Charlie Babbitt cares about nothing in the world besides money and cars. He has never seemed capable of showing any sort of love towards anybody, having grown up with a neglectful father and a deceased mother. Since he got scared so frequently throughout his childhood, he often imagined a figure named the “Rain Man” to sing to him. Now as an adult, he uses everybody for his own financial gain: his clients, his girlfriend, and even his own distant family when he gets the chance. Thus, when his father passes away, leaving him nothing in his will but a 1983 Ferrari 400 I, Charlie picks up some information that he probably should have figured out by now: off in a mental hospital in Cincinnati, he has an autistic brother named Raymond who inherited 3 million dollars from the will. But Raymond will never use that 3 million dollars, because he has no concept of money. Now Charlie has got to bring his brother back with him to Los Angeles to inherit his share of the fortune, all while learning what it means to be a loving brother.
Action star Tom Cruise takes the driver’s seat as the stuck up car salesman, his performance as urgent and unsympathetic as you would visualize a man with his background. Dustin Hoffman sits in the passenger seat as one of the few cinematic portrayals of an autistic savant, which he plays with convincing realism. While it is a little difficult to care about the events before Raymond’s entrance, after his introduction, the arc of the journey officially unfolds.
Charlie and Raymond’s travels across the country in the Ferrari takes up a great majority of the feature, since Raymond refuses to fly in a plane. It all progresses with sunset views of empty streets in the middle of nowhere, adding a more intimate yet grand take on the homely road movie. At first, Charlie has zero patience and zero tolerance with Raymond’s absence of eye-contact or common judgment. But over the six long days spent landmark by landmark, his inner journey progresses from irritation to compassion.
It’s even well planned which types of events most tick Charlie off. Raymond never stops brainless muttering in a conversation, and whenever asked a question, he either responds with “I don’t know,” or waits to answer it for a half hour. Then there are the things he does that really get into Charlie’s hair: he grabs the steering wheel of the car while Charlie’s driving, and will only put on underwear sold at the K-Mart in Cincinnati.
These moments of agitation resonate so well by the ways Tom Cruise allows his character to take it, or more importantly, how his reactions change over the two-and-half hour runtime. He goes from flipping out over Raymond’s pickiness of where to buy underwear to defending his brother when others try to humiliate him. He goes through the ultimate test any common 80’s man would need to treat his family with unconditional mercy.
I would consider this movie dated, because today, shutting mentally disabled people into institutions no longer stands as a proper form of management. The movie shows more of how the two leads grow and develop: Charlie becomes a whole new person, Raymond doesn’t change at all, nor will he ever change.
But it’s not just Raymond’s story to tell. For any of us who are like Charlie and have that one impossible relative, keep this in mind: a family’s journey together spans across numerous obstacles big and small. Priority should not go to personal comfort or satisfaction, but compassion- knowing what’s best for everyone. That I believe will solve half of our world’s problems.
I certainly can respect the amount of care and time that went into creating such an emotional and entertaining feature that hits home with viewers of all tastes and life stages. Like I said before, Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman work terrifically together and the time put in by the cast and crew certainly pays off in the end. However, it’s important to understand that the representation of autism in Rain Man is very much trapped in 1988.
Raymond for the most part follows along the truth about autism fairly accurately, but used more as a plot device for Charlie’s story than a hopeful view of someone with extra difficulties. Almost all of Raymond’s dialogue composes of: “Yeah.” “Definitely.” “Uh-oh.” “I’m an excellent driver.” He must keep everything throughout the week at a specifically strict schedule—even when he’s in Vegas, it is lights out at 11.
Six-Word Lessons on Growing Up Autistic, Lesson #37: They Like to Set a Schedule.
It’s not that Raymond will not behave, but his mental development causes a lot of inner confusion that he can’t explain to himself, so he always stares into space while swaying on his feet, only listening half of the time. It’s especially worth noting his dangerous outbursts and self-abuse when he knows something awful is about to happen to him.
Six-Word Lessons on Growing Up Autistic, Lesson #36: Reactions Can Come Out as Unexpected.
But along with what holds him back, he also possesses unbelievable mental strengths. When he sees 246 toothpicks fall onto the floor, he successfully counts them all in only two seconds. He can memorize all the numbers in a phone book after reading it once, and can mentally keep track of where individual cards in a game of poker are on the table at all times.
Six-Word Lessons on Growing Up Autistic, Lesson #12: You Won’t Believe What They Think.
He ought to work at someplace such as NASA, but because of his incapability to make decisions, and other difficulties, he can’t do anything beyond live under protective care.
Now first off, this is not an intentionally negative representation of people on the autism spectrum. In fact, one who looked up the making of this film would know that an immense amount of homework was done to create an accurate portrayal of an autistic adult’s basic mannerisms. Dustin Hoffman has even stated how he spent a year with autistic men and their families, as well as the late Kim Peek, who was a strong inspiration toward the creation of this movie.
But as time passed, people came to learn some things about autism: anyone on the spectrum is indeed capable of loving others, it’s just that most are too confused about their own feelings to express much. Autism is not a disease, as what Roger Ebert called it in his review. The autism in Raymond’s case is not high-functioning like the movie claims, nor is it passable as a general survey on the average person with autism. But most important of all: Autistics are capable of changing, unlike what the end of the movie teaches—just look at where I am now compared to ten years ago!
Does that make Rain Man a bad movie to watch? I certainly would say no. While several facts about the condition should be mentioned in order to disprove the film’s dated beliefs about autism, it still works as an introduction to people about what savants are capable of, from the lens of how people saw and treated them in the late 1980’s. It’s a close-to-home method of bringing people to a concept that they may not have been exposed to much. In other words, Rain Man is an excellent place to start, but probably not the best place to stay.
- Show this movie to somebody you love who you would like to introduce to the concepts of autism. From there, start a discussion about whether or not this is how the other person thinks of people on the spectrum.
- Just as Raymond shows incapability of understanding his feelings, anyone with autism needs help in this as well. But unlike what Rain Man communicates, those on the spectrum are capable of loving. They just need a little more help to express those feelings.
- Everybody, whether autistic or not, has worth. Take a look at how Raymond counts quickly in his head and can memorize anything after a brief glance. If you are a parent of an autistic child, work on developing those unique strengths, because they are skills that any employer will crave.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see reviewed, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!
Castro, Carlos Fernández. Rain Man (1988). Digital image. Bandejadeplata. 8 June 2015. Web. <http://www.bandejadeplata.com/articulos-de-cine/tom-cruise-la-estrella-que-quiso-actuar/>