The Real Story Behind Rain Man

Many real-life stories have been adapted into movies. Some are about sports heroes, like "Ali," based on the life of boxer Muhammad Ali. Some focus on science and technology, like the story of the astronauts in "The Right Stuff." Others tell the stories of people who made a big difference in the world or a community. But what audiences — and film critics — also adore are films that spotlight the real-life stories of those who struggle to be comfortable in their own skin and in society.

Sometimes it is a physical problem, like Rocky Dennis in "Mask." Dennis was born with a facial disfigurement and he dealt with the literal pain of that along with the cruelty of others, via IMDb. Even though some movies are based on true stories, there is embellishment, too. This is Hollywood, after all. They need to bring people to the theaters, which is their main purpose. 

While it seems like "Rain Man," a movie about an autistic man named Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman, and his brother Charlie, played by Tom Cruise, would be a perfect example of another true story brought to life on the big screen, that is not the case. Still, the reality behind it is pretty interesting. 

Raymond's character was based on several people

At first glance, "Rain Man" character Raymond Babbitt seems like someone who was plucked from a newspaper story about an autistic man who reconnected with his brother, but Raymond, who was played by Dustin Hoffman, is not a real person. He was an amalgam of several people, but a man named Kim Peek — who had an "encyclopedic memory" according to TheCinemaholic – was the person whose characteristics writers drew most from when fleshing out his character. Peek died in 2009, per The Guardian

The 1988 film helped put autism in the spotlight. The interaction between Raymond and Tom Cruise's Charlie Babbitt showed how human the two could be during times that were fraught with difficulties — like explosive meltdowns due to over-stimulation or a broken routine. Other moments in the movie showed a bond forming between the two. It also illuminated how there could be a lack of filter with an autistic mind: An unprompted "K-Mart Sucks!" for example. But Raymond was the product of the imaginations of writers Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass, per IMDb

Autism is still a mainstream topic in the 2020's but it is not the taboo subject that it may have been before "Rain Man."  Even a fictional character can really help advance a cause.