Sunday, March 20, 2011

Rain Man

Rain Man would certainly seem an ancient movie today given the fact that it was released in 1988 but it nevertheless earned an 8 upon 10 on IMDB. Rain Man starrs a dashing Tom Cruise in the pink of his youth and although I am a fan more of his looks than of his acting, I must say this movie completely blew me over. Dustin Hoffman plays an autistic protagonist and it is because of his brilliant performance that the movie works on a different level altogether.  Hoffman slips into an angst driven, existential lad (The Graduate) to an autistic and metathesiophobic character with the ease and grace of one of the best actors in Hollywood. Directed by Barry Levinson and written by Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass, the story takes on various themes and weaves them all into an open ended but richly textured cinematic space, a space, it would seem, which is devoid of the need to satiate audience desire for happy endings and family reunions. It is starkly realistic and the characters are portrayed in all their humdrum routine complexities, their mixed ethics and values, frustrated ambition, necessity and awry relationships. The movie has a very captivating score that brings the whiff of the late 80's. Also, because the major part of the movie happens on the road and during the journey, the music is charmingly apt and beautiful with haunting beats and pipes.

Cruise plays the character of Charlie Babbitt, an egotistic yet charismatic Los Angeles car bookie who can go to any length to rope in customers. He is the perfect product of all that is the worst of capitalism. He is a brilliant talker and wears his confidence as easily as he slips on his shades. He has the walk of a self made man, whose complusions and necessities end up glorifying his despair rather than crushing him. Charlie left his home as a teenager after a quarrel with his father about a 1948 Buick convertible which he used without permission and as a result, spent two days in jail because his father did not bail him out. It is only when his estranged father dies that Charlie comes to the funeral, more for claiming his share of the will than paying his last respects. Charlie's materialism in the way that he uses people for his own ends is also seen in the way he treats his love interest Susanna, played by the charming Valeria Golino. Charlie comes to know that his father has left his money to a trust fund for the care of a stranger while Charlie's only share is a dying and withering rose shrub. Charlie loses his wits about his inheritance especially as he is in dire need for his car dealings and sets out to find out who the real beneficiary is. He discovers that he has an autistic brother, Raymond. The money in the trust had been placed there for his care. Charlie kidnaps Raymond in order to coerce the fund authorities into transfering the funds to him. The entire story unfolds on this road journey as Charlie grows from an impatient and inconsiderate and opportunitic businessman to a caring and loving brother.

Raymond's repetitive speech and nagging including repeated talks of "Abbott & Costello", "Four minutes till Wapner", his neurotic fear with changes in his routine, his naive incomprehension of notions of privacy and intimacy, his stubborn refusal to travel by air because of flight accidents whose dates and casualties he remembers with astonishing accuracy, drive Charlie insane. However, this cross country journey becomes for Charlie a way to bond with his brother who is "the rain man" from a childhood song that he remembers. Charlie finds what it is like to have family even in the form of an autistic brother who apparently cannot understand brotherly love. The journey is also an adventure for Raymond  who ends up doing things he would never have done if he was institutionalized. He learns dancing, dresses up for a date, kisses Susanna who is kind and gentle towards him. He also reveals, through his fear ( "the hot water will burn the baby") that he was institutionalized because his condition posed a risk for the younger sibling Charlie. Out of a road trip arises a new understanding between Charlie and Raymond although the film leaves the question ambiguous whether Raymond is really capable of remembering Charlie as a friend or family. But Charlie becomes a more sensitive character. Although his journey began with kidnapping, his decides to take responsibility for his brother. But this decision is defied by the authorities who take Raymond back to Wallbrook Institute to his life of familiar routine of books, walks, and television programmes.

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