Rain Man Explained: What’s Up With the Ending?

Rain Man (1988): Prototypes Of The Hero And The Essence Of The Film. Plot Of The Film, Explanation Of The Ending, Real Story, Similar Films.

Country: USA

Genre: Drama, road movie

Year of production: 1988

Director: Barry Levinson

Actors: Tom Cruise, Dustin Hoffman, Valeria Golino

tagline: “A journey through understanding and brotherhood”


  • 1989 Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Screenplay and Actor (Dustin Hoffman);
  • the Golden Bear-1989 award – a victory at the Berlin Film Festival;
  • 1989 Golden Globe Award for Best Film and Best Actor (Dustin Hoffman);
  • David Donatello Award in Italy for Best Foreign Film and Best Foreign Actor (Dustin Hoffman).
  • Audience Award at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in 2008.

The meaning of the film Rain Man, already a classic of American cinema, is hardly a mystery to any of the audience. The message of the authors, who explore the problems of closeness and mutual understanding and attitude towards people with developmental disabilities in the film, is read quite well. Let’s give it an interpretation, analyzing the content and essence of the film.

What is the movie about

Charlie Babbitt, a young entrepreneur, runs a car dealership business and is experiencing financial difficulties associated with it. He suddenly learns of the death of his millionaire father, whom he has not spoken to since he left home at sixteen. Charlie hopes for a rich inheritance, but according to his will, he gets only a retro car and rose bushes.

Tom CruiseTom Cruise played the role of Charlie Babbitt. Frame from the film.

The money is transferred to the trust management of a certain fund. The fact is that Charlie has an older brother, Raymond, whom he did not even know about and who spent his whole life in a psychiatric hospital. And the three million dollars of the inheritance are placed at the disposal of his guardian.

Angry at his father and wanting to get the money that went out from under his nose, Charlie takes his brother out of the hospital, hoping to force the guardian to give him half of the inheritance in exchange for the ward. An attempt to implement this idea entails many problems – primarily domestic ones. After all, Raymond is autistic and, in fact, is in his inner world. He is experiencing severe discomfort due to the departure from the daily routine that has been established in the hospital for decades. Raymond is almost unable to read the emotions of others, but he has a phenomenal memory and mental abilities associated with counting and mathematical operations.

Since Raymond is terrified of flying on airplanes (the fear is based on the information stored in his memory about the number of victims of various air crashes), Charlie has to take him in a car he inherited across the USA – from Ohio to Los Angeles. During this long journey, Charlie and Raymond grow closer. The first becomes less selfish and more tolerant, the second one adapts a little more to the outside world. Both that, and another happens including thanks to Charlie’s girl – Suzanne.

Thanks to his brother’s phenomenal abilities, the protagonist even wins a large amount in a Las Vegas casino and thus partly solves his financial problems. However, they fade into the background, because by the end of the trip, Raymond became a real friend for Charlie. So the former selfish businessman refuses to think about a ransom. He even rejects the large amount offered by the guardian, hoping to defend his right to be with his brother through the court. However, it does not come to this – after a conversation with a psychiatrist at the end of the picture, Charlie agrees that even prolonged contact will not help his brother recover and it is better for him to stay in the hospital.

The meaning of the name

The key scene that explains the meaning of the phrase “Rain Man” takes place in the middle of the film. Raymond is brushing his teeth and suddenly says this nickname. Charlie is surprised, because he thought that the rain man was a character invented by him in childhood. When he was scared, he would come and sing a soothing song.

It turns out that the rain man was not a figment of Charlie’s imagination. It turned out to be Raymond, who nevertheless lived with him in his parents’ house for some time. It’s all about the play on words, or rather the inept childish pronunciation of the name of the brother by the protagonist: instead of “Raymond” he said “Rain Man”, which translates as “Rain Man”. So there is no hidden meaning that may seem in the title.

Charlie also gets a clue as to why his father took his brother away from home and placed him in a psychiatric hospital. When the hero turns on the hot water in the bathroom, Raymond is very frightened: once he accidentally burned the child, who was Charlie himself, with boiling water. In this regard, the father decided that his special son could harm his brother or others, and took him away. This happened when it was raining outside – thus giving an explanation for one of Raymond’s phobias: he has since been afraid to go outside when it rains.

After that, it becomes clear to Charlie why his father was so closed and strict and why he never talked about his eldest son. This understanding brings him even closer to his brother. Their joint journey is endowed with true meaning: Charlie does not need any ransom.

