Rain Man (1988)

by The Movie Diorama

Rain Man downpours an acute awareness for autism through an earnest cross-country comedy-drama. Savant syndrome, often associated with the autism spectrum disorder, is a mental condition that enables the individual to excel at a skill related to memory. From dropping a box of toothpicks and instantly calculating the exact number that lie on the dilapidated flooring to immediately answering advanced arithmetics to a precise degree of accuracy. The extraordinary memory capabilities this disorder grants, likening the brain to acquiring eidetic abilities, consequently decreases other neurodevelopmental traits. Socialising is minimised, as savants relish in living strict routines, exerting emotional complexities and organised abodes. Most, unfortunately, are unable to cope with the limitless boundaries of the real world, often residing in the reclusiveness of mental institutions.

So when selfish, abrasive and greedy Charlie, estranged from his recently deceased father whom bequeathed his fortune, discovers he has a savant brother Raymond sitting on three-million dollars, he instantly initiated manipulation. Unaware of his existence til now, Charlie coerces Raymond into leaving the institution and demanding half of his father’s estate. The road-trip ahead becomes an eye-opening journey into brotherly admiration and awareness for a mental disorder fairly unknown to many.

Levinson’s Academy Award-winning drama, regardless of the fact that a non-savant portrayed Raymond, is often cited for improving public awareness for autism, allowing appropriate agencies to start accommodating them. It’s a tale of familial virtuosity. Rain Man is not necessarily propelling Raymond’s disorder into the limelight, the feature is focussed on Charlie. The dehumanising greed, the naive treatment towards his older brother, the neglectful impact to the people surrounding him. Representing a modern society not willing to acknowledge the mental instabilities of others. Levinson’s meticulous opening shot, which sees Charlie importing four Lamborghinis, to the departing closing shot of Charlie solemnly staying at the passing train, accentuates the story revolving around Charlie.

As with any road-trip, it’s a journey of self-discovery. Two very different yet isolated souls unearthing a deep attachment for each other to which their limited exterior emotional output prevents the outside world from acknowledging. The bond of brothers. Charlie haphazardly showing Raymond the luxuries of life, whilst Raymond simultaneously assimilates humility. Whilst the latter may not change as a character, Charlie relishes in characterised alterations throughout the near-seamless car drive. All culminating into a subdued yet powerful scene where the two silently rest their heads together, knowing they have reconciled and found each other after all these years. Morrow and Bass’ screenplay intelligently inserts a comedic undertone without melodramatically creating sympathy for Raymond. His repetitious nature, mostly consisting of “K-Mart, we should go go K-Mart”, serves as endearment rather than frustration when it’s referenced again twenty minutes later as a progressional step. “K-Mart sucks!”, Raymond blurts out. It shows humanistic evolution through subtle indications. As with most road-trip films, the journey itself can often be narratively bumpy, with characters repeating the same actions to fill time. This unfortunately occurs here when Charlie constantly enters a phone booth whilst leaving Raymond to his own devices. It presents a lack of variance.

Regardless, when two actors are constantly offering masterclass performances and attempting to best each other with every scene, it’s incredibly difficult to identify the flaws. Hoffman enhances his already legendary status with an effortless performance that physically, mentally and emotionally captures savantism. The repeated lines of dialogue, the gentle swaying of the body and the inability to look people directly. Pitch perfect. Yet it’s Cruise who astonished as arguably the central character of this whole ordeal. The natural changes he intricately presents to his character, from abruptly shouting at Raymond whenever he was frustrated to teaching Raymond how to dance in the presidential suite of Caesar’s Palace, were sublime. A steady attachment begins to manifest, and it is solely down to his succinct role.

Golino, portraying Charlie’s girlfriend, was overshadowed and unable to make an impression. Her character has arguably the most impactful scene of the entire feature, that being the elevator dance. Yet unfortunately her underdevelopment and simplicity resulted in Hoffman stealing the scene once again. A shame, as a memorable female presence would’ve balanced the boisterous drama. Zimmer’s score also deserves noteworthy attention for providing atmosphere during the long driving sequences, bringing life to the expansive horizon of rocky canyons and grassy fields.

As someone who knows various individuals whom have acquired autistic dependencies, including Asperger’s Syndrome, Rain Man brings credible attention to these deficiencies without humiliating them. By simply showing awareness, Levinson balances the acute memory senses with the emotional complexities, and manages to direct a solidly enthralling road-trip feature along the way. Much like winning blackjack in Las Vegas, it encompasses emotional highs and lows without resorting to melodrama, placing a price tag for brotherly love as priceless.