Directed by Barry Levinson, Rain Man (1988) is a dramedy that looks into the lives of fictional characters Charlie Babbitt and Raymond Babbitt, played by Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman respectively. While these characters are fictional, Raymond was based on a real-life savant named Kim Peek. One day, Charlie, who selfishly lives the “good life,” learns of his father’s death, and that he has given his fortune to his other son, Raymond. Raymond, of course, has savant syndrome, and Charlie was not even aware he existed until he found out about the inheritance. The film’s goal is clear: to leave the viewer with a heightened sense of understanding of not only what people with savant syndrome go through, but what the family goes through as well.
When Charlie learns that his father has died, he quickly travels to Cincinnati from Los Angeles, where he was reselling Lamborghinis to very shady clients. The only thing he really inherits is a 1949 Buick Roadmaster, something he and his dad fought head over heels for. This is a symbolic material object because it represents the rift in the relationship Charlie had with his father. He soon learns that the rest of his father’s money is going to a mental institution; Charlie follows the money and soon learns of his unknown brother, Raymond Babbitt.

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Raymond is a savant, or someone who has prodigious and genius capabilities beyond what a normal person would have. The catch is that savants have serious mental disabilities, and is today known as severe autism. Raymond sticks to an extremely strict schedule, and gets upset when he is thrown off his routine. The only emotion he really shows is distress and confusion, and he has amazing recall abilities. Charlie, wanting the money, takes Raymond out of the mental institution and brings him to a hotel. His girlfriend, Susanna, sees that Charlie only cares about the money, and leaves the hotel. Charlie, growing increasingly agitated because of the failure to resell the Lamborghinis, tells Raymond’s doctor that he wants half of the fortune if he returns Raymond. The doctor refuses and this fuels Charlie to try and gain custody of Raymond.

Raymond does not want to go to Los Angeles, so the brothers decide to go on a road trip that leads to them bonding. Charlie learns that Raymond has a mental calculator, which gives him the ability to count objects extremely fast, sometimes by the hundreds. The defining moment in the film is when Charlie remembers that he actually lived with Raymond, and that his imaginary friend whom he named “Rain Man” was actually Raymond.

As the movie progresses, Charlie learns that the Lamborghinis have been taken by the creditor, and he is now 80,000 dollars under. Charlie uses Raymond to get out of the debt, winning big at a Vegas casino where they played blackjack and counting cards.

Bonded, the two brothers return to Los Angeles and meet Raymond’s doctor. The doctor offers Charlie a quarter million dollars to leave Raymond there, but he refuses to take the money and says that he now wants to be with Raymond. At the court hearing, Raymond cannot decide for himself, so Charlie tells Raymond that he’s happy that he found him and that he’s proud to be his brother. In the final scene at the train station, Charlie drops Raymond off to board to train back to the mental institution with his doctor. Charlie promises him that he will see Raymond in two weeks.

In my opinion, I learned a lot from this, and I think that by the end everyone will have learned something about autism in general. These people are often forgotten and left in mental institutions, so it’s always good to at least be aware that they exist and deserve to be treated like a human just like everyone else.

From the film, it’s pretty obvious that it takes a lot of patience and skill to deal with people who have autism. Providing oral care to people with autism “requites adaptation of the skills you use every day” (“providing oral care” 1). However, the process isn’t as tough as many people think, as most cases can be treated in a general practice setting. Usually, when treating a patient with autism, it’s good to have a parent or relative in the room to keep him or her comforted.

There are also ways in which autism affects the family unit. In Rain Man, this was obviously seen through the brothers’ relationship, but it can get much tougher when dealing with younger siblings. Parents can feel both embarrassed and isolated from other families who don’t need to deal with this problem. Parents can also feel resentment and guilt due to their resentment. Tending to a child with autism can also impact marriages negatively due to financial stress and lack of free time. Lastly, autism can take a toll on other siblings because they may feel like they aren’t getting the attention they deserve from parents. It’s important to find therapy or focus groups to work through these problems and to know that there are other families going through this as well.

  • Morrow, Barry, Ronald Bass, Mark Johnson, Barry Levinson, Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise, Valeria Golino, John Seale, Stu Linder, and Hans Zimmer. Rain Man. Santa Monica, CA: MGM Home Entertainment, 1998.
  • Treffert, Darold A. “The Savant Syndrome: An Extraordinary Condition. A Synopsis: Past, Present, Future.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 364.1522 (2009): 1351–1357. PMC. Web. 12 June 2017.
  • “Practical Oral Care for People With Autism.” National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 11 June 2017.