“Uh oh. Thirteen minutes to Judge Wapner and ‘The People’s Court.’”
As far as the Oscars go, the 1980s were an off decade for blockbusters. In the entire decade, only a limited number of films that finished as one of the year’s ten highest grossing films were also nominated for a Best Picture Oscar (movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T.). Of this select group, the only film to walk away with the coveted award was the 1988 classic road movie Rain Man.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I have a passion for movie quotes. I can’t help but relate someone’s simple statement to a quote from one of my favorite movies. Of all the movies I have seen, Rain Man is the one I quote the most. I hope you don’t mistake me; I don’t do it to poke fun at autism. I do it as a tribute to this movie I love and the brilliant Dustin Hoffman performance that makes it so memorable.
“Course I don’t have my underwear”
The film stars Tom Cruise as Charlie Babbitt, a fast-talking specialty car dealer who fell out of touch with his father years ago. Still, when his father passes away, Charlie is shocked to learn that he has been virtually cut out of the will. He got the car and the prize rose bushes, but the three million dollar estate has been left in a trust. After some detective work, Charlie learns that the money has been left for the care of Raymond (Hoffman), the autistic brother that Charlie never knew he had.
In order to get back at his father, Charlie “kidnaps” his older brother and takes him on a cross-country road trip to Los Angeles. Along the way he is faced with the many challenges of dealing with autism. Routine is everything for Raymond. He knows what he is supposed to have for meals everyday, he knows exactly when his favorite television programs are coming on and he knows that his bed is always supposed to be by the window. Any break from this routine and Raymond starts reciting Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” routine to calm himself and in extreme situations, he begins screaming and hitting himself on the head.
“I get my boxer shorts at K-Mart in Cincinnati.”
To Charlie, these outbursts are nothing but an annoyance; something that is delaying him from getting home where his business is falling apart. As the journey continues, however, Charlie soon learns he has room in his heart for his brother and now blames his father less for not giving him the money and more for keeping his brother away from him.
What rises Rain Man above the typical road movie is the performances; and notice that I say performances; plural. Dustin Hoffman won all the praise, the critical acclaim, the Oscar and so forth (all very well deserved), but let us not forget the equally powerful performance delivered by Tom Cruise. He may not have the showiest role, but it is just as important as Hoffman’s; maybe even more so. After all, it is his character arc that drives the plot. The first thing they teach you in screenwriting class is that there must be some kind of change in your protagonist. Hoffman’s character is autistic; to have him change (at least a drastic change) would have been cheating. Cruise’s character arc is perfectly demonstrated in two key scenes: one when he first meets Raymond and another when he finally gets to L.A. In both scenes he is asking Raymond’s caretaker, Dr. Bruner (Gerald R. Molen) why no one ever told him he had a brother. When he asks the first time, it is out of anger that he did not get the money. When he asks the second time, it is out of sadness because of the quality time he did not get to spend with his brother.
“Be at the bar at ten o’clock. Have to go on a date with Iris.”
All this talk about Cruise’s performance is not intended to take away from the brilliant performance by Hoffman. In playing Raymond, Hoffman is able to get the audience to identify with a character who can’t even identify with himself. The actor never falters. The monotonous tone of voice, the shuffling walk, the faraway look, he keeps everything together for every minute he is on screen.
The most powerful scene in the movie for me comes in one of the many hotel stops, when Charlie learns that Raymond is actually the “rain man,” someone from his childhood that he had long since written off as an imaginary friend. Raymond may not be able to make a connection, but this is definitely the scene when Charlie begins to make one. This confrontation even leads him to call Susanna (Valeria Golino)—the girlfriend who recently left him—and treat her with respect for the first time in the movie. Later, when she arrives in Las Vegas and he seems truly happy to see her, you get the feeling he is really starting to open up emotionally (of course, he has also just won about $80 thousand at blackjack).
Rain Man is an often funny, brilliantly acted and always entertaining movie that remains one of the best films of the 1980s or any decade. If nothing else, it established one undeniable truth:
It’s a classic, it gets an A+.