If there is one fictional character who has influenced our perception of autism the most, it would be Raymond Babbitt, the character portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the movie, Rain Man, which also had Tom Cruise playing his brother, Charlie. Barry Morrow, who wrote the screenplay, based Raymond on his autistic friend Bill Sackter, who was the subject of an earlier film called Bill. (He also based him on Kim Peek, who was a savant)
I suppose I should give my thoughts on the movie as a whole. Bear in mind that I have only watched this movie once, so my memory isn’t 100% good. For the most part, I really enjoyed the relationship between Raymond and Charlie. Charlie is attempting to learn more and connect with Raymond because his father has give $3 million of his estate over to a brother he knows nothing about and doesn’t even remember. It’s easy to understand his frustration. While I’m not the biggest fan of Tom Cruise, I did like the way he and Hoffman played off each other. Cruise plays Charlie’s confusion and anger quiet well. There’s even a point in the movie where he becomes so frustrated with Raymond that he says “You know what I think, Ray? I think this autism is a bunch of shit! Because you can’t tell me that you’re not in there somewhere!” But he soon realizes his mistakes and learns to accept and love his brother for who he is, flaws and all.
By far, however, the star of the movie is Dustin Hoffman. Raymond has all the classic fallacies of autism–he’s afraid of change and shows little emotion, except for bouts of distress when things go against the routine he is used to. He is unable to cope in any social situation, although part of this could also be attributed to having been placed in a mental institution, where he is unable to truly interact with others. He is naïve and doesn’t realize his brother is using him for a get-rich scheme at a casino when Charlie learns that Raymond can predict which card will be dealt based on probability, revealing that Raymond is also a savant.
Do I see some of Raymond in me? To some extent, yes. I do not adjust well to change. There are some changes to routine I can adjust to, but drastic changes to my routine can bother me. I’m such a slave to my routine that sometimes if I want to do something different, I may forget that I wanted to do it. One good example of a change that frustrated me occurred a few months ago. For those who haven’t read every article on this blog, my father is a bricklayer and I assist at his jobs. A few months ago, we’d gotten a job so far out of town that my family and a co-worker had to stay at a rental house that had satellite TV (which we don’t, thankfully!) and no computer, meaning no wi-fi. I have become very obsessed with the Internet, so I did not enjoy myself when I was not needed at work. I was glad that I had prepared for this by saving some podcasts to my iPod beforehand and I had a book to read. But I was still unhappy because I was unable to watch the anime I was watching online for reviewing on my anime review blog, Lobster Quadrille. (if you’re interested in this blog, you can access it at this address. And yes, that’s a plug)
The movie has caused people to assume that autism and being a savant are coinciding, meaning that all autistic people are savants. This is not so. I certainly am not a savant, and one can be a savant without even being autistic. It’s a positive stereotype, in a way, but a positive stereotype can be just as damaging as a negative one. It can cause one to wonder why they aren’t as gifted and be unhappy.
However, I will say that I appreciate the impact that the movie has had on our culture. For better or worse, Raymond Babbitt is a character who has helped us to understand autism. I would certainly recommend this movie, despite its flaws.