Charlie doesn't exactly leave the best impression when we first meet him. Or the second time. Or, um, the tenth time.
When the movie opens, Charlie is super frustrated because he is trying (and failing) to make a killing selling Lamborghinis. The problem? His little gas guzzling cash cows don't pass emissions standards, and so the EPA has just a teeny problem with that—and won't let him sell the cars onto the owners.
So, basically, our first glimpse of Charlie is of him being a crazed jerk, because he can't put more toxic-gas-spewing cars out in the already smoggy L.A. streets—not exactly screaming man of the year to us. He just wants his money and wants it now. It's pretty clear that $$$ rules Charlie's life.
Things start to shift, though, when Charlie's life hits an even bigger speed bump than those sticklers at the EPA: the death of his father. Charlie drops everything to go out to Cincinnati to attend the funeral.
Before you get all mooney-eyed about Charlie's commitment to family, though, we should tell you that it becomes clear pretty quickly that Charlie is going home more to collect his inheritance and tie up his father's estate rather than out of any kind of deep-seated love for his Pops.
In fact, as we learn when he and his girlfriend/partner Susanna are chatting, he and his dad haven't talked in years. They had a falling out over the fact that Charlie's dad wouldn't let him use his vintage car, a privilege that Charlie thought he had earned by getting good grades.
So, Charlie took the car without permission, got in trouble, and then left home when he and his dad got into a big fight about it. They hadn't talked in years when his dad died. Over a car. Apparently, Charlie takes cars really seriously.
Given the nasty family dynamics, it's no surprise that Papa Babbitt had largely cut Charlie out of his will—well, no surprise except to Charlie, who's shocked and furious. To make matters worse, his father's money has been left in trust to some unnamed trustee.
Charlie decides to sniff out the identity of this mysterious beneficiary, and his investigations lead him to the Wallbrook Hospital, which cares for individuals with a wide range of medical conditions. There, he discovers that the vast majority of his dad's fortune has gone to a brother he didn't even know he had named Raymond. It seems that Raymond has autism and is unable to live on his own (hence his stay at Wallbrook).
Now, you might be wondering if this is the moment where Charlie decides to shrug off his life as a selfish yuppie and embrace his newfound family. Sorry to let you down, but it's not. Charlie is still thinking all about money, and so he basically kidnaps Raymond and plans to hold onto him until he receives half of the inheritance that Raymond received. Pretty crummy.
Of course, Charlie has absolutely zero idea of how to take care of or accommodate someone with Raymond's particular needs—and little inclination to learn—so, things start out a bit bumpy between the brothers during this little escapade. Raymond likes to stick to a schedule—one that largely revolves around TV—and he's scared of most planes… and highways… and the rain. You get the picture: Charlie's efforts to get them back to L.A. hit a lot of snags because of Raymond's wants and needs.
In the process, Charlie has to morph from being completely selfish most of the time to thinking about Raymond's needs in order to get through the day. He doesn't react well to the change at first, and he's often pretty short/not very nice to Raymond.
However, things take a turn when Charlie realizes that he had met Raymond before he kidnapped him from Wallbrook. After his father died, Charlie told Susanna about an imaginary friend he'd once had named "Rain Man" who had sung him songs to make him feel better when he was scared.
Well, it seems that that friend wasn't so imaginary—it was Raymond. Unfortunately, there was some kind of incident where Raymond may have put Charlie in danger, which was why Raymond got sent to Wallbrook when Charlie was super young (which is why he doesn't really remember Ray that well).
Charlie's realizations on this front really seem to soften him toward Raymond and finally break down that whole greedy yuppie thing he'd been holding onto for so long. Finally, he and Raymond start bonding, and he starts being more nurturing and caring toward his big bro.
Despite having kind of adjusted his priorities, Charlie still owes a bunch of money to customers who bought Lamborghinis and never, you know, received them, so he decides to combine his brotherly bonding time with some hardcore gambling in a desperate attempt to get some income. This may sound risky, but never fear—Charlie has a plan.
On the trip, he has discovered that Raymond is incredibly gifted at things like counting, and so Charlie (correctly) guesses that Ray would be excellent at counting cards. So, he basically uses his brother (who has no real understanding of what he's being asked to do) to cheat at cards. Not exactly a Normal Rockwell moment, but… well, he's still Charlie Babbitt, after all—what do you expect?
The plan works, and although the casino security gets pretty stern with Charlie when they realize what he's been up to, the brothers are allowed to leave with their earnings. Charlie is super happy, and he and Raymond share a nice moment after their big win where Charlie teaches him how to slow dance in preparation for a "date" Raymond has made with a random woman down in the bar.
At this point, Charlie is now interested in having custody of Raymond for the right reasons—that is, they've bonded, and he's not keen to give up his brother now that they've finally been reunited. Unfortunately, as Raymond's doctor reminds him, Raymond has needs that it might be difficult for Charlie to accommodate. Charlie, in his typical stubborn way, doesn't want to hear that.
At the end, though, Charlie seems to realize that he's holding onto Raymond for himself, and that being back at Wallbrook is actually better for Ray. So, in possibly the first pure moment of selflessness we see from Charlie, he puts Raymond on a train with Doctor Bruner back to Wallbrook.