Dustin HoffmanDustin Hoffman played the role of Raymond, Valeria Golino starred as Susanna. Frame from the film.

The meaning of the ending

After getting closer to his brother, the protagonist sees that he began to socialize and even understand humor, which did not happen before. So, all the way, Raymond repeated phrases from a comedy number, trying to figure out their meaning. And at the end of the trip, he himself began to make attempts to joke. For example, he asked for maple syrup in a cafe, although he saw it in front of him, thereby, as if ironically over his typical behavior. And then he repeated Charles’s phrase about Kmart clothes in front of his guardian, as if parodying his brother.

However, a conversation in the psychiatrist’s office that takes place towards the end makes it clear that one should not have illusions about the possibility of Raymond becoming a full-fledged member of society. He is still unable to make decisions (at the same time he wants to return to the hospital and stay with his brother). In addition, the previous episode with the almost starting fire showed that Raymond needed constant monitoring.

The main thing, however, is that Charles became a true friend to his brother and ceased to be an egoist. Both characters have changed for the better. This lyrical note is the meaning of the ending of the film “Rain Man”.

The meaning of the film

The explanation of the ending fits well into the general meaning of the film “Rain Man”. The authors have repeatedly said that the main message of the picture is not even the need to pay attention and share warmth with people with developmental disabilities. The task was to show the importance of the family – how it can be rediscovered by simply taking an important step.

brothers in the casinoFrame from the film.

Public outcry and real history

And yet, “Rain Man” quite strongly influenced the attitude towards people with developmental disabilities – in fact, for the first time in a feature film, so much attention was paid to a hero with an autism spectrum disorder. Many first learned about him, and the funding of charitable organizations that help people with mental disabilities increased manifold after the release of the picture.

On the other hand, the film is heavily criticized for creating an overly romanticized image of a person with ASD. In addition, the screen shows a rare side effect of autism, namely savantism. This is a condition in which a person with intellectual disabilities can demonstrate some elements of genius: a phenomenal memory, outstanding abilities for certain types of scientific research, including mathematical ones.

Such cases among autists are generally rare, and if we analyze Raymond’s case, then his mental data can be called simply fantastic. Although the film emphasizes that the shown case is unique (for example, when even the doctor is amazed by the abilities of the hero, and the patient himself, knowing a lot about autism, does not consider himself autistic), many simply did not pay attention to this. So there was (of course, not only thanks to the “Rain Man”) a rather harmful myth about autistic geniuses.

Dustin HoffmanFrame from the film.

Although the symptomatology of ASD itself is very wide. Among the people who possess it, there are those who are able to live an almost full human life, and those who, on the contrary, cannot do without proper care for a minute. And of course, there are a lot of those who do not have outstanding intellectual abilities.

Only part of the description of the symptoms given in the film is based on real cases. So, one of the prototypes of Raymond in “Rain Man” is a carrier of a severe genetic disease (FG-syndrome) named Kim Peak. He was able to tell the content of several thousand works without missing a single detail. Kim could also read two pages at the same time: one with his left eye, the other with his right. It only took him a few seconds to complete one spread, and the position of the book didn’t matter at all. He kept in mind maps of all the cities that exist in the United States, and even detailed how to get to each of them. Kim played the piano perfectly, knowing by heart a lot of details about each of the works and biographies of the composers.

Another prototype, also not autistic but mentally disabled, is Bill Sacter, a friend of screenwriter Barry Morrow. The latter once literally kidnapped Bill so that he would not be sent to a psychiatric hospital. Barry saved a friend. He became his legal guardian to treat his leg, which was threatened with amputation. In the end, everything ended well. In part, this case inspired the screenwriter to write “Rain Man”

road to familyFrame from the film.

Similar films

  • The Peanut Butter Falcon (USA, 2019): an inspiring road movie about the adventures of a guy with Down syndrome, played by Zack Gottsagen – a real carrier of this disease;
  • Forrest Gump (USA, 1994): a classic from Robert Zemeckis starring Tom Hanks;
  • The Intouchables (France, 2011): based on real events, the story of the friendship of a rich man with a disability and a guy acting as his nurse;
  • I Am Sam (USA, 2009): A drama about a forty-year-old man with the intelligence of a seven-year-old child trying to win back his daughter, who was taken away by social services.

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