The Rain Man movie of 1988 is many things at once: 1) Multiple Academy Award winner; 2) Blockbuster at the box office; 3) Awareness about autism and savant intelligence; 4) Long lost sibling relationship; and 5) Winning casino techniques.
UNEXPECTED CRITIQUE GLORY
Mark Johnson, the producer, never really expected anything special to come out of the release of The Rain Man, even though it was his sixth partnership with director and writer Barry Levinson. Also even though it starred Dustin Hoffman who was at the peak of his acting craft in his 50s, and Tom Cruise, in his middle 20s, who was on the steps to the front door of stardom, it was one of the few films of the generation which dared give a leading role for the portrayal of a person in the autism spectrum, or with disabilities in general.
Yet despite all the negativity, the hard to please movie judges were impressed. In the 1989 Oscars, it won four statuettes and 8 nominations. It was victorious as Best Picture (Mark Johnson), Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman), Best Director (Barry Levinson), and Best Original Screenplay (Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow). The Europeans liked it too because it also won the Golden Bear at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival.
UNPREDICTED AUDIENCE IMPACT IN THE ERA OF DIE HARD AND BRUCE WILLIS
When it was released, Barry Levinson didn’t expect The Rain Man to even get its head above water because it was a story about “people” and he didn’t even expect a wide distribution. Its budget of $25 million was in the middle range between an independent movie and a big budget movie like Die Hard and Back to the Future, giving the notion its creators really had no clue about its target audience niche.
It was more 70s era when the hits were Love Story and Kramer vs Kramer, but Mark Johnson closed his eyes and released it (recouping the $25 million would make him happy), leading to one of the most successful fairy tales in Hollywood at the tills.
The $25 million evolved into nearly $200 million at the US box office and screeched its brakes for more than $300 million when it finished its international run.
AUTISM AND SAVANTS
The Rain Man set the stage for a number of successful Hollywood films with the lead actors having a learning disability like Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump in 1994. The audience became mature, or intrigued enough to watch on screen how two great actors (Hoffman and Hanks) managed to pull off these hard to mirror characters.
It is a fact that three popular directors, Martin Brest, Steven Spielberg, and Sydney Pollack passed over the chance to direct The Rain Man. Bill Murray and Mickey Rourke were also offered roles, but declined.
According to one of the writers, Barry Morrow, the word autism or any awareness of it was not yet in his vocabulary when he finished the original screenplay. He didn’t start out to write the script with Ronald Bass wanting to be crusaders against autistic person discrimination. Rather, he just wanted The Rain Man to be a simple story about two siblings who hardly knew each other, their travels together, and eventually, their “never too late” attempt for bonding.
The plot also relays the perception that all autistic people are savants (folks with unusual intelligence). The truth is a very minute percentage of autistic people are geniuses, as portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in The Rain Man. He uses this superb mental ability of super memory in playing Blackjack and winning tons of money, which we will discuss later.
The whole logic of Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise traveling on the road and not in the air is the fear of flying for Hoffman. He recites a litany of aviation accidents, which makes Cruise give up on air travel and instead embark on a crazy journey together across America on four wheels.
This sparked some controversy when The Rain Man was an onboard flight movie on several airlines. The whole movie was shown except for the part when Hoffman recited by heart the airplane disasters.
Today, autism is better understood and many people are aware that an autistic is not necessarily a savant.
I LOVE MY BROTHER…I REALLY DO
The movie started with the perception that Tom Cruise was a street wise hustler and the brother that he didn’t even know, Dustin Hoffmann, was entered into a mental institution.
Then comes the inheritance from their father and all Cruise gets is a 1949 Buick Roadmaster Convertible. He got the idea that $3 million from the will went to somebody he doesn’t know. Cruise did some research and he discovered it was bequeathed to his autistic brother, Dustin Hoffman whom he didn’t even know.
The hustler that he was, he devised ways to kidnap his brother who was incarcerated in a mental institution. This was for his goal of having his own piece of the $3 million pie.
Cruise started out being selfish and minding his own life, selling high grade cars. When he embarked on the land journey with his sibling, he developed an attachment to Hoffman, which was reflected near the end of the movie when he kissed the autistic fellow on his forehead.
Hoffman’s learning disability was apparent when he repeatedly replied “yeah” during the several times he was asked “Do you want to return to the institution” and “Do you want to be with your brother?”
COME ON DEALER…DEAL THE CARDS
Set before the age of the online casino, where the practice is not of counting cards is not possible, The Rain Man relayed the mistaken notion that card counting is illegal. Card counting techniques in Blackjack are mastered by savants who have exceptional memory about the remaining cards in the shoe. Hoffman and Cruise kept winning every hand at the Blackjack table because of card counting.
When Hoffman wandered off to the Wheel of Fortune section, he lost $3,000 on one bet. This goes to show, his memory and his luck cannot prevent the breaking of the winning streak eventually. Hoffman was not using any high technology device to scam the casino. He simply won because of high intelligence. Hoffman and Cruise were just asked to leave the casino because management didn’t want to lose more money any further.