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'Rain Man': If We Only Used Our Brain

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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I wish that I were reviewing one of the half-dozen movies certain to be made when this pox upon our house is no more. But until that glorious return to normality has us resuming all the simple joys of life we take for granted, like going to the movies, I'll be retro-reviewing and thereby sharing with you the films that I've come to treasure over the years, most of which can probably be retrieved from one of the movie streaming services. It is my fondest hope that I've barely put a dent into this trove when they let the likes of me back into the Bijou.

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It is a mythic, Pollyanna notion that we humans use only 10 percent of our brain. Fact is that all our 100 billion neurons are busy running around and doing stuff, 24/7. Still, we are charmed by the idea that great possibilities lie beyond everyday uses of our gray matter. Perhaps we are capable of cerebral feats much more profound than deciding which tattoo would look best on our forearm, figuring out just how many AR-15s will make us seem macho, and devising how else to appear defiantly intimidating.
 
Psst: I think we might even be able to fly. I know, I know. Don't tell anyone.
 
Director Barry Levinson's delightfully thoughtful, seriocomic "Rain Man" (1988), via Dustin Hoffman's enigmatic, never conclusively diagnosed Raymond, ponders the hidden talents of the brain in a whimsically enchanting road trip that unites two, long-separated brothers. Tom Cruise co-stars as the Yuppyish, wheeler-dealer exotic car salesman, Charlie Babbitt, who learns he has an institutionalized older brother when his wealthy dad leaves everything but a 1949 Buick
 
Roadmaster convertible to Hoffman's quixotic savant. The Buick is his, but why, and to do what with?
 
Charlie's immediate response, doubtlessly engendered by his embittered estrangement from dad, is to remove Raymond from the care of the entrusted, kindly and caring Dr. Bruner at Wallbrook and thereby claim the entire inheritance. What follows is a touching and very often funny, sentimental journey through the unique, insight-filled bonding that ensues as the two abscond cross country in the Buick, which for my money deserved an Oscar to match the one Hoffman did garner. Point of nostalgic bias: I learned to drive in our '51 of the same marque.
 
Slowly, on the driveway. Yup, you're correct: both had the Fireball Straight-Eight engine. But I digress, and stress that I have no mental acumen of the sort Charlie soon discovers in Raymond along the wonderfully photographed highways and byways, the movie every bit a celebration of the American landscape as it is a delve into the simpatico of siblings. Heck, it's all I can do to write this review, though, I'm perhaps not as difficult a traveling companion as the title character, the appellation attributed to him by Charlie back in the forgotten recesses of their childhood.
 
A favorite scene I'm going to ruin for you comes when, in some dusty little whistle-stop out west, beside himself with aggravation wrought by Raymond's symptomatic obsession with routine, Charlie drags his bro up to the second-floor office of a local G.P. The receptionist asks, "What's wrong with him?"
 
"He lives in a world of his own," responds Charlie.
 
"Yes, but what's wrong with him," repeats the receptionist.
 
The script that Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow adapted from Morrow's story, inspired by the real-life case of Laurence Kim Peek, described as a megasavant, is filled with provocative and quirkily humorous situations resulting from Rain Man's odyssey in the outside world. And while some situations could be deemed as capricious conjecture for the purpose of getting a laugh, Levinson is resigned to more than balance the treatment with an ennobling primer on what was then known about savant syndrome. So, we learn a little, and Charlie eventually learns what may or may not be more than he can handle.
 
The exploration and discovery of the mental powers hidden within the often impenetrable shell that mysteriously flips open and shut around Raymond, amaze with the same gleeful surprise we experience when witnessing a baffling magic trick. When Raymond instantaneously announces the number of toothpicks that spill out of a box in a luncheonette, we can't help but wonder, "How did he do that?"
 
"Very well," would be the answer proffered by my magician friend, Loudini, the glibness heightening the sense of inscrutability.
 
All of which has us returning to the very same hope and consideration regarding Raymond's phenomenal abilities. Opportunists might speculate what riches could be gleaned from harnessing the paradox, whereas altruists might venture that unlocking the secrets might lead to a cure for cancer, and perhaps along the way a vaccine against the current plague.
 
While we ruminate the possibilities of using that 90 percent of our brain that's purportedly sitting the bench, it occurs that what the scientists might have meant is that only about 10 percent of the population is actually using their brain … advancing lifesaving strategies such as using seat belts, not drinking and driving and, most recently, wearing a mask. Which leaves about 60 percent offering its thanks, and the remaining 30 percent fighting them on it and claiming a conspiracy against their right to kill both themselves and the innocent victims of their antisocial prejudices.
 
Happily, throughout history the 10 percent has remained undaunted and unselfish, offering its wheel, automobile, vaccination and silicon chip to grateful supporter and contrarian shirker alike.
 
Hence, trying to figure out what goes on in "Rain Man's" head can't help but serve as an entertaining, thought-provoking metaphor for how humankind might make more beneficial use of its mental capacity.
 
"Rain Man," rated R, is a United Artists release directed by Barry Levinson and stars Dustin Hoffman, Tom Cruise and Valeria Golino. Running time: 133 minutes

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North Adams School Committee Votes for Remote Learning

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

 
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The School Committee on Tuesday rejected a hybrid school reopening model to vote 3-2 to go full remote. 
 
The decision to start school with the remote option was apparently influenced by a letter the School Committee members received from the North Adams Teachers Association expressing concern over re-entering the schools because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 
Committee member Tara Jacobs said she was not comfortable potentially exposing staff to the novel coronavirus in motioning to go with the remote option to start and later transition to a hybrid model. 
 
"There's no good scenario but the decision to open the school and have someone dying or having health conditions for the rest of their life ... ," she said, motioning to start the school year remotely.
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