It's sad, but ultimately it's just nice to see Charlie do the right thing; letting Raymond go really clarifies just how far he has come from his super type-A, greedy, yuppie beginnings.
Raymond isn't exactly portrayed as the most complex individual on account of his autism—so really, is it any wonder that people have had problems with the movie's portrayal of that disorder?
The challenges that come with his autism do tend to dominate, but we also get a sense of the deeply sweet and kind person Raymond is: it's not just all about the autism. We'll take the heavy-hitting points of the day when it comes to Ray one by one.
No, not like you're a stressball when you're working on a paper or studying for an exam—Ray gets extremely wigged out just by changes to his routines.
So, when Ray and Charlie are on the road, and they aren't able to get to a TV to watch The People's Court, Raymond does not react well—to the point where even the totally self-obsessed Charlie realizes that he needs to give Raymond what he wants pronto.
When Ray gets stressed out, he relies on reciting lines from an Abbot and Costello comedy bit to calm down. We're not sure why it works, but he seems to find it a kind of security blanket when things are stressful—like, for example, when Charlie (whom he doesn't yet know) is touching his things at the beginning of the movie.
It takes Charlie a while to realize it, but Raymond is actually pretty freaking smart when it comes to numbers and counting.
So, when a box of toothpicks spills on the floor, he can easily count up how many were in there in, like, a split second. Also, as Charlie is thrilled to realize, Raymond is great at counting cards, so they make a killing in Vegas.
Charlie's realization that his brother's special needs and quirks come with perks is kind of a turning point for the brothers. You could be cynical and say that this turning point occurs because Charlie realizes Ray can get him out of his financial problems—but let's be optimistic, shall we?
The optimistic interpretation is that Charlie realizes that he Ray is basically like everyone else—he isn't perfect and has struggles, but he also has strengths—and he's always willing to help out Charlie, even if he doesn't really understand what he's doing by counting cards in a Vegas casino.
What does that mean? Well, Charlie tells his girlfriend toward the beginning of the movie that he had an imaginary friend named "Rain Man" when he was kid who comforted him when he was scared. Later in the movie, though, he realizes that this person was real—in fact, he was Raymond.
Turns out that Raymond used to be around when Charlie was a kid, but he was institutionalized after some accident involving Charlie and a bath that Raymond had prepared that was too hot. Raymond appears to still be traumatized by the memory, repeating, "Never hurt Charlie Babbitt" over and over again when he remembers it years later.
From Raymond's extreme reaction to the memory of almost hurting Charlie, you can tell that he really cares about his brother and feels protective of him. This is also a turning point for Charlie and Raymond, as Charlie appears to realize that Ray once took care of him and truly cares for him.
Despite the fact that Raymond's portrayal often boils down to his autism, we do get to see some personal growth throughout the film. For example, he manages to foster a relationship with Charlie and learns to trust him, even allowing some physical contact (which he generally hates) when Charlie teaches him to slow dance. Sure, when Charlie tries to hug him right after, he flips out—but he allows the close physical contact during their dance lesson, which is a big step.
Oh, and why does he need the dance lesson? Because he's made a date with a woman down in the bar (or he thinks he has). Pursuing that kind of human connection is definitely a switch-up for Raymond, who has largely seemed more interested in routines and television than people. He even lets Susanna kiss him as part of a "dating lesson"—so, he's definitely warmed up to his new extended family a ton (in a weird, weird way) by the time the movie starts winding down.
Overall, we close the film with the warm and fuzzies about how these two unlikely dudes managed to forge a relationship despite all odds on both sides, and Raymond's growth into that link is probably the most surprising.
We don't get too much background on Charlie's girlfriend, Susanna, but we know she's a nice woman who struggles with Charlie's selfishness and the fact that, at the beginning of the movie, he's basically a dunce when it comes to emotions and communicating. She doesn't approve of the fact that he kidnaps Raymond, and she finally loses her temper at the way he's taking advantage of Raymond and leaves Charlie to figure his stuff out on his own.
Of course, she comes back into the picture later, when Charlie has cleaned up his act and started just generally treating people (and Raymond in particular) better. One thing about Susanna that is key: she is always nice to Raymond. She even shares a nice (innocent) kiss with him in an elevator in Vegas, while she's giving him an instructional on how to kiss (so he knows for dating purposes).
You'd think he'd freak out about that kind of contact, given that he rejects his brother's hug, but perhaps the difference is that Susanna knows to take things nice and slowly/gently with Raymond.
So, the bottom line? She's the character with the most emotional intelligence to offer, and that's a big help when it comes to Raymond.
Doctor Bruner heads up the hospital where Raymond is a patient, and serves as the trustee of Raymond's inheritance from his father. We don't get any deep background on him, but we know that he really cares about Raymond's wellbeing—which is why he's less than thrilled when Charlie takes him away.
However, he seems generally nice and patient when he's trying to get Charlie to understand Raymond's special challenges, and never seems to get nearly as annoyed as he should at Charlie's sometimes stubborn and selfish behavior.
Vern works at Wallbrook and seems to have a decent bond with Raymond when the story begins, which we know because Ray calls him his "main man." Vern doesn't play a super huge role, but he tries to help Ray calm down when Charlie first shows up and is upsetting Ray with his aggressive questions and touching of his things.