Barry Levinson, Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass, 1988
A yuppie asshole (Tom Cruise) discovers that his father's $3 million
estate has been left to an institutionalized autistic brother (Dustin
Hoffman) he didn't know he had. Hoping to blackmail the institution
into splitting the money, he kidnaps his brother and drives him to Los
Angeles, only to find that he is making a small connection with the
withdrawn savant along the way.
I decided to watch this again after watching a couple of documentaries
about Kim Peek, on whom the autistic character in the movie was based
(though apparently Peek himself is not autistic but has congenital
brain damage), and various other savants who served as source material.
Actually, I don't know whether I had ever sat down and watched it all
the way through from start to finish — I think I had just seen
long pieces of it on TV. Certainly I remembered the hoopla over it
back in '88... it was the first time the term "autism" entered the
public conversation in a big way. It never really went away after that,
what with the identification of Asperger's syndrome and the success of
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the
Night-Time. Actually, the fact that I was now familiar with
the source material made it easy for me to see the seams of the movie
as it unfolded. I remember that there was a lot of grumbling about
the fact that Dustin Hoffman won a bunch of acting awards while Tom
Cruise was shut out: "Hoffman gave a one-note performance! Cruise was
the one whose character changed and grew!" And at the time I thought,
yeah, Cruise did a reasonably good job considering that he had to
film most of his scenes with this autistic guy. But this time around I
wasn't as completely taken in by Hoffman's performance, because I knew
whom he was mimicking and had seen the original sources.
As ridiculous as this is going to sound, I also have to say that I was
extremely distracted by Tom Cruise's hair. I mean, look at that!
Look at how enormous and puffy that is. He's got a good three-quarters
of a beehive going there. This actually made me feel a lot better,
because in 1988, my hair was exactly the same. I look at pictures
of myself from the late 1980s and above my face there is just this wall
of hair that goes up and up and up. And see how you can only see the
bottoms of Cruise's ears sticking out? Not only were my ears the same
way, but I remember that when I would attempt to draw comics, I always
drew the guys so that their hair obscured the top halves of their ears.
I'd forgotten that. It was around this time that I started growing my
hair out in the hope that gravity would pull it down, but those crazy
ethnic wavy-hair genes ensured that it would expand outward even as it
reached my shoulders, to the point that by the end of '89 I had a lion's
mane thing going. In January of '90 I had it cut short, but that just
brought me back to the picture on the left. By the end of the year I'd
given up and started to wear a baseball cap all the time, and it wasn't
until five years later that I discovered that by buzzing it down with
clippers I could get my hair to look respectable.
But now I know it wasn't entirely my fault! The hair soufflé
I sported back in 1988 wasn't a personal idiosyncracy — when you
went to get your hair cut, that was what they gave you! It was
the style of the time! The ironic thing is that I remember that
in the 1980s we all thought that the current styles represented a
return to normalcy after the bizarre eccentricities of the '70s —
that, indeed, they weren't even really styles at all. The idea that
someday the fashions of 1988 would seem as preposterous as those of
1975 was incomprehensible. And perhaps someday what we today call
"neurotypical" will be considered a very silly and dated brain
configuration. And that is the message of Rain Man.
(not really, but that closing flourish made me giggle so I went with it)
Return to the Calendar page!