Rain Man and Autism
The film Rain man was released into theaters in 1988 and was awarded many awards along with an Academy Award. The movie starts off by showing Charlie who works as a car salesman, attempting to close on a deal involving four Lamborghinis. Charlie decides to drive with his girlfriend Susanna to ensure that this deal goes through. On the drive over Charlie receives a call telling him that his father has just passed away. Charlie and his girlfriend go his father’s funeral, but he stands in the distance looking disgusted as Susanna waits in the car. Charlie then meets with his lawyer who reads him a letter and will from his father. The letter states that his father’s estate of $3 million is being left to an unknown trustee. His father had left him a 1949 Buick Road master convertible, the very car that ended their relationship. When he turned sixteen, he stole this car and took it for a spin without his father’s permission and he reported the car stolen. Charlie and his friends were arrested but his dad left him in jail for two days. This upset Charlie so much that he left town and did not write or speak to his father ever again.
The couple head out to visit the trustee that has been given his father’s estate at Wallbrook Mental Institution. When they arrived at the institution Susanna stayed in the car and to her surprised a man by the name of Raymond walks over and gets in the driver’s seat. Raymond says, “There’s only 28 miles on the odometer since I drove it a week ago, last Sunday” (Levinson). Charlie asks him a few different questions and finally is told that Raymond is his high functioning autistic brother. Their father had never mentioned him, and he could not believe that he had a brother all of these years. Everyone goes inside to talk things over, and Charlie starts messing with the books on the shelf and asking Raymond lots of questions which starts to upset him. People who are autistic have certain interest in specific things, Raymond’s way of calming himself down when he gets upset is to repeat things over and over. When Charlie returns the book back to its specific spot Raymond calms back down. He asks Ray to go see a Dodger’s game in LA and to his surprise Raymond knows the schedule and who is pitching on which days and everything. The three of them head off the LA in hopes of getting his half of his fathers $3 million. When they get to the hotel room that they will be staying at they realize how much Ray needs to be on a routine in order for him to be as calm as possible. Susanna leaves in the middle of the night after a heated conversation with Charlie about how he is treating his brother and tells him that he uses everyone.
Charlie calls the Dr. from the institution and says that he will bring him back if he gets the $1.5 million which is half of his deceased fathers’ estate. After Ray gets very nervous in the airport and they decide to drive to LA instead. Charlie does not exactly understand what autism is or how to prevent Ray from feeling nervous. As the movie goes on Charlie starts to learn the exact things that help Ray have a good day, he also learns why his parents sent his brother off to this institution as a child. Ray had burned Charlie with hot water in the bath tub on accident when he was an infant. He also learns that as a child he could not pronounce Raymond, so he just called him “Rain man”. On their adventure to LA Charlie ends up really enjoying having Raymond around and tries to get him out of the institution to take care of him on his own, but then it is decided that Ray needs to be on a stricter routine and Charlie could not handle it but promises to come visit him all of the time.
People who have autism have certain interests in specific things. In this movie Raymond finds interest in dates, numbers as well as random facts. He was in the Wallbrook Mental Institution voluntarily, but this place helped him with all of his needs and kept him on a routine. There are different levels of the autism spectrum and Raymond is on the high functioning end of the spectrum. Charlie and Raymond are having lunch on their drive to LA and Raymond asks for a toothpick and the waitress accidentally drops the box and they spill everywhere. Ray immediately shouts the exact number of toothpicks that were in the pack. When they get to the airport and Charlie is trying to decide which airline to fly on, Raymond listed every crash that had been reported for each airline and refused get on any of the flights. This specific incident really upset him causing him to scream in the airport. Another example of finding interest in specific things is when Raymond read through the phone book A-G and memorized every single phone number and proceeded to recite the waitresses phone number to her.
People with Autism have problems adapting to new different environments. From the beginning of the movie it was clear that Ray was not comfortable in new environments. While at the hotel on their way to LA Raymond talks about how everything in his room is in the wrong place, so they help him rearrange to make him feel more comfortable. People with autism often eat the same things just because they feel more comfortable that way. Raymond got very nervous when he realized that he was not going to make it back in time for dinner at the institution. Another example would be when Charlie and Raymond were looking for flights to LA, but he did not feel comfortable flying. Also, on their road trip they ran into a wreck and there were police cars everywhere, Ray got out of the car and started to walk away because he was so freaked out.
There is a lot of repetition with people who have autism, Ray’s way of coping when he is in an unfamiliar place is to repeat the same thing over and over. He likes to talk about who is on first base, which is a riddle that he has not solved yet. At the hotel he says the specific things that he needs in order to feel comfortable. Charlie forgot the twelve cheese balls that Raymond has to have before bed which caused him to be slightly uncomfortable, but he still seemed to be alright without them.
In conclusion, people with autism have to stick to specific routines and rituals to help cope with their anxiety. Most people with autism like repetition whether that be snacks, tv shows, placement of certain things, as well as adapting to new environments. The movie ends with a perfect example of why people with autism need specific care. Ray tries to make a waffle and sets the fire alarm off; his way of coping was beating his head against the door. Charlie then realizes just how much assistance he needs. When they met with the lawyer about Charlie getting full custody of his brother, they came to an agreement that he was better off at the institution. When Ray gets upset, he likes to spell out and say “V-E-R-N” followed by “Main man”. After Charlie agrees to let him go back to the institution Ray changes this to spelling out Charlie and calling him his main man. By the end the two brothers have a connection and Charlie promises to come visit him in the next two weeks.