Tuesday, July 2, 2013

For Tom Cruise's Birthday: On "Rain Man" and a Special Buick

Dustin Hoffman is now pushing 80 years old and Tom Cruise has officially passed 50, but one member of the cast of 1988 Oscar-winning film Rain Man hasn't aged a day: the 1949 Buick Roadmaster convertible which was featured hugely in the movie just sold at auction for over $170,000.

In Rain Man, Charlie Babbitt (played by Cruise) learns after the death of his father, that he has a half-brother, Raymond (played by Hoffman). At the same time he learned that Raymond has inherited all of their father's wealth other than the Roadmaster, which he bequeaths to Charlie. The car would be memorable enough if this is all it had to do with the plot of the film, but the Buick plays an unforgettable role as well.

To understand the significance of the '49 Roadmaster to Charlie in the movie is to know that the character is a slick yuppie, one embarrassed by Raymond, who is an "idiot savant" capable of making lightning-fast mathematical calculations like prime numbers (and later, crucially, keeping the complex system of Blackjack card counting straight in his head) but unable to form social bonds or do other normal adult activities.

The car, then, isn't just the way that Charlie hauls Raymond around while they have their adventures and are forced to get to know each other -- no, the beautiful beige convertible with red leather interior is the only legacy from their father that callow Charlie has ... other than Raymond. The car and the "new" half-brother are both, and equally, his connection to their father.

It's fitting, then, that the car is how Charlie conveys them to Las Vegas, where Raymond's skills are a perfect match for the challenges of high-stakes Blackjack, where Raymond is able to help Charlie out of some very deep trouble.

That's what the car gives to the younger brother, but then Charlie is able to use their father's classic automobile to teach Raymond how to drive. In this way, using the car literally and metaphorically as a vehicle for change, Raymond is taught in tandem by the father who abandoned him and the brother who would have shunned him if he had gotten the chance early on in the story. And importantly, the lesson taught by Charlie (and, indirectly, their father) to Raymond is one that is a rite of passage in a boy's growth into a man -- learning to drive a car -- and something that Raymond's cognitive disability has, until this scene in which the brothers also bond, always kept him from experiencing.

That's a lot for an antique car to do in a movie! But the 1949 Roadmaster was a lot of car: the fifth in Buick's line featuring the name and the first of the Buicks with four "ventiports" on the side, which gave it a futuristic feel at the same time as it reminded some admirers of the portholes on a ship. The car's more modern curves were a change from the 1948 model and are one reason why the style has aged so gracefully in a world in love with Mad Men retro styles and the sleek lines of everything from iPads to running shoes. The '49 Roadmaster felt like a trendsetter when it was released, and it continues to inspire design-conscious collectors to this day.

That might have been behind Buick's decision to include an ad for their 1989 line on that year's video release of Rain Man. Creating a link in consumers' minds between the company's latest Buick with the classic 1949 Roadmaster -- not to mention with the emotionally satisfying story of two brothers bonding over that very car -- was an idea that paid off for Buick.

Author Bio: Alex Smith is a television and movie blogger for Direct2TV.com. He enjoys writing about everything from new releases to classic noir from the 1940s to sci-fi and horror flicks from the ‘70s and ‘80s. He lives and works in Washington, D.C.

No comments:

Post a Comment