Breaking The Story (Rain Man — Hot Water)

Here’s a scene from Rain Man which is tense, heart-warming, and surprising all the same.

Barry Morrow & Ronald Bass

Scene Context:

Charlie is taking his long-lost autistic savant brother, Raymond, on a road trip to LA in hopes to secure his deceased father’s inheritance. Charlie believes he’s never met Raymond before the past week, but has vague memories of a “rain man” who would comfort him as a child.

Scene Conflicts:

  • Charlie wants to understand his connection to Raymond
  • Raymond struggles with connecting to anybody

Scene Outline:

  1. Charlie asks Raymond how he’s so good with numbers/memory. Raymond answers.
  2. Charlie tells Raymond to stop brushing his teeth so he can hear the answer clearly. Raymond continues brushing.
  3. Charlie takes the toothbrush away. Raymond chuckles, say “funny rain man, funny teeth”.
  4. Charlie helps Raymond rinse his mouth. Tries to clarify what Raymond meant by “rain man”. Realizes that “Raymond” sounds like “rain man”… and that Raymond is the “rain man” from his childhood.
  5. Raymond shows Charlie a picture of him holding a baby Charlie. Tells him he got it from their dad.
  6. Charlie asks when Raymond left the family and was moved to an institution. Realizes that the pair of them interacted a fair amount when Charlie was a child.
  7. He asks Raymond to sing him the song from childhood. The pair end up singing together.
  8. Charlie moves to the bathtub. Turns on the hot water and is about to put the photo in, when —
  9. Raymond SCREAMS that “hot water burn baby”. Charlie turns off the water and comforts Raymond. Realizes that he was the baby hurt by the hot water.
  10. Charlie fully realizes the story of Raymond- he was put into an institution because he hurt Charlie. The photo dissipates in the water.

Why It Works:

What I didn’t notice until my third viewing of the scene is the fact that, at it’s core, it’s a blatant exposition scene. It exists entirely to tell us about these character’s backstories, and yet it’s (in my opinion) the most thrilling scene of the film. This is entirely because of how tightly crafted each piece of revealed exposition is- it emerges as a small mystery of sort that needs to be solved somehow. First, it’s trying to figure out what the term “rain man” means, which naturally leads into how Charlie and Raymond interacted in the past. And why did Charlie leave? Well, the answer to that lies in Raymond’s reaction to the hot water. When we uncover his reaction, we uncover necessary exposition that gives us a deeper, more human insight into each character.

One of the most affecting moments of this scene occurs when Charlie starts asking Raymond about the song. Suddenly, the obnoxiously guarded Charlie has let his walls down and wants nothing more than to hear his brother sing to him. It’s quietly poignant, packed with emotion and massive character development. Though this occurs midway through the film, it feels wonderfully cathartic and gives the audience hope that there’s genuine humanity lurking beneath the cold exterior of Charlie Babbitt.

Notice that every piece of information revealed elicits opposite reactions from each character. One views it as strikingly mundane, while the other views it as massive. The hot water means nothing to Charlie, but everything to Raymond. The term “rain man” similarly means nothing to Raymond, yet is the world to Charlie. Their opposing reactions are a staple of their film-long conflict- the inability to connect. When creating a film built entirely around a character relationship, it is really important that they are constantly coming into some degree of conflict, whether that be minute or large scale.

In Summary…

By putting the film’s central conflict front and center, the writers effectively disguise the exposition within the scene and, through that exposition, create natural character reactions. This ultimately allows the scene to unravel in a manner which is constantly exciting yet heartfelt for the audience.

A writer! What am I writing about? Well, a lot of things, most of them being related to Screenwriting. Hope you like what you see!