We live in a very hyper-aware media age regarding autism, where everyone knows about it and pretty much what it is. We also live in an age where autism is a big generator of viral online content today, where nearly other feel good story shared on Facebook is focused on an individual with autism. Autism is on our minds more than ever.
This is starkly different to the 80s when Rain Man came out, where if you asked an individual if they knew anyone who was autistic, they would then say “of course I know artistic people!” But Rain Man was ahead of its time, both in its portrayal of autism, and by doing something that every other film involving a character with autism has never really done accurately: treat said person as an actual human being. The interactions between Charlie and Raymond are authentic and genuine. Charlie is annoyed by Raymond, then slightly curious, then worrying, then genuine love. He learns to see Raymond as a person on this epic journey across the U.S. And everytime something funny happens, it’s not at Raymond’s expense, it’s at the expense of the situation at hand. His unusual behavior isn’t the crux of our laughs, but it’s the shared experience between him and Charlie that gets us going.
Aside from the autism aspect, Rain Man is one step above typical 80s popcorn fare and one step below Oscar-worthy masterpiece. It won’t make you feel anything extraordinary, but is more of a film you’ll look back on as a short vacation or trip, something fond, something enjoyable, but ultimately something you’ll forget about until you dig up those pictures again a few years later.