Charles Sanford Babbit is a self-centered Los Angeles-based automobile dealer. As a young teenager, he once took out his father’s 1949 Buick convertible without his permission and was jailed for two days, since his father reported it stolen. While he is in the middle of importing four Lamborghinis to Los Angeles for resale, he learns that his father, a man with whom he has had no contact for years, has died back East. In order to settle the estate, he and his Latino lover Susanna travel to Cincinnati, Ohio. From the contents of the will, he learns that he has received a pittance, including the prized 1949 Buick Roadmaster, and that his father’s $3 million fortune has gone into a trust. Performing some amateur detective work, Charlie discovers with a shock that the fortune goes to a mental Institution for the support of his older brother, Raymond Babbitt, of whom he was completely unaware. Charlie visits the Institution and finds his brother, Raymond, a methodical, mechanical, flat-voiced middle-age man. Raymond is high-level autistic. He is quite capable to converse, sticks to a scheduled routine, compiles baseball statistics, easily memorizes dinner menus and becomes disturbed when anything upsets his routine. He can also count 46 spilled toothpicks in an instant and calculate square roots in a flash, but he shows little emotional expression except when in distress.
Charlie kidnaps Raymond from the mental home and takes him into a hotel for the night. Susanna becomes upset with the way Charlie treats his brother and leaves. Charlie claims half the estate from Raymond’s doctor, Dr. Gerald R. Bruner, in exchange for Raymond’s return, but he refuses. Charlie decides to attempt to gain custody of his brother in order to get control of the money. He decides to take Raymond to California, to live with him. However, Raymond refuses to fly and recites the dates and fatalities of every airline’s most recent crash. So Charlie puts Raymond in the front seat of the 1949 Buick and head out on a cross-country odyssey of discovery.
During the course of the journey, Charlie gradually learns that, Raymond actually used to live with the family when Charlie was a kid and he realizes that the comforting figure from his childhood, whom he vaguely remembered as an imaginary friend named “Rain Man”, was actually Raymond.
The progress of their journey was slow, because Raymond insists on sticking to his routines, which include watching a particular television show every day and getting to bed by 11:00 PM. He also objects to traveling on the highways after they pass a bad accident. In the meantime, Charlie’s Lamborghinis are seized by his creditor and Charlie finds himself $80,000 in the hole. However, he hatches a new plan and wins the money in Las Vegas, at blackjack by counting cards with Raymond’s help. Charlie wins enough to cover his debts and has reconciled with Susanna who rejoins them in Las Vegas.
In fact, during the first leg of the journey, Charlie does not quite seem to accept the depth of Raymond’s own world and grows frustrated. However, toward the end of it, his outlook changes and finds that he loves his brother, and loves him as he is.
Back in Los Angeles, Charlie meets with Dr. Bruner, who offers him $250,000 to walk away from Raymond. Charlie refuses and declares that he is no longer distressed about what his father left him, he rather wants to have a relationship with his brother. At a meeting with a court-appointed psychiatrist Raymond is shown to be unable to decide for himself what he wants. Charlie stops the procedure of questioning and tells Raymond that, he is happy to have him as his brother. In the final scene, Charlie brings Raymond to the train station where he boards a train with Dr. Bruner to return to the mental institution. Charlie promises Raymond that he will visit in two weeks.
Everything changes in the movie, except for Raymond. He does not play showy, or adorable, or vulnerable. He is matter-of-fact, simple, straight down the middle, uninflected, unmoved, in all of his scenes – except when his routine is disrupted. The changes in the movie all belong to Charlie. By the end of the film, Charlie has learned how to pay attention, how to love and listen. He does not undergo a spiritual transformation, he simply becomes aware of the things that are more important in life, than selling cars. He is aided in this process by his girlfriend, Susanna, who loves him but despairs when he refuses to listen to anybody.
Rain Man (1988), directed by Barry Levinson and starring Tom Cruise as Charlie Babbitt and Dustin Hoffman as Raymond, received overwhelmingly positive reviews. In fact, Dustin Hoffman gives a magical moving performance in the film as the Autistic Savant Raymond. Tom Cruise is equally convincing in a role that called for the drastic layer of changes. The film won four Oscars at the 61st Academy Awards, which include Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director and Best Actor for Hoffman. Its crew received an additional four nominations. The film also won the Golden Bear at the 39th Berlin International Film Festival.
It is interesting to note that, the script of the film “Rain Man” was inspired by the true story of Kim Peek, who was classified as ‘mentally retarded’ as a child, but was later discovered to possess such amazing brainpower that medical experts called him ‘The Living Google’.