When it comes to the subject of autism being depicted in the media, I personally find it awkward since I have the condition myself unless it is handled sensitively. I’ve known it to be the subject of ridicule and cruel jokes made at the expense of people who can’t help acting in any peculiar way some of the time. There are a few exceptions however.
When it comes to film, Rain Man is the movie that pops into most people’s heads in regards to this topic since it gave a more clear view on autism. This was thanks to how Dustin Hoffman portrayed an autistic man and making him both sympathetic and engaging. He truly deserved the Best Actor Oscar like the film did when it won Best Picture in 1989 and became a blockbuster the previous year. Having said that, I wonder if Baby from Baby Driver has the condition since he explained the plan of a heist his crime boss gave to a gang of criminals exactly word for word even though he himself was wearing headphones to begin with?
Rain Man is the definitive cinematic representation on autism, displaying certain habits that I know some autistic people have in a way that its viewers can easily comprehend and express sympathy for those who must struggle with them. I had tears in my eyes at one stage as I got to learn about Raymond (Hoffman) and what happened during the early stages of his life and made me think how much my family loves me despite some little peculiarities which I confess that I have.
However, some people may be driven mad (sorry, I couldn’t resist – Hoffman and Tom Cruise go on a road-trip) by the way Raymond behaves in parts. But if you can tolerate these moments, you will appreciate the picture the same way Charlie (Cruise) values Raymond for the intelligent and sweet human being that he actually is in the end.
As you would expect when characters on film take to the open road, things don’t go quite as planned and the main characters don’t get on well with each other at the beginning only to eventually bond at the end. But on the other hand, the misfortunes here are quite unexpected even if you can tell something bad is going to happen from a mile off and even if one character learns to love the other, that other character doesn’t know how to connect emotionally or understand how humans communicate.
In spite of all this even if one of the characters has a learning difficulty, it’s a tad unfortunate that this is pretty much the same story you would expect in a film like this when those aspects can also make its plot entirely different. But they do help in making the movie quite distinctive.
So, this is more serious than most cinematic road-trips which are normally played for laughs although it is a little bit ridiculous as to how Raymond became Charlie’s fellow passenger. It also has a few gentle and thankfully inoffensive gags plus the film also takes a break from all the mishaps with the brothers like when they stop to eat pancakes, try out the casinos in Las Vegas and Raymond is being taught to dance. There’s also a touching scene where Charlie’s kind-hearted girlfriend Susanna, sweetly played by Valeria Golino, tries to cheer his brother up after a failed attempt to take a girl who might have taken advantage of him on a date.
Charlie is an arrogant, narcissistic and obnoxious character. He tries to get his hands on his brother’s half of an inheritance since Raymond doesn’t know anything about money which also makes him somewhat vile. But he becomes a more considerate human being as he starts to put up with Raymond while striving to get the both of them from A to B. Although I personally think he’s better as an action star than an actor, Cruise does well here and he and Hoffman do share some fine chemistry together.
Things do end differently for the two companions but you understand why they do. But the relationship between them is fully developed towards the end and you end up liking Cruise, so the overall results should leave you satisfied and give you food for thought. Okay, it starts limping towards the finish line during the third act due to its run-time being quite lengthy but Rain Man’s uniqueness is enough to keep you immersed all the way through.
Barry Levinson directs the movie excellently, ensuring nothing becomes too dramatic when it needs to be and making the point that travelling with a very autistic person can be tough without overdoing it. He cleverly uses visuals as well, these being shapes of different colours and sizes, to make you realise what the world might be like for someone with the condition to be in the outside world. The cinematography will even make you want to cruise like Tom across America on a hot, sunny day.
Like anyone with autism, Rain Man is definitely one of a kind and really special. This is a film everyone should see before they die just so they can get understand those who have and may struggle with it and respect them throughout life because they will need the love, friendship, appreciation and care they can get during their time on earth. They are as important as you are and after you watch this beautiful and very moving picture, you will definitely think the same. Trust me.