Script to Screen: Rain Man
I’m a movie addict. Like most addicts, I over consume until the inverse relationship between appreciation and exposure becomes a bitter reality. How many times can you see the same scene and get the same high? Chinatown’s “she’s my sister and my daughter” only made my jaw drop once, no matter how much I marvel at its plot. In Fight Club, the “Tyler is the Narrator” reveal only blows your mind once. But those films, like Rain Man, still resonate through the culmination of my experiences. There’s just something about Charlie Babbitt’s journey that keeps me coming back.
Marking the 25th anniversary of Rain Man, screenwriter Barry Morrow sat down in the UC Santa Barbara Library and offered insight on a film that has the stood the test of a quarter century. One of the inspirations for Raymond Babbitt’s character came from a real-life friendship between Morrow and Bill Sackter, a retarded man that spent nearly half a century institutionalized. Morrow developed their story into a 1981 television movie titled, Bill. After meeting megasavant Kim Peek at a conference in 1984, Morrow moved forward with the story that would become Rain Main, though he had already explored similar territory with Bill. Reversing the big-hearted protagonist to a self-centered yuppie, Morrow found the impetus for his screenplay.
One for Bad, Two for Good
The story opened up once Morrow stumbled upon the card counting plot point. He traveled to Reno with Kim Peek to test the veracity of a savant’s prowess with blackjack, but Kim refused, saying “it’s not fair, Barry Morrow. It’s not fair.” Though Kim wouldn’t gamble, Barry was still able to test him and discovered Kim could, in fact, count cards just as well as he had suspected.
As far as Morrow was concerned, there wasn’t a reason for Raymond to go back to Wallbrook. But others thought different. The ending in the film was not scripted by Morrow, but by Barry Levinson, who created the scene while shooting the movie. The ending works because of the danger Raymond poses to himself. When the smoke alarm goes off, he panics and begins banging his head against glass. Charlie’s at home and able to calm Raymond, but what if he hadn’t been there? Though bittersweet, this satisfies the audience: Charlie does what’s best for Raymond, not himself.