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Film / Rain Man

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The Buddy Picture, Inverted, and one of the greatest Road Movies of all time.

Rain Man is a 1988 Oscar-winning film by Barry Levinson, starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. The main character is loosely based around real-life savant Kim Peek (1951-2009), who in reality had FG syndrome, not autism (though nobody realized it until after he died).

Cruise plays Charlie Babbitt, who — being a luxury-car dealer in his mid-20s during the 1980s — is a self-centered, egotistical, foul-mouthed yuppie. Upon the death of his father, Charlie is told that instead of receiving a $3 million inheritance as he was expecting, he gets a convertible and some prize-winning rose bushes. This affront to Charlie's luxurious lifestyle will not be tolerated. After a little detective work, Charlie finds that the money is being sent to a mental institution in Cincinnati. It's only when he visits the hospital that Charlie finds the truth: the money is going to his previously unknown brother Raymond, who has severe autism.


Charlie decides to whisk (read: kidnap) Raymond away and meet with his attorneys in Los Angeles so he can get — in his view — what is rightfully his. Charlie discovers multiple things about Raymond, one being that no matter how much he screams and shouts Raymond does not and cannot change (he has to watch Jeopardy! and Wapner, has to have the syrup on the table before the pancakes arrive, etc.). The other is that Raymond has near perfect recall and mathematical skills to rival any calculator. Seeing this, it leads Charlie to use Raymond to help his own financial problems and (in an oft parodied / replicated scene) takes Raymond to Las Vegas to count cards.

The film's focus is on the bonding power of family and how when you take care of someone else it teaches you not to be so self-centered. Raymond can't change, but Charlie can, and does. It is also notable for its focus on an autistic character.


This film gives us the following examples:

