of her days sitting in front the TV, so much so that the children actually bring the table to her at dinner time. There’s a funny but not so funny scene in the movie where Gilbert and his friend, Tucker, are in the basement inspecting the home’s foundation. All of a sudden they get quiet and duck down as Bonnie slowly makes her way from the kitchen to reclaim her spot on the TV-room couch. The floorboards creak, press down and give off a cloud of dust under her weight.


    Bonnie almost never moves from the couch.

To mitigate the risk of the family falling through the floorboards they use six 3 by 6 inch beams to prop the flooring. This however was not a permanent fix, they should have retained the services of a proper carpenter. While it is obvious that they weren’t financially secure they could have-in the meantime- isolated that particular area of the home preventing anyone from walking, sitting, standing etc. anywhere in that area.

  • Arnie is the next area of concern, because of his condition Arnie often agreed with others though not quite understanding what was being asked of him. In the movie there’s a scene where Gilbert is bathing Arnie in the bathtub, however Gilbert wants to leave to meet his ‘love interest’ (obviously) so he suggests to Arnie that he (Arnie) could bathe, dry and clothe himself. Arnie-not fully understanding- agrees; Gilbert finds him the next morning sitting naked in the bathtub shivering.

Arnie Unsupervised:- Climbing the town’s water tank.

This lack of judgement and recklessness on Gilbert’s part put Arnie’s health and well-being at risk- some potential hazards Arnie could have fell victim to included hypothermia and drowning, “I could have drownded,” yelled Arnie. Hypothermia, according to ‘Mayo Clinic Online’ is defined as a medical emergency that occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, causing a dangerously low body temperature.

Arnie’s love for climbing is also depicted in the film. He is seen climbing trees, the house, and the town’s water tower (three times!). They even play a game called “Where’s Arnie,” where he basically climbs a tree and they pretend they can’t find him, until he jumps off a branch to knock Gilbert down. Clearly he wasn’t being looked after well enough and though Gilbert tried to keep an eye on him the safest thing for Arnie would have been round-the-clock supervision. Persons who are differently-abled have very different needs than the average person, and so it is our responsibility to ensure that they do not pose a risk to themselves and others. To reduce the likelihood that Arnie would keep climbing the town’s water tower the entire Grape family should have discouraged him from climbing at home by refusing to play “Where’s Arnie,” hopefully then climbing would not have seemed like such a thrill.

"Where's Arnie?!"

“Where’s Arnie?!”

  • The third and fourth hazards may seem trivial however it led to an accident (death) in the movie. On arriving home after a distressing phone call, Ken Carver, husband to Betty Carver (who was having an affair with Gilbert), is seen crying on their front steps while the house is engulfed in smoke. Betty burnt a batch of cookies and left her children inside, Ken comes home and lets the children out, had he reached a little later they may have asphyxiated due to the smoke. In a situation like that Betty should have had an exit strategy already in her mind, she should have got her kids safely out of the house and then called for help. And so we see the importance of having an emergency plan even at home.

In the following scene Ken begins yelling and kicking things in the yard. Though it is not shown, he suffers from a heart attack, falls face first into a kiddie pool of no more than a couple inches of water and drowns. To reduce the risk of such an occurrence, blow up pools like the one Ken drowned in should always be emptied and deflated after use, other types of pools or hot tubs should be enclosed by a barrier or gate especially when a family has young children. We continuously see accidents related to drowning in Trinidad itself, especially where safety measures are not fully adhered to or implemented. For instance, on June 5th 2014, a five year old named Jeremiah Agard was able to open the gate which closed off a pool area, and hence, he fell into the pool and drowned. Don’t you think that this death could have been avoided if that gate had been more secure?

(See link for more details:- http://www.guardian.co.tt/news/2014-06-05/days-after-child-drowns-nursery-school-close)

  • Onto the last hazard, at the end of the movie Bonnie or to the Grape family “Mama,” dies shortly after making her way upstairs for the first time in a number of years (not sure if these two are correlated). Bonnie was extremely obese and her health was deteriorating unknowingly due to her terrible eating habits and depression. Obesity by definition, according to ‘Medical Dictionary Online’ is an abnormal accumulation of body fat. As a result, due to her weight the family realized that they would ‘require a crane’ to move her body out of the house. Fearing that Bonnie would become a joke they removed all valuables from the house and set their home on fire.

    Home of the Grape family set on fire.

While their reason was a noble one they created quite the little situation for something to go terribly wrong. They exposed themselves and their neighbours to the following hazards: large masses of smoke, a potential wildfire, and an explosion caused by the burning of chemicals or gas within the home. To mitigate the risks associated with these hazards the family should have asked for help from the authorities (police, fire department, medics etc.) to deal with the situation in a quiet and respectable manner instead of setting fire to their home!

As seen in this report, there were many situations determined that could be avoided. This blog makes us all think twice about how many situations we can correct around us; in our homes, schools, workplaces etc. There is always room for improvement regarding our health and safety! Remember! “Safety First” is “Safety Always”- (Charles M. Haynes).

Please check out the movie and see if you can spot hazards that we may have missed!
Sincerely: Cyber Managers


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