Of the range of topics that I thought that we would be covering in this class it had never occurred to me that the focus would be ASD. That said I think that it is a wonderful topic of focus and though I am not yet steeped in the literature of this course that it will be rife with interesting representations. Obviously in a field as young and as complicated as neurosciences there will be many misrepresentations of what ASD actually is and errors in how it is portrayed. While interesting I find the more compelling subject is how the characters are viewed within the story and their characterization. Having read the background for “Rain man” in Neurotribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity I now have a much better grasp of the reason why Raymond was depicted the way that he was in the film. Barry Morrow seems to be a rather amazing man who has a great deal of passion for both his fellow man and the work he does in cinema. Despite this, however, he appears to have fallen into the pitfall of portraying
Barry Morrow seems to be a rather amazing man who has a great deal of passion for both his fellow man and the work he does in cinema. Despite this, however, his film and characterization of Raymond appears to be informed by a more mysticised and less honest take on ASD. Given his interaction with the American savant Kim Peek he can be recused of this but it has lead to what I think is a very ungrounded expectation of those who have ASD, being a savant.
“Rain man” is a cultural touchstone and I think that it functions very well as a gateway into further understanding of ASD and other mental illness. For example, Dustin Hoffman does an excellent job as Raymond portraying “Insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns or verbal nonverbal behavior” an aspect of ASD as defined by the DSM- 5. Though the film won the ASD community a lot of attention and support it cannot stand on its own and we must be honest about its shortcomings.
These shortcomings being, I think, no better exemplified than how Hoffman treated the man from which he drew his inspiration, Kim Peek. As Mr. Peek’s late father attested:”I tried to call him several times, but I could never get through,’ says Mr Peek. ‘After we met him at the studios in Hollywood, when he studied Kim’s behaviour, we heard from him only once more, four or five years ago, when Kim won an award from the Christopher Reeve Foundation for helping other people with disabilities, and he sent a video lasting 30 seconds, congratulating Kim.”
I feel that we as a society must treat those that have ASD and other disabilities in the same way that we do those we define as “neurotypical”. I think this begins with having respect for what ASD is and what it isn’t, and sadly I think that “Rain man” falls tragically short of this.
Neurotribes:The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman