Selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt's father left a fortune to his savant brother Raymond and a pittance to Charlie; they travel cross-country.Selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt's father left a fortune to his savant brother Raymond and a pittance to Charlie; they travel cross-country.Selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt's father left a fortune to his savant brother Raymond and a pittance to Charlie; they travel cross-country.Selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt's father left a fortune to his savant brother Raymond and a pittance to Charlie; they travel cross-country.Selfish yuppie Charlie Babbitt's father left a fortune to his savant brother Raymond and a pittance to Charlie; they travel cross-country.
Should I describe Raymond Babbit's condition? Those who know already have in mind his mimics, head-banging, 'uh-oh', his addictions to such TV programs as "Judge Wapner" and "The Wheel of Fortune" and his perfect recitation of Abbots and Costello's 'Who's on first' routine when he's uncomfortable. And to those who haven't, it's enough saying that Dustin Hoffman surpasses himself, if it ever was possible after performances of the caliber of "Tootsie" or "Midnight Cowboy". He's unbelievably convincing, capable to transcend the limits of acting. To win an Oscar for a rather one-note character is an exploit even more impressive because Hoffman manages to pull some human complexity in Raymond, making him absolutely endearing and adorable yet frustrating and scary. Raymond is a character we want to love without turning it into pity.
On the other hand, his brother Charlie is the total counterpart, young, handsome, he's a self-made man who exploited a passion for cars to sell imported vehicles. Even his girlfriend, played by the beautiful Valeria Golino is Italian, like a foreign beautiful possession, a trophy that elevates him above the others. Charlie Babbit is a character who flirts with the archetype of the young and arrogant go-getter, a role tailor-made for an actor like Tom Cruise, especially in the 80's. The talent of Cruise consists on making his character unlovable enough to laugh at his misfortunes with Raymond, but human enough to feel sad for him when he learns about his father's death, and much more, when he learns that he didn't get one cent from him, while he was full of debts. Charlie is a character we want to hate but end up giving him the benefit of the doubt.
And Charlie is so blinded by his financial problems that he's incapable to care for Raymond and take his medical condition into consideration; all he sees in him is the guy who inherited three millions from his father. At this point, I suspect the screenwriter immediately thought 'hey, in fact, Raymond is medically autistic, while Charlie is symbolically autistic; let's see if the viewers will figure that'. I don't think it takes a degree in psychoanalysis to jump to that conclusion. Anyone would see the kidnapping of Raymond coming. Naturally, the girlfriend leave them to let the adventure begin between the two brothers and both would learn how to communicate not. This is where the odd-couple/road movie formula stops. The strength of "Rain Man" is to never make Raymond change, no miracle cure, no sudden change of behavior, if there is one who's up to change, it's Charlie. And he must change, otherwise, the whole premise of the film is pointless.
The quality of Barry Levinson's film is to make a predictable turn of events work remaining believable, it also grabs our interest without an abundance of spectacular scenes, or overused emotion. It's always interesting to see a character with leadership quality, handsome and somewhat charismatic, pushed to follow an autistic man and having to deal with out-of-control situations. Charlie wants to take Raymond in L.A, but they can't because Raymond is afraid of planes, and when Raymond starts screaming in panic, Charlie understands that the road trip will follow Raymond's parameters of life. In a way, Raymond Babbit is a leading role because he leads the story. And by following Raymond, Charlie will get to know more about his brother's sensitivity and become more empathic, a word he knew nothing about. The narrative progresses and provides the film's greatest twist, when Charlie realizes he can use Raymond's savant skills.
Till now, the film is mostly remembered for the 'Las Vegas' sequence and the iconic moment when the two brothers stand on a descending escalator wearing the same suit, and the last step between Charlie and Raymond's reconciliation, a clever partnership for a rewarding pay-off. It's obvious that Charlie was mostly motivated by greed, but it's impossible not to see genuine attachment growing between Cruise and Hoffman. Both had failure to communicate their feelings, but it's by inviting his brother to communicate his inner thoughts, his fears and desires that Charlie learned the process of listening, of using another referential than his, of being capable of giving and understanding. The film follows the traditional coming-of-realization structure, and on that level, Tom Cruise never makes his changing obvious and spectacular. Indeed, both actors are so good, almost equally, because it was to Cruise to portray anger and frustration without making it forced or over the top.
Without Hoffman and Cruise, I can't imagine the film having the same impact. Yes, the screenplay is well-written, and Hans Zimmer's score has a haunting effect, but it's definitely an actors' film. It ended up winning the Best Picture Oscar in 1988, which is quite surprising considering how simple and non-Best Picture material it feels, but it did created a genuine interest for autistic condition, and featured many memorable scenes, and I guess sometimes, that's enough to touch the hearts.
- Sep 25, 2012