Look, it’s a good movie, but I’m already living it in some aspects. I have a severely autistic brother, one year younger than me who lives at home. So far, he hasn’t shown any savant skills and my family is not sure if he ever will. Me, well, that’s another story. Point is, I’m able to relate to some of the behavior in Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal in my brother and myself.
Tom Cruise as Charlie Babbit finds out that he has an autistic brother, Raymond, in a mental institution who happens to inherit $3 million after their father died. He more or less abducts Raymond as they go on a cross-country trip that shows what Raymond can do and how Charlie needs to be accomodating to his needs.
I can vouch for my brother with the public meltdowns, the repetition of heard phrases regardless of whether it has meaning or is appropriate, the routine, and the need for things to be in the right spot for my brother. It’s a challenge as everyone in our house needs to keep an eye on him as he is an epileptic on top of other health issues documented in multiple 3-inch binders. What he’s allowed to watch is kept at the preschool level, mainly PBS and Disney, so if you happen to see a review for a kid’s film of preschool age from time to time, that’s mainly from him. But enough about him.
Now, when this film was released, not much was known about autism. Sure, it was there, but the odds were one in the thousands. When my brother was diagnosed, it was maybe 1 in 4,000. Now, it’s 1 in 68. Are people becoming more aware of autism? Yes, but what Rain Man did since it was released, at least in the early years, was erroneously couple autism with genius skills. That’s not always the case.
There are a few films out there that have depicted someone on the autism spectrum in one way or another, like Mary and Max and The Story of Luke. But in TV Land (not the channel), autism is treated more like subject matter for a Very Special Episode, a one-and-done deal, especially in children’s television. I would like to see that change.
The film itself has its high points. The music is very rhythm-based, something that was mentioned in the commentary as something people on the spectrum respond to; I concur. It does have some resemblance to the music used in some late 80’s/early 90’s CGI tapes, like the Mind’s Eye series (anyone heard of it?), that makes it somewhat dated. Even so, it works for the film.
The relationship between Charlie and Raymond does seem unnatural. If I were Raymond, I doubt I could change from total jerk to best bros in the time it took them. I suppose for the sake of the film that it needs to play that way.
Curiously, sensory overload is not discussed. Aside from the smoke alarm going off (which would drive anyone crazy), I figured it would appear during their trip at Las Vegas. The noise, the bright lights, the colors, all the people; it’s a recipe for disaster, trust me.
If you know someone with autism, see how this movie compares with your personal experience. Those who haven’t yet, keep in mind that this is just one portrayal of autism. If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.
1001 MYMSBYD selection
Winner of Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, and Best Writing, Original Screenplay