the rain man effect – kim peek story.. ie: originally hoffman as brother and bill murray as raymond (p 367) but hoffman wanted to play raymond
hoffman: ‘all my life i had wanted to get inside a prison or a mental hospital, like most kids want to go to a zoo… i wanted to get inside where human behavior was so exposed.. all the things the rest of us were feeling and stopping up were coming out of these people, as if thru their pores..’
as oliver sacks was doing at bronx psychiatric .. hoffman would play piano to entertain the patients, and the dr particularly loved it when he sang ‘goodnight irene’ one day he began singing along when his wife walk in .. suddenly the dr stoop up, met his wife in the middle of the room and began to sob… a moment of stark lucidity crossed his face. ‘i can’t, i caaan’t’ he moaned
hoffman broke down crying too, and he quit the institution shortly after that. when he read morrow’s script for rain man, memories of that moment came flooding back to him
morrow had never even heard the word autism when he wrote the fist draft of rain man. hoffman was instrumental in making the character of raymond specifically autistic rather than just intellectually disabled..
two psychologists offered feedback on morrow’s script.. one was bernie rimland.
in 86.. hoffman read temple grandin’s emergence and sought out the author who told him that the one thing she wanted more than anything else in life was for someone to hug her – but the moment that any one did, she couldn’t bear it. ‘that sentence just destroyed me’… hoffman said
he also made a pilgrimage to oliver sacks’s house on city island.. after visiting one of sacks’s patients in the hospital, they headed to the ny botanical garden, where hoffman trailed a few yards behind as (sacks) chatted w a member of the actor’s entourage. ‘suddenly i though i heard my patient’ sacks recalled. ‘i was extremely startled and turned round and saw it was dustin thinking to himself, but thinking w his body, thinking enactively, thinking of the young autistic man he had just seen’..
peek went down in history as ‘the real rain man’ (title of book written by his father) .. but that was a benign white lie that enabled the filmmakers to keep the id of a second family in rimlands’ network secret.. in truth, raymond was a composite of joe sullivan and a young man in ny name peter guthrie.. whose distinctive shuffling gait, bemused tilt of the head and verbal tics (uh oh.. definitely.. and ..of course).. became central to hoffman’s conception of the character..
while peek reveled in all the attention he got after the film came out, peter had no interest in becoming a celebrity.. when mutrux contacted his family, he told his parents, ‘i don’t want my name becoming a household word. i definitely don’t want my name in usa today’.. but he agreed to be part of hoffman’s research and mutrux lent his brother kevin a movie camera so he could film peter at home..
robert and becky guthrie fit kanner’s descriptions of gifted and highly accomplished parents to a t, minus the lack of affection for their children.. robert was a 4 star general who served as the army’s project officer for the launching of the first american satellite in 1958.. he went on to oversee the development of the black hawk helicopter and the patriot missile.. becky was a first gen autism ‘mother warrior’.. kevin, a few yrs younger than peter, was a college football star who bore more than a passing resemblance to tom cruise.. after rain man, he went on to launch jstor, a digital archive of journals and other research material that now serves 8 000 institutions in more than 160 countries..
aaron et al
knew something was wrong w peter when he was just a few months old.. when he glanced at his mother, she felt that he was looking straight thru her.. several drs’ diagnosed him as severely retarded, but just before he turned two, ..reached for a magnetic letter board and spelled out esso, grecian bread, and smirnoff vodka.. soon assembling puzzles upside down.. drawing maps of us to scale freehand and cutting letters of identical width out of construction paper w/o a ruler.. he communicated w his parents by spelling out words rather than saying them, like ‘c h e e r i o s’ (for two yrs he ate nothing but cheerios) a child psychiatrist at walter reed army med center finally diagnosed him w autism..
instead of treating peter’s passions for letters, numbers, and order as pathological, becky encourage them.. a decade before most people thought about buying a personal computer, he was using one to cut down the clutter in his room..
hoffman and cruise met the guthrie bro’s at the carlisle hotel in manhattan on valentine’s’ day 1987.. peter knew all about their films.. but couldn’t recognize faces.. after a stiff 2 hr meeting.. kevin said.. have to go bowling to get peter to relax
the process of helping hoffman develop the character and generally being regarded w respect by people other than his family, had a beneficial effect on peter.. ‘people began treating him more seriously – as more than just this bizarre guy’ kevin recalls.. ‘he became more willing to be social. i saw him reach inside himself and pull out emotional responses that i didnt’ know he was capable of . he enjoyed showing off what he could do’..
to ensure the dialogue in film rant true.. hoffman called kevin regularly to read him the day’s scenes and ask him what his brother would say..
also kept ruth sullivan on speed dial ( for joe’s reaction to things).. all of that stuff came from me making calls 10 min before we started shooting’ mutrux recalls..
the one major way the film departed from real life was that joe sullivan and peter guthrie – like bill sackter and kim peek – were fully capable of living out side of institutions w the help of their families… in face, it’s highly unlikely that any of them would have developed their impressive skills and abilities had they been condemned to place like wall brook, the institution depicted in the film..peter lived in his own apt in princeton w a roommate, shopped and cooked for himself, manage a bank account and regularly took the train to see his parents in virginia.. for the past four decades, he has quietly worked as a reference librarian a the university.. joe had never lived in an institution, because his parents fought hard to make a space for him in the community..
but mutrux’s experts were adamant tha few autistic peoplewould be able tot survive outsideinstitutions.. ‘
the happy ending in the original script is simply not realistic’ wisconsinpsychiatristdarold treffert, the worlds’ leadingexpert on savant syndrome , wrote in his book islands of genius.. though rimland never considered putting his son mark in an institution he insisted that a state home likewalbrook were the only appropriate places to house people like raymond babitt..
ironically, while raymond was widely referred to in the press as ‘high functioning’ and ‘one of the lucky ones’ when the film came out, he was portrayed as less capable of living independently than any of the real life models on which his character was based…
livinson – who made an uncredited appearance in the film as raymond’s psychiatrist – insisted that the poignancy of him going back to wallbrook would be more dramatically satisfying for the audience. though morrow made sure that sackter never had to go back to faribault, he has made peace w the ending of ran man. ‘i felt betrayed politically, but artistically, it was a triumph’ he says
by putting one autistic person on the screen, teh filmmaker had made innumerable others visible.. to their loved ones, to their neighbors, to their teachers and drs and to themselves..
at a a press conference.. hoffman broke down crying, saying that the film ‘touches something in us tha ti can’t explain. we all go thru life not hugging quite as much as we’d like to.. something cuts us of.. we’re always keeping a lid on our own autisms’..
in yr before film.. fewer than a hundred stories on autism had been published in major newspapers in the us.. following year.. that number quadrupled.. it would never decline again..
after hoffman thanks peter guthrie at the academy awards .. the washingtonian ran an indepth story on him called ‘dustin and me’.. (he had warmed to the idea of his name becoming a household word)..
people ran a spread on joe sullivan.. that described his mother’s fight for his ed.. the handsome soft spoken young man went on to make appearances on oprah.. the larry king show.. disney co..
a few months later ruth sullivan attended a family wedding in pittsburgh.. during rehearsal joe was on his own for supper in a strange city, which normally would have been a cause of great anxiety for her..
ruth asked the hotel doorman if he could help her son find a place to eat close by, adding that because joe was autistic, he might not seem to be listening to his directions.. the doorman’s eyes lit up.. ‘like rain man’ he said.. she watched as the two men crossed the street into a world that had been transformed in a very short time. ‘one film did that. on film did more for autism than all of us working together worldwide had been able to do in 25 yrs’.. she says..
but rain man was just the beginning..