In my opinion the three main themes are marginalization, tolerance of difference and the urban/rural divide.
Gilbert’s mother is obese and his brother, Arnie, has a brain disorder. However, Arnie is more accepted by the town and is not frowned upon like his mother. His mum has not left the house in seven years because of how ashamed she is of herself. She says so to Gilbert: ‘I know what a burden I am. I know that you are ashamed of me. I never meant to be like this. I never wanted to be a joke.”
At the beginning of the film Gilbert is ashamed of his mother and describes her as a “beached whale.” His view changes towards the end of the film when his mother goes to get Arnie from the police station. When she dies he wants to make sure that she is not a “joke.” So instead of people lifting her out with a crane he burns the house down.
There is a clear urban/ rural divide. Gilbert works in a very small grocery store called Lamson’s Grocery and just outside Endora there is a huge supermarket called FoodLand. At the beginning of the film he says “Lamson’s Grocery is where I work and miles out of town on the interstate, there’s Foodland….where everyone else shops.” Gilbert is trapped in Endora because of his responsibilities; his whole family counts on him. Whenever they need something done they always call him, even with all his responsibilities his family are constantly telling him to “do better.” It is very clear he wants to leave Endora because he says at the beginning of the film that his older brother managed to “get away, ” at this point he sounds disappointed that he didn’t manage to get away. Endora is very small, the streets are never busy and nothing exciting ever happens. According to Gilbert, “Living in Endora is like dancing to no music.”
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