  • Abusive Parents: Charlie and his father never got along. Which explains why Charlie is a jerk.
    • Later on, it's revealed that Charlie's father did love him, but had difficulty showing it. Who knows? Maybe Charlie's father was autistic. It's not hard to see why Sanford Babbitt was a bad father, or, at least, a distant one. He lost his wife and then had to have his son put in a mental institution shortly after. Even the act of putting Raymond in the institution may have been somewhat against his will. Little was known about Autism or how to treat it in whatever year it was that Raymond had to go to Wallbrook (many laymen were even unfamiliar with the term "autism" when the film was released, which is why the Doctor functions as something of an Exposition Fairy).
    • When the lawyer reads from Sanford Babbit's letters, Sanford was willing to overlook Charlie's stubborness and lack of appreciation; unfortunately, Charlie's estrangement from his father and unwillingness to contact him in any way leads Sanford to lament that Charlie's estrangement has left him without a son:
    Mooney [reading Sanford's letter]: I remember, too, the day you left home, so full of bitterness and grandiose ideas, so full of yourself; and being raised without a mother, the hardness of your heart is understandable as well. Your refusal to even pretend that you loved or respected me, all of these I can forgive. But your failure to write, to telephone, to re-enter my life in any way, has left me without a son. I wish you all I ever wanted for you, I wish you the best.
  • Accidental Misnaming: Refers to Raymond ... or rather, a young Charlie's malapropism when he was a toddler who had not yet learned to properly enunciate his older, autistic brother's name.
  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Inverted; Raymond is an annoying older sibling, albeit unintentionally.
  • Appropriated Appellation: Rain Man, because little Charlie couldn't pronounce "Raymond."
  • Atomic F-Bomb: Unusually, only a mild profanity, but the sheer way that Charlie screams "SON OF A BIIITCH!!!" so loud that it echoes off the nearby buttes, definitely counts it in this category.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Raymond loves his brother dearly, even if he has a funny way of showing it. He protected Charlie from being hurt as a child, which is what put him in the mental institution in the first place.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Charlie fails to get custody of Raymond, and returns him to the institution...
    • On the one hand, it's pretty much a downer for Charlie - soon after he truly discovers his family roots and realizes his and Raymond's history together, he has to return him to Wallbrook. And Raymond obviously benefited from being outside in the "real world" for a while.
    • On the other hand, it's also obvious that Raymond's ability to grow is severely limited by his disability, and he is utterly incapable of dealing, in the long run, with the vicissitudes of the Real World. It worked out best for both of them - Charlie had the freedom to continue his life, and Raymond had the safety and 24/7 care of the institution. Charlie could come back and visit at any time (and probably did).
  • Both Sides Havea Point: In the airport scene, Charlie is correct that it's silly to avoid air travel all due to occasional fatalities, while Raymond does have a point that fatalities are a valid reason to avoid an airline.
  • Bowdlerised: Obviously, the TV version is heavily edited, though Charlie's altered "I DON'T NEED THIS!!" manages to be nearly as impactful as the original Atomic F-Bomb stated above.
    • Raymond's rattling off of plane crash statistics and incidents was edited from the version shown on airlines—a quite reasonable cut, actually, so as not to frighten any passengers.note 
  • Brake Angrily: As Charlie drives down the highway, he does this when Raymond annoys him about going to K-Mart in Cincinnati to buy underwear.
  • The Caretaker: Charlie. Very reluctantly at first but by the end his love for his brother is heartwarming.
  • Dumb Is Good: Raymond can count the amount of toothpicks that fell on the floor in seconds, can count cards, etc., but is very naive and lacks the ability to handle adult responsibilities. Charlie on the other hand is functional, smart and scheming.
  • Disability Superpower: Raymond is the scourge of casinos everywhere, though the one in the movie is slow to figure it out - and who can blame them? Nobody in the world can count, using only their memory, into a mechanically shuffled, six-deck Blackjack shoe...
  • Dysfunctional Family
  • Exposition Fairy: Dr. Bruner, on the subject of autism. Many viewers in 1988 would have had little or no understanding of autism. The movie made it a household word.
  • Freak Out: Raymond is subject to these frequently once out of the safety of the institution, and when he suffers one, he starts hurting himself. Many of them are linked to Charlie's learning curve:
    • The first, and the one that dumps the anvil of reality on Charlie's head, is the airport scene. Raymond is phobic about flying (since every airline save Qantas has crashed at one time or another), and Charlie tries to force him on a plane anyway. He immediately starts screaming and hitting himself, and Charlie is forced to relent...thus, setting the Road Trip Plot part of the story in motion.
    • He has another terrible Freak Out when the memory of what got him institutionalized is brought forth - he accidentally burned baby Charlie with hot bath water, and the trauma in his mind is as fresh as if it had happened yesterday. Charlie finally realizes who the "Rain Man" of his hazy childhood really is...
    • The last and worst of them was when a smoke detector goes off in Charlie's apartment in Los Angeles; he doesn't just start hitting himself, he beats his head against a wall, and Charlie has to quickly destroy the detector to save Raymond. This is the point where he realizes there's no way he can give Raymond the safe kind of environment he needs to live.
  • Hates Being Touched: Raymond screams when his brother tries to give him a hug. In the end, though, Raymond's trust in Charlie grows so much he leans his head on Charlie's.
  • Headbutt of Love: At the end of the movie, Raymond leans his head on Charlie's.
  • Help Mistaken for Attack: It's implied that the real reason Raymond was sent to Wallingbrook was apparently due to a childhood incident. Charlie was nearly burned while in the bath and Raymond had pulled him out, however, their dad Sanford assumed that Raymond was harming Charlie rather than saving him since Raymond was unable to say anything at the time because of his autism.
  • Idiot Savant: Raymond. He has a perfect memory and he's a mental calculator, but he has to live in an institution because he can't take care of himself.
  • I Have No Son!: When his lawyer reads the letter to Charlie, Sanford can forgive the feelings of bitterness, but not Charlie's decision to estrange himself with no further contact:
    Mooney: And I remember, too, the day you left home, so full of bitterness and grandiose ideas, so full of yourself; and being raised without a mother, the hardness of your heart is understandable as well. Your refusal to even pretend that you loved or respected me, all of these I can forgive. But your failure to write, to telephone, to re-enter my life in any way, has left me without a son. I wish you all I ever wanted for you, I wish you the best.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Charlie, at the end of the movie.
