I can’t really call this a revisit as this was first watch before I was watching films to in the volume I do now, so Rain Man (1988) sadly doesn’t count. I decided to revisit this film purely on a comment made during Mad City (1997). I vaguely remembered the earlier film, all that I did was that Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman were brothers. An idea I initially thought was in-plausible on the face of it. It took another look to see what the film was really about beyond this relationship.
Well its all about the relationship really between these estranged brothers. It’s the themes explored about them that make this a rewarding film. One that would hopefully not get remade, and sadly would not get green-lit today in Hollywood unless it was an indie film. I fear today that the theme of Autism would be mocked, turning it into a comedy which is just inappropriate. The inclusion and depiction of people with disabilities has improved in the last decade, however a film is a rare and brave move. What made it work was the spell-binding and Oscar-winning performance by Hoffman who submerges into this man Raymond Babbit who merely looks and sounds like him. What he portrays is a man who is lost and controlled by his disability, with sensitivity and acute attention to detail. One of a long line if actors who has snapped up the golden statue for taking such a deep plunge, taking a bigger risk paid off for him and the audience who believe him completely.
Paired opposite a young Tom Cruise as the yuppie Charlie Babbit basically playing Tom Cruise as we knew him in the 1980’s. Under financial pressure, his care business is struggling, one of a number who are suffering after the crash of the decade. Still living the high life of the successful young business man. He even has the foreign girlfriend Susanna (Valeria Golino) who gets too little time in the film. Which allows a different kind of road trip travel from Missouri to Los Angeles. Beginning as a kidnapping when Charlie is all but snubbed in his fathers will. Looking for the trustee of the $3 million dollars that can be found at the Walbrook Institute where we find Raymond trapped in his own autistic world of routine, obsessions and repetition, this is the man whose meant to have the fortune, what could he possibly want or do with it? That’s what Charlie’s thinking on meeting this man.
As much as he believes his fight is with his defenceless brother, its more intricate than that. He’s got the 1949 car he stole when he was younger. The inheritance and natural born right’s written away. He’s young, angry, grieving and has money troubles, his brother’s just adding to that pile. OK so now take out the autism element then you have a film that is not half as interesting or complex. Taking his brother for a drive, they leave with Susanna to start a legal fight half way across the country.
The Autism is that stands between Charlie, the money which is just the initial motivation that brings these brothers together. Anyone who knows anyone with autism its a daily battle to communicate with someone who is trying to articulate themselves, trapped by any number of physical and mental stumbling blocks. I admire those who are carers, parents and relatives of Autistic people, it by no means an easy life, rewarding at times and that’s reflected in the middle two acts of the film as we see these two very different men start to form a relationship, is it one of brothers are one of carer and patient, maybe even both. What starts as being a burden to Charlie becomes a need as he learns about his past.
When they arrive in Las Vegas, the city of temptation, a moment of weakness that see Charlie who abuses his brothers acute mathematical thinking to count in the Casino. It’s not as Raymond can really consent to this, instead is a perverse coercion that occurs between the able and disabled that does work to a point. Those scenes are thankfully only a few and soon met with guilt and sensitivity, Charlie is growing up as a brother and as a man. Only he can really grow out of both these characters, one who can despise and shame at times, whilst the others we try to understand and care for. The autism brings out the best in Charlie who was before self-centred, now becoming a new improved version of himself, open, sensitive and empathetic to others, especially his brother who he sees as just that first, not the condition that afflicts him.
I think is holding back the tears the first time I watched Rain Man, now with a sense of wonder at the performances and their power. Mostly Hoffman who gave the film it’s tone. Cruise is actually in good form, even as the young attractive actor of the film, paired against the veteran who can act his socks off in-front of him. Of course there’s a few better performances in the go to action guy of the 1990s and last decade who just wont show his age. An image of forever youthfulness, the epitome of Hollywood ideology, the image of eternal youth. Rain Man is not just about these brothers and autism which you can’t hide from, its the 1980’s forgetting the little people who are trampled on, sidelined, whilst the rich and successful keep on making money. Behind the success is where find the humanity and true cost of it all.