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Film / The Rain People

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The Rain People is a 1969 drama film written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola.

Long Island housewife Natalie Ravenna (Shirley Knight) learns that she's pregnant. Feeling that she's not ready to accept the responsibilities of motherhood, she abruptly leaves her husband and their stifling marriage one morning to go on a road trip with no particular destination.

In West Virginia she picks up a hitchhiker, former college football player Jimmy "Killer" Kilgannon (James Caan). Natalie is attracted to the handsome Killer and charmed by his unassuming personality, until she realizes that his simplemindedness is the result of a brain injury he sustained while playing football. The pair travel all the way to Nebraska, where she abandons him. When she's pulled over and given a speeding ticket, Gordon (Robert Duvall), the officer who stopped her, finds her attractive and asks her out on a date. But it turns out Jimmy isn't out of her life after all.

This low-budget, slightly experimental film won some admirers when it was released but was largely ignored. But after Coppola's later fame it gained a cult following, reappraised as an early attempt to deal with feminist themes in film. It also marked the beginning of Coppola's friendship with George Lucas, who worked as an assistant on the film and directed (in one of his early credits) Filmmaker, a short making-of documentary showing behind-the-scenes footage as well as bits of Coppola's life (it also features a scene of Francis without his beard, if you can believe that).

This film provides examples of:

  • Alpha Bitch: Jimmy's college girlfriend Ellen.
  • Antihero: Natalie is a bit self-centered and irresponsible, but also clearly someone who's suffered a lot and deserved the chance to break away from her life the way she did.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Rosalie, Gordon's daughter. She's not quite a teen but fits the description.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Gordon's daughter Rosalie at first just seems like a brat who's there to demonstrate how tough he has it as a single father, but she ultimately shoots Jimmy dead.
  • Covers Always Lie: A lot of the video covers over the years use a publicity still showing Shirley Knight holding a gun in the air while Robert Duvall kisses her breast, implying that it's a sexy thriller, rather than a moody character study.
  • Downer Ending: Jimmy is shot to death saving Natalie from an Attempted Rape by Gordon, and she has a nervous breakdown afterwards.
  • Dumb Muscle: Killer is a tragic example.
  • Free-Range Children: Gordon is having trouble raising his daughter Rosalie and lets her roam around unsupervised most of the time.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: In her phone calls back to her husband Vinny, Natalie begs him to let her have an abortion. He's adamantly opposed at first, but later says he'll let her do it if she'll just come back home.
  • He Who Must Not Be Seen: We only see Natalie's husband Vinny in flashbacks and photographs, but hear his voice on the telephone a lot.
  • Manchild: Killer's injury has turned him into one.
  • Road Movie: A depressing example. Rather than symbolizing freedom, the road ultimately leads to despair. Still, the film features some great location shooting in various small towns throughout West Virginia, Tennessee and Nebraska.
  • Shout-Out: Bonnie and Clyde is advertised on a drive-in theater marquee.
  • Scenery Porn: A few of the driving scenes count.
  • Snooping Little Kid: Rosalie.
  • Third-Person Person: Played for Drama. When Natalie gets anxious she starts referring to herself as "she" or "the lady". This might be a symptom of some deeper mental health issues.
  • Title Drop: Jimmy tells Natalie a cryptic story about people made of rain who melt away when they cry. It might be a fractured memory of his past.
  • Troubled Backstory Flashback: We see quick-cut flashbacks for the three main characters depicting the key moments in their lives that led them to where they are now.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: The main storyline can be seen as Of Mice and Men with a woman in the role of George.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: Gordon lives in a small trailer in a run-down trailer park. He used to own a house, but it burned down.