Not to be confused with Rayman, this 1988 drama stars a different cartoon character (Tom Cruise) as selfish car salesman Charlie Babbitt, who learns that his deceased father has left his $3m inheritance to his other son, the severely autistic Raymond (Dustin Hoffman).
Cruise is effective in his trademark role of “bastard in sunglasses”, and the film (along with other Cruise movies like Top Gun, Risky Business and Born on the Fourth of July) boosted the sales of Ray Bans – which spookily almost rhymes with Rain Man. Cruise helped do for Ray Bans what Kate Middleton did for M&S and Scarlett Johansson didn’t do for SodaStream.
The question is: who are these sunglasses shoppers who see Charlie Babbitt (or Kate Middleton) as an aspirational figure? The film presents him as an unscrupulous individual, just as blind to other people’s feelings as his disabled brother. Hoffman is brilliant in the Oscar-winning role, having spent a year working with autistic people in preparation.
It is an idealised Hollywood view of mental illness, but a sensitive one. Director Barry Levinson observes human behaviour in a way that’s always entertaining and rather sweet, making the movie’s broad strokes excusable. A number of other directors were previously attached to the project, including Sydney Pollack and Steven Spielberg.
Eventually, Levinson took over from Martin Brest, who would make Midnight Run the same year. Both road movies (starring blokes from Meet the Fockers), the two films are kind of similar: a greedy man drives across country with someone he’s initially using for payment, but learns over the course of the movie to appreciate their value as a person, regardless of their differences or Thetan levels.
Rain Man isn’t much more subtle than Midnight Run, but it remains a warm story about what it means to make a connection with someone, with strong performances by Hoffman, Cruise and Valeria Golino as Charlie’s foreign girlfriend Susanna – enabling further exploration of communication and understanding. God (or Xenu) knows what she sees in him though. Maybe it’s the Ray Bans.