Rain Man is one of the best films ever shot in the history of cinematograph. It is a thought of many people, and I agree with it completely, as the film that changed people’s perception to such problem as autism cannot be treated in another way. Before the film was released in 1988 people knew very little about the problem, many didn’t even know about such disorders at all. Darold Treffert in his review (n.d.) said that the movie did more towards bringing the savant syndrome and autism to public awareness in 101 days, than all the efforts of the people interested in this condition did within the past 101 years. There are practically no analogues in this relation.
The film is focused on two main characters – Raymond Babbitt (by Dustin Hoffman) and Charlie Babbitt (by Tom Cruise), two brothers who do not remember each other, as when Charlie was 2 years old his brother was sent to long-term care. They get to know each other when their father dies and leaves 3 million dollars to them. In order to receive the money, they have to take a cross-country trip. The main evolution of character is visible in Charlie, as at first he is pictured as a selfish businessman without any actual moral values, not knowing how to love anyone except for himself. When he meets his brother, he refers to him only as weird or retard, but in the end nothing of those initial feelings are left in him. Within six days of the trip he changes into a loving brother who perceives the world in a different way. Now he knows how pleasant it is to care for people and he is ready to change his life. The other character is represented by Raymond, who plays high-level functioning autistic person with savant skills. In the end of the movie Raymond becomes a little bit less obsessive and becomes more tolerant to the feelings expression. It happens due to the communication with Charlie, which perfectly shows that it is important not to reject such people from society and support them as it is possible.
Raymond has the typical symptoms of an autistic person: he is very afraid to change his daily routine, which is his real obsession; he doesn’t know how to communicate with people and express his feelings. These are usual symptoms for this disorder, although in different forms they have various levels (Caronna, Milunsky & Tager-Flusberg, 2008). Still, it is necessary to take into account that he can function rather independently, which is not so often among people in this condition. It is also evident that the character has savant syndrome as well. It is a rare condition, in which people with developmental disorders have one or more skills that are brilliant and contrast with the overall limitations such people have (Treffert, 2009). Among the savant skills Raymond has there are instant calculations of complex nature, the ability to memorize a large dataset and some others. It is important to realize, nevertheless, that not all the autistic people can demonstrate such abilities – according to statistics, only 1 out of 10 autistics show such skills.
There have been numerous studies conducted and theories developed on autism and savant syndrome, which deal with the reasons of such conditions development. Among the latest theories on autism there is one suggesting that autism is caused by impaired regulation of a bundle of neurons in brain stem, which processes sensory signals from different body areas. Another theory suggests that some of the autism symptoms can be linked to the levels of cortisol, stress hormone (Grohol, 2009). Savant syndrome has also been studied by various scientists, owing to which different theories on its causes were developed. Among them there are cognitive (according to it, the syndrome is conditioned by certain deficits in abstract thinking and executive function), biological-developmental (the syndrome is caused by neurochemical, genetic, left hemisphere dysfunction) and others (Hiles, 2002).
The movie definitely helped people change their attitude to the disorder. Apart from the important message that such people need support from their relatives, the film also has several other ones, which help ordinary people to better understand autistics. First of all, it shows that autism is not a mental illness, but a development disorder. Then, it explains that the disorder is developed as a result of biologic problems, not the ones of psychological nature. It was especially important at the time when the film was released, as parents were often accused of creating this condition in their children. Another important message is that it is not wise to try to change such people. Instead, it is necessary to support them and help.
Caronna E.B., Milunsky J.M., & Tager-Flusberg H. (2008). Autism spectrum disorders: clinical and research frontiers. Arch Dis Child, 93(6): 518–23.
Grohol, J.M. (2009). New Theories of Autism, Asperger Syndrome. PsychCentral. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/news/2009/04/02/new-theories-of-autism-asperger-syndrome/5122.html
Hiles, D. (2002). Savant Syndrome. Retrieved from http://www.psy.dmu.ac.uk/drhiles/Savant%20Syndrome.htm
Treffert, D. (n.d.). Rain Man, the Movie / Rain Man, Real Life. Wisconsin Medical Society. Retrieved from http://www.wisconsinmedicalsociety.org/savant_syndrome/savant_articles/rain_man
Treffert, D. (2009). The savant syndrome: an extraordinary condition. A synopsis: past, present, future. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci, 364(1522): 1351–1357.