Long before the vaccine controversy, I remember learning about autism in a high school biology class. At some point, after reading about the symptoms a person with autism might exhibit, my friend announced, half-joking, half-panicked, “I think I’m autistic!” What she actually was could probably be better described as sensitive, socially awkward, and occasionally flaky, not so much autistic. Or maybe I just misheard her, and she said she was artistic, which was certainly true.
In a way, the autistic character is nothing more than a foil for Tom Cruise, an obstacle for him to overcome in his quest to ascend beyond his own dickishness. Literally the first note I wrote while watching this movie, within five minutes of the opening, was “the redemption of the asshole.” It’s a common enough trope (seemingly popular in the 80s, because I would categorize Driving Miss Daisy the same), and I was convinced that I would hate the film as a result. Charlie Babbitt explains his great rift with his father as originating in teenage antics where he stole his dad’s fancy classic car for a joyride to celebrate getting “almost all A’s.” He deserved the car! Then how dare his father call the police to punish him! And they say millennials are entitled.
But I think Dustin Hoffman’s endearing Raymond Babbitt saves it. He has this ability to stand out even as he plays a character with so passive a role as the uncommunicative, institutionalized older brother. When they show up at a casino, lights flashing, bells clanging, I felt overwhelmed.
I loved how it was totally no problem for Charlie to run off with his brother and essentially hold him ransom with literally no consequences. Even if he was acting out in his grief (or bitchiness at losing out on his estranged old man’s fortune), Raymond must have had someone in charge of his guardianship and thus, someone to press kidnapping charges. My irritation at this plot point is made stranger by my further complaint that everything seems to be resolved smoothly at the very end, with Raymond hopping on a train to go back to Ohio (apparently he hadn’t learned the statistics for train safety). I read that the ending was a change from the original script – and while it’s a more reasonable solution than Raymond spending the rest of his life hanging out in his brother’s LA apartment, it also left me feeling that their fraternal road trip was a little pointless.
I would also like to point out how weird the scene was with the girlfriend kissing Raymond in the elevator. What was up with that? Okay, sure, you can debate whether Ray was himself interested in pursuing a date with the sparkly woman in the hotel, but then why in God’s name would anyone take that as a sign to make out with her boyfriend’s brother in an elevator? Yeesh.
There’s a line from a book that’s stuck with me – though I can’t remember exactly how it goes, and I thought it was from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime but can’t find it, so maybe it hasn’t stuck with me as much as I thought. It had to do with overstimulation, and what it’s like to have so much sensory input all at once. Maybe it went something like: People always question how I can stare at the same things all the time without getting bored, but there’s so much to see right around us that nobody notices. Who needs to watch 88 movies when you can just watch one over and over again?
Theme: Dustin Hoffman
First Time Watching? Yes
Final Verdict: Definitely a movie.