Rain Man (1988)
Release Date: December 16th, 1988 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Barry Levinson Actors: Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino, Jerry Molen, Jack Murdock, Lucinda Jenney, Bonnie Hunt, Michael D. Roberts, Ralph Seymour
xotic car dealer Charles Sanford Babbitt (Tom Cruise) has all of his money tied up in Lamborghinis that are having difficulty getting to their shipping destinations. EPA paperwork has caused considerable delays, and buyers are threatening to pull out. Despite these problems, Charlie and his girlfriend of one year, Susanna (Valeria Golino), head to Palm Springs for a vacation, only to turn around halfway through their journey to attend the unanticipated funeral of his estranged father, scheduled in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Charlie is preoccupied with so many things – such as unpleasant memories – that he’s barely able to acknowledge Susanna, who manages to stay supportive even as she’s ignored or silenced by his sudden snaps. As Charlie waits for the will to be read by his lawyer, he reminisces about his troubled relationship with his father, who never trusted the boy and who loved his classic Buick more than anything else. At least, Charlie recollects, he had an imaginary childhood friend, the Rain Man, to come sing to him when the going got tough (a brief, quiet reference that, due to the film’s title, can’t retain the mystery that it deserves). Although the attorney relates the news that Charlie is to inherit that very same prized car (which he was previously not allowed to drive), along with his father’s award-winning rose bushes (which are now dying and serve as something of a cynicism), the rest of the $3 million estate will be put into a trust – to a beneficiary unknown to Charlie.
“I got what I expected.” Charlie seems to be unaware of how bitter his father was over the utter lack of communication (the loss of a son) after the youth moved away. Ignorant yet outraged, he believes he should have received his father’s money, even when he says he recognizes their soured – or nonexistent – relationship. His real shock comes when he investigates the trustee of the fund, a hospital that cares for mentally challenged patients, and finds that a high-functioning autistic savant named Raymond (Dustin Hoffman) is actually a brother that he never knew he had.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me I had a brother!” Angry, impatient, inconsiderate, abusive, selfish, and intent on taking it out on a new target, Charlie doesn’t initially wish to bond with his newfound sibling as much as he merely entertains himself by antagonizing the poor fellow. This odd-couple pairing lends to all sorts of amusing, awkward, and, alternately, aggravating situations; there’s a certain cruelty (and a recklessness that is never fully addressed) to Charlie’s actions, which take some time to transform into heartfelt drama. But that transformation – a maturation a long time coming – generates the power of this story.
As a character study, “Rain Man” boasts some exceptional acting, particularly from Hoffman (who is quite convincing with his idiosyncrasies) and Golino (who exhibits a striking authenticity with her emotional displays). Cruise is good, too, though his range isn’t far removed from the roles he typically portrays. Basically, he was cast because he’s already proven his knack for this kind of persona. Through the course of a road trip subplot and the exploitation of Ray’s rare abilities with memorization (visualized most famously in a Vegas blackjack sequence), Charlie learns some valuable lessons about tolerance, composure, compassion, and family. While the scenarios aren’t always original, the use of autism in a mainstream film is relatively new, highlighted by the notion that caregivers across the United States in 1988 aren’t fully aware of the condition.
Due to the film’s popularity (it went on to win the Oscars for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, and Actor [for Hoffman]), it also shaped many audiences’ perceptions about the neurodevelopmental disorder – including the ones that aren’t terribly accurate. But perhaps more important are the scenes in which Ray’s affliction summon sympathy and an understanding of the complexities – sometimes unfair and mystifying – of the human mind. In the end, as “Rain Man” becomes an observation on two people having a series of misadventures while building a connection and a friendship and establishing empathy, there’s a marked realism that emerges. Responsibility for Charlie and limitations for Raymond are finally seen with a sobering lens in a series of poignant, deeply moving, parting shots.
– Mike Massie