    "I just realized I'm not pissed off anymore. My father cut me out of his will. You probably knew he tried to contact me over the years. I never called him back. I was a prick. If he was my son and didn't return my calls, I'd have written him out. But it's not about the money anymore. You know, I just don't understand. Why didn't he tell me I had a brother? Why didn't anyone ever tell me that I had a brother? Because it'd have been nice to know him for more than just the past six days."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Charlie after a while.
  • Know When to Fold Them: A rare double version. The casino knows that Charlie and Raymond have been counting cards but can't really prove it. They admit defeat and offer Charlie to keep his winnings provided he doesn't come back. Charlie accepts.
  • Kick the Dog: Charlie may not start off as the most likable guy, but the way he treats Raymond at first after essentially kidnapping him from the institution he lives at (i.e. verbally abusing him when frustrated and even manhandling him at one point) is pretty jarring. He becomes more tolerant of and patient with his brother as their trip goes on.
  • Literal-Minded: One of the ways Raymond's autism manifests itself, most notably when it results in him stopping in the middle of a pedestrian crossing because the sign says "don't walk".
  • Long-Lost Relative: The plot of the film is set into motion by Charlie finding out that he has a brother, Raymond, who he has never met since he has lived in an institution since Charlie was a baby.
  • Madness Mantra: Raymond repeats "X minutes to Wapner" whenever stressed, and recites the comedy bit Who's on First?.
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Raymond was sent to the mental institution because he saved Charlie from burning hot water when he was a baby. Their father thought Raymond had tried to burn him on purpose, and Raymond was unable to tell the truth due to his disorder.
  • Not-So-Imaginary Friend: Charlie thought that he had an imaginary friend called "Rain Man" when he was younger.
  • Not That Kind of Doctor: In exasperation, Charlie takes Raymond to an MD on the middle of their road trip to figure out what the hell is up with his brother. The doctor is no psychologist, though he does help clue Charlie in to the basics of Raymond's condition.
  • Oscar Bait: Not the first to portray autism, but some say it's a cynical example of one.
  • Passed-Over Inheritance: Charlie inherits nothing from his father except a Buick Roadmaster convertible and some rose bushes, with the rest of the estate ($3 million and change) going into a trust fund to cover Raymond's care.
  • Persona Non Grata: The casino pit bosses can't figure out how Raymond can count cards so accurately. Nevertheless, they tell him and Charlie to collect their winnings and leave — not just that casino, but the state, since the bosses will use what they've learned to get the brothers blacklisted everywhere in Nevada.
  • Photographic Memory: Can you see a theme emerging?
  • Photo Montage: The credits are all photos Raymond took throughout the movie.
  • Rage-Breaking Point: Charlie has many moments in which he gets angry because he has to deal with Raymond's persnickety issues, but at the beginning of the third act he calls his office, discovers how much screwed he is financially because of not being there because of having to drive with Raymond, and screams one of the loudest examples of "son of a bitch!" in cinematic history in a rage.
  • The Reveal: Raymond's existence to Charlie, first as his brother, and then that he was the titular "Rain Man".
    Charlie: You're the Rain Man?!
  • Road Trip Plot: The brothers travel from Cincinnati to Los Angeles by car because Raymond refuses to fly with any other airline but Qantas. (Raymond is correct about Qantas never having had a jet crash, but they have had several fatal incidents and some near misses.)
  • Separated at Birth: Not quite, but they were separated at a young age. Charlie distantly remembers his brother, thinking that he is an imaginary childhood friend known as The Rain Man, which is where the film's title comes from.
  • Schedule Fanatic: Raymond. Due to his mind being so rooted in routine, he can't really function at all or even comply with (or comprehend) instructions that contradict his schedule. (He buys his underwear at Kmart, and it has to be that Kmart.)
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Getting fed up with his scheme of only using Raymond just to get his share of his inheritance, Susanna walks out of Charlie after an argument with him in a hotel. She comes back later in the film when the duo went to Las Vegas, and Charlie has changed his ways towards him.
  • Shown Their Work: Dustin Hoffman's acting as an autistic is very close to how some autistics are in real life. Since classification of autism has always been very difficult, it may be that the movie has changed who gets classified as autistic instead of other similar disorders like Rett syndrome, thus making it seem more accurate than it really set out to be (the movie only had 3 weeks of research, all of which is thoroughly cited during the end credits). Proof of the difficulty of classification is that if a child cannot be pigeon holed into a disorder, they are often classified as PDD-NOS or an atypical autistic.
  • Sir Swears-a-Lot: Charlie uses almost all of the profanity in the entire film. This also makes him solely responsible for the R-rating since language (and maybe that one sex scene) is the sole reason for that rating in the first place, especially when you consider that he's the only one who uses the F word.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: During Charlie's Atomic F-Bomb Skyward Scream, the cheerful sounding "Beyond the Blue Horizon" playing.
  • Tag-Along Actor: Dustin Hoffman spent a year working with autistic men and their families to understand their complex relationships as a preparation for his role.
  • The Unfavorite: Charlie, based on his reaction to receiving the prize-winning rose bushes and Buick convertible, while Raymond's trustees manage his portion of the estate and hold it in trust, in addition to Charlie spending two days in jail when his dad believes the car was stolen instead of being taken for a joyride, while the other fathers immediately bail their sons out of jail.
  • Verbal Tic: Raymond often says "yeah", "definitely", "of course X" and "uh oh". Not to mention, he has a habit of reciting the "Who's on First?" routine.
  • Viva Las Vegas!. When Charlie takes Raymond on a little road trip to raise some cash. Complete with the mandatory "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas" sign.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Dr. Bruner clearly only wants what is best for Raymond, but Charlie does point out to him near the end that it would be nice if somebody had told him he had an older brother. (because it would have been nice to have known him for longer than the few days they spent together). Had Charlie not looked into who was receiving the bulk of the inheritance instead of him, you have to wonder just when would he have been privy to that little piece of information, if ever.
  • Who's on First?: Raymond often recites the entire Abbott and Costello routine to himself, without even really understanding why that routine is funny.
  • You Say Tomato: Rain Man comes from how little Charlie pronounced Raymond.