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The Ending Of Rain Man Explained

These days, Tom Cruise is known for his death-defying stunts, as well as his occasional on-and-off-screen antics. Back in the late 1980s, though, he was still establishing himself as one of Hollywood's most charismatic leading men. With 1988's Rain Man, he showed he was capable of being a dramatic lead, ushering in a new phase of his career.

The film, directed by Barry Levinson, tells the story of Charlie Babbitt (Cruise), a greedy young man who kidnaps his older autistic brother Raymond (Hook's Dustin Hoffman) after he learns that their father died and bequeathed his $3 million estate to him. Their dramatic road trip offers moments of levity and high drama, and ultimately helps create a radical change in both brothers.

Rain Man won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Best Actor for Hoffman. But it's been several decades since it was a pop culture centerpiece, so if you haven't seen it or you can't remember how it ends, you're probably not alone. Let's take a look at what happens at the end of Rain Man — though, of course, be aware there will be spoilers, as we unpack its emotional final act.

In Rain Man, Charlie Babbitt uncovers huge family secrets

At the beginning of Rain Man, Charlie Babbitt is in the middle of a crisis — he's a high-end car salesman who has lenders breathing down his neck, and Lamborghini deliveries being held up by the EPA. His stress only increases when he learns that his father, who he has been estranged from for years, just died. After traveling to Ohio to settle his will and learning his father bequeathed him a classic 1948 Buick Roadmaster, and nothing else, he then discovers that the rest of his estate was entrusted to a patient at a mental institution. It turns out that this patient is the older brother he never knew he had.

Charlie goes out and meets Raymond, who has autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and an incredible gift for recalling information. Charlie, ultimately, removes his brother from the institution. He tells Raymond's doctor Dr. Bruner (Jerry Molen) he plans to gain custody of him — though it's clear he only wants to do so to claim the estate for himself. His plans are immediately disrupted when Charlie refuses to fly back to Raymond's home in Los Angeles and they have to take the Roadmaster on a cross-country journey.

It doesn't take long for Charlie to realize he's in over his head, where his brother's care is concerned. Raymond is prone to panicking, and becomes frustrated when his strict daily schedule is disrupted. However, Charlie also begins to learn more about his brother, and their unexpected bond creates another huge change in his life.

Charlie Babbitt has to make a sacrifice at the end of Rain Man

While Charlie and Raymond struggle to communicate, the younger brother sees some benefit in having his brother along for the ride. They hit up Las Vegas, and Charlie puts Raymond and his ability to rapidly calculate and count cards to work, until they've managed to pay off his debts for the Lamborghinis.

The bigger win for him, however, comes when he begins to let his walls down and open up to his brother in an emotional capacity. He realizes, as Raymond recounts his own memories, that the "Rain Man" he remembers as an imaginary friend from childhood was actually his brother. Their father hid him away in the mental institution, preventing them from growing closer.

By the time they arrive back in Los Angeles, Charlie's hopes for gaining custody of Raymond have more to do with love than with money. However, during a psychological evaluation for Raymond, Charlie realizes that his brother is not fully capable of making his own decisions, and decides that sending his brother back to Dr. Bruner, where he can be cared for properly, is the best thing for him.

The two share a tender moment, where Charlie tells him, truthfully, that he's glad to have him as a brother. He sends him back with Dr. Bruner on the Amtrak train, which he had longed to ride, and promises to visit him soon. While it's a bittersweet ending, it's one that proves both of them came a long way, and that their story is far from over.