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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Rainman: A movie that won multiple Oscars

Writing this blog is a humbling experience, and incredibly rewarding. I had seen Rainman a long time back when I was a small kid, and for the purpose of this review, I watched it again. It is an incredible movie, and literally shows you what great cinema is all about. The movie was released in 1988, and won a number of Oscars, and won a double, with the Oscar for Best Picture and the Golden Globe for Best Picture; this is the only movie to have won both. It also won numerous other Oscars, including the ones for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Dustin Hoffman), Best Director (Barry Levinson), Best Writing, and Original Screenplay.
It was not easy to present a story about an autistic person, and make this as a major movie. The movie went through a number of possible directors before Barry became the director. The movie was driven by the power of Dustin Hoffman, and he drove hard for the movie to finally get made. The movie helped to get real-life understanding of what an autistic person is all about, and contributed tremendously to popular understanding of this affliction. However, the character played by Dustin Huffman is not the only kind of autistic there is. Not all of them are possessed of a photo-graphic memory, or the ability to do calculations at great speed. However, it is true that they do need much greater care and understanding, given that they live in their own world (no easy way to make somebody understand what exactly autism is all about).
Rainman is essentially the story of 2 brothers coming to meet each other, almost without knowing that each other exists. One of them is a major operator, used to letting his smooth talking doing all the work and making a fast buck. The other is a autistic savant, living in a mental institution.
Charlie Babbitt (Tom Cruise) is a LA used car dealer, living up to the usual stereotype of a user car salesman, with glib talk, incredible powers of persuasion, and money problems. He is in the middle of a major deal that could land him in a great debt if it fails. At this point, he hears that his estranged father has died, and left $3 million to a trustee. Charlie is estranged from his father upon an incident earlier where he had defied his father and taken a car out for a joyride. His father reported the car stolen, and Charlie's father was the only father who did not bail out his son.
Anyhow, Charlie travels to settle his father's estate and realizes that his father has essentially cut him off, and left his entire fortune to a trustee. When Charlie travels there with his girlfriend, Susanna (Valeria Golino), he finds a shock. The money has been left to an elder brother, Raymond Babbitt (Dustin Hoffman), whom he did not know existed. He had some very early memories of a 'Rain Man', but those were just memories.
Upon reaching the asylum, he is told that his brother is autistic. He is explained that this means that his brother has difficulty in conveying what he thinks, difficulties in understanding things, and in a twist, does not understand the concept of the inheritance that he has received. He feels that he has been cheated out of the money and makes a plan to try and get his share of the money.
Charlie wants to take Raymond back to Los Angeles (the mental institution is based in Cincinnati), so that he can get custody of Raymond as a way of getting hold of the money. There is a fair amount of frustration for Charlie in doing this. Raymond refuses to travel by plane due to the fear of a plane crash, and even after a lot of persuasion, refuses to travel by air. Eventually, they decide to travel by road, and that too, not on the major highways but on smaller roads.
And hence goes the adventure that eventually changes Charlie's perception of his brother, making his get closer to his brother. And this is what the movie is all about. He faces tremendous frustration on the way, since it is not easy for him to understand what Raymond is thinking, and it is equally difficult for him to make Raymond follow what he wants. So, for example, Raymond unwittingly causes the break-up of Charlie and Susanna by entering into their room when the couple was having sex. Charlie is furious, and screams at an uncomprehending Raymond. Susanna is much more sympathetic, and wants Charlie to apologize; he instead screams some more. Susanna is disgusted with Charlie's behavior and walks out.
During the journey, Charlie and Raymond have a number of experiences, such as when Raymond scares a waitress by quoting her phone number and address (he had memorized the phone book to 'G' when he was bored), she gets spooked, but eventually understands. In another display of his abilities, he is able to give the exact number of toothpicks that have spilled on the floor very quickly.
Raymond repeats things sometimes a lot, he wants to see a favorite TV program when they are in the middle 0f nowhere, refuses to go out if it rains, trying to take the wheel when Charlie is driving, and so on. Eventually, Charlie softens and feels closer to his brother.
Charlie has not forgotten his money wanting nature. His deal has failed, and he is now in debt, so he uses his brother's incredible abilities to win money at blackjack in a casino at Las Vegas. Charlie also reconciles with Susanna in Las Vegas. Eventually, Charlie spurns an offer of money and wants Raymond to stay with him out of genuine affection. Raymond is unable to decide what to do, whether to return to Cincinnati or stay with Charlie. In the end, and this is a major deal where the movie avoids a syrupy happy ending, Raymond returns to the institution in Cincinnati with a promise by Charlie to visit in 2 weeks. However, Raymond has improved considerably.

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