Sunday, August 21, 2016
SPOILER ALERT! The plot of the movie will be discussed.
The title of this 1988 Oscar-winning best film clues us into the main theme of this story. Tom Cruise’s Charlie Babbitt says that when he was scared as a child he had a pretend friend, the Rain Man, who would sing to him so he would feel safe. That imaginary friend turns out to be a brother of whom he was unaware existed. His name is Raymond (Dustin Hoffman, winning his second Oscar). The discrepancy between the two names points to the importance of communication being necessary between individuals to understand each other, which allows them to be emotionally connected.
The movie opens with the unloading of Lamborghini sports cars at a shipping dock. During this sequence, and later in the film, the music sounds primitive, with a predominance of percussion. It feels tribal, which goes along with the theme of the importance of bringing family members together. The initial image foreshadows the importance of the car road trip that will occur later, and presents something, in this case an automobile, which establishes a bond between relatives. Charlie became estranged from his father when he took the family Buick Roadmaster convertible, against his dad’s wishes, to celebrate with friends after getting a good report card. His father, a man who passed on his difficulty showing love to his offspring, knew that his son took the car, but reported it stolen, and let Charlie stay in jail for two days. Charlie left home after that incident, so it is ironic that the automobile which was pivotal in the initial family break up is now the vehicle that brings the two brothers together.
The film quickly establishes Charlie as a man cut off from others, someone who does not listen or communicate well with those he encounters. He is in a financial bind trying to negotiate between the buyers of the sports cars, the institution which lent him the money to acquire the Lamborghinis, and the Environmental Protection Agency holding up emissions approval. He says to one of the parties on the phone, “Don’t tell me that, ‘cause I’m not even listening.” Instead of being straightforward with the various parties, he uses lies to delay dealing with his problems.
This lack of communication carries into his personal life. He has been involved for quite a while with one of his employees, Susanna (Valeria Golino). It is significant that his romantic partner is an Italian who, although speaking English well, symbolizes Charlie’s lack of wanting someone with whom to converse, and thus become close to. For example, when he relates the story of his father and the Buick, she does not understand the phrase “pulled over” by the police, and he must try to clarify it. As the couple drives to a getaway spot, she complains that he hasn’t said anything for quite a while. He is annoyed about this topic being brought up again, so we realize that this lack of communication is an ongoing concern of Susanna’s. She wants him to share what he is thinking. She says consider talking to be “foreplay,” which means it would add depth to their sexual intimacy.
During their drive, Charlie receives a call telling him that his father died. He is unemotional, ending the conversation with, “Is there anything else?” as if the fact of his dad’s passing was just another item on his “to do” list. He takes Susanna with him to Cincinnati, but leaves her in the car at the gravesite. He is only interested in the will, and when he says he will be having a short meeting with the lawyer, she says, sure, she can wait in the car, which symbolizes how the physical distance at which he keeps her mirrors the emotional one he has established between them. In the will, his father says he understood why Charlie left, but did not forgive him for never trying to get in touch again. He rants at the lawyer, asking was he listening to what was written in the will. The lawyer tellingly asks, “Were you?” Again, Charlie does not pay attention to what someone is saying, in this case his father, who obviously revealed in his words how hurt he was by his son’s continued estrangement. After he becomes angry that his father only left him the roses in the home’s garden and the Buick, he confides to Susanna about the story surrounding the Roadmaster, telling her that his mother died when he was two years old, so it was just him and his father. She is amazed that after being together for some time, he has never shared the stories surrounding these traumatic events.
But, his primary concern is the inheritance and his investigation reveals that his father’s three million dollars is held in a trust administered by a Dr. Bruner (Gerald R. Molen), who runs a hospital for the mentally challenged. While Charlie tries to make a deal with Bruner, Raymond enters the story because he recognizes the Buick. When Charlie arrives on the scene, Raymond can recite all types of facts about the car and its owner. Charlie learns from Bruner that he has a brother, who is autistic. The movie was pioneering in publicizing autism, and how those with this condition need rituals, routines and a static environment to provide a sense of protection. If these become disrupted, the person is terrified. Raymond calls one of the attendants, Vern (Michael D. Roberts), his “main man” whenever his world appears threatened, as it does when Charlie and Susanna handle his things. Susanna says she tried to touch Raymond, but he pulled away in alarm. Vernon explains that he has known Raymond for nine years and doesn’t even like the caregiver touching him, and, if he left, Raymond would probably not even register concern about Vernon being gone. He says that people were not Raymond’s first priority. He cares more about his baseball cards, books, and TV programs. Bruner says Raymond has trouble communicating. So, in a strange way, these two brothers are similar. They both have difficulty with listening, communicating, and being able to deal with emotions because of their inability to connect with others. Director Barry Levinson stresses this similarity between the two by cutting to Charlie’s face as we are told about Raymond’s condition.
