This issue greatly influenced family dynamics throughout the film. At the beginning of the film, Gilbert narrates and explains the roles of the family members. Momma is a morbidly obese woman, as he later refers to as a "beached whale", that does not move from her chair in front of the television. The family moves the table from the kitchen to her seat at each meal, brings her food and cigarettes, blankets, and basically provides total care for her. Her condition has been this way since her husband/the children's father committed suicide, unexpectedly, in their basement. Her state influences the dynamics of the family as the sisters are responsible to cook, clean, and help with Arnie.
Gilbert also participates in the daily rituals of catering to Momma and always gives Arnie his bath and puts him to sleep. One night, Gilbert was eager to meet with a new girl who had come into town, Becky, and he explained how Arnie was "a big boy" and told him how to bathe himself. Gilbert left him in the tub to complete the task on his own, so that he could go meet with Becky. The next morning when Gilbert went into the bathroom, Arnie was still in the bathtub, alert, but hypothermic. This incident caused anger in the other family members that Gilbert could have been so negligent. Gilbert did feel very guilty and sorry that he had expected Arnie to complete his bath on his own.
There were a number of incidents throughout the film where Gilbert was split between his role of responsibility for Arnie and just being a carefree young adult. Also, a few times throughout the film, Gilbert was supposed to be watching Arnie and Arnie ended up climbing the town's water tower creating a riot. Gilbert loses his patience toward the end of the film and punches and slaps Arnie. Gilbert felt extreme guilt after this confrontation because he had never acted in this way, and he had always acted as a protector of Arnie. He told Becky that "nobody is supposed to hurt Arnie." This was a very strong and sad scene; however, it revealed the stress that Gilbert was experiencing in his caregiver role.
With family dynamics, I think it is significant to mention the extent to which the children went to protect their mother. It seems apparent that this woman should have received counseling or mental support. Her grieving process for the husband was completely dysfunctional. I found that the children aided in her practice of isolation by providing total care for her. Gilbert was the only one who seemed...