Charlie basically kidnaps his brother, using Bruner’s concern for Raymond as a bargaining chip to negotiate a deal to receive part of the inheritance. He seems quite cold toward his brother at first, removing him from his protected environment, and is short-tempered with Raymond concerning his idiosyncrasies. When Susanna realizes Raymond’s removal from the hospital was not with Bruner’s approval and how Charlie shows a lack of concern for Raymond’s well-being, she becomes angry. He says that she doesn’t know what he is going through, which she agrees because, again, he doesn’t say anything. He tells her he needs her, but, because of his inability to deal with feelings, she says he doesn’t need anyone, and leaves in disgust. (Little incidents continue to show Charlie’s lack of listening – when all three are in the hotel room, Charlie says he is ordering a pizza. Susanna says no peperoni, and Charlie ignores her and orders the pizza with the topping).
Charlie’s plan is to fly to California to his home, and try to get custody of Raymond. Raymond throws a fit at the airport because he recites all the crashes that have occurred, providing the dates of the accidents. (Bruner had said that Raymond is a savant. Although he has mental deficiencies, he has amazing memory and mathematical skills. He is able to memorize the phone book to the middle of the “G” section in one night in the hotel, can immediately count over two hundred toothpicks that fall on the floor of a restaurant, and solve complex arithmetic problems). So, Charlie has to take his brother in the family Buick, which allows them the time to bond. Because Raymond has problems listening and talking, Charlie gets a dose of his own medicine. Along the way, Raymond’s way of saying “Oh, oh” whenever something doesn’t go according to his routine, or announcing the countdown to when Judge Wapner will be on TV, although at first infuriating Charlie, eventually make Raymond funny and endearing.
The turning point that brings these two together emotionally occurs at one of their motel stops (funny that Rain Man can’t travel in the rain). Raymond reveals that he sang for Charlie when he was young, and his brother called him Rain Man. He gives Charlie a photograph of when his brother was a child. Raymond starts to sing the Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,” and the brothers begin to harmonize, musically and emotionally. When Charlie turns on the hot water in the tub, Raymond has a tantrum and reveals that he accidentally burned a baby, which Charlie realizes was himself when he was a baby. He concludes that was why they sent Raymond to live elsewhere. When Charlie says he is now alright, Raymond affectionately, although awkwardly, pats his brother on his head, making physical contact, repeating, “Never hurt Charlie Babbitt,” and allowing an emotional connection to begin between the siblings. Whereas at the beginning of their journey, they couldn’t even communicate about what to eat for breakfast, Charlie now begins to take care of his brother, making sure he gets what he wants, such as having his bed near the window, eating his cheese balls, watching his favorite television shows, and even tucking him in at night.
Charlie uses Raymond’s abilities to count cards in Las Vegas, and wins enough money to escape his financial situation. He is grateful to have a brother who has bailed him out. He gets them the high roller suite, and places his brother’s bed next to a panoramic set of windows. But, when he tries to hug Raymond, he responds with an agitated yell and a pushing away, showing that there is no easy solution to Raymond’s condition. However, Charlie is now more in touch with his emotions, and able to start to communicate his wants. He calls Susanna, and expresses desire for her to return, which she does.
When they arrive in Los Angeles, Charlie realizes that he doesn’t care about the inheritance anymore. He has made an emotional connection with a brother he did not know existed and wants custody of Raymond. But, he realizes that it is dangerous for Raymond to live in his house when his brother causes a toaster oven to smoke, setting off an alarm, which causes Raymond to become terrified to the point where he bangs his head against a glass door. When a psychiatrist (director Barry Levinson) examines Raymond, it becomes obvious that the latter is confused about where he should live. Charlie concedes the custody battle. But, when alone with Raymond, he tells him he likes having him for his brother. In a clear action of emotional connection, Raymond leans his head against his brother’s forehead. He also starts to substitute Charlie for his caregiver, Vern, by calling his brother “my main man.” Raymond goes on a train to return to the Ohio hospital, but Charlie promises to visit him in two weeks.
When Raymond would come into a new setting he defaulted to the ritual of repeating Abbot and Costello’s “Who’s on First” comedy routine. Charlie tells his brother it’s not a riddle to be solved that will provide a solution to Raymond’s problem. He says it’s supposed to be funny, and if his brother would understand that, maybe he could get well. Raymond always said there had to be syrup on the table before pancakes arrived. Toward the end of the film, Charlie surprises him at a restaurant counter with the topping before the flapjacks are delivered. Raymond, for the first time laughs, and says, “Charlie Babbitt made a joke.” At the train station, Bruner asks if he is happy with his K-Mart clothing. Raymond repeats Charlie’s line, “K-Mart sucks.” Charlie says. “Hey, Ray. You just made a joke.” To which his brother responds, “Yeah, a joke, Ha, ha, ha, ha.” Because he now can appreciate the interactive joy of humor, maybe Raymond, just like his now socially connected brother, is on his way to a more emotional life.
The next film is The Prince of Tides.