May is mental health awareness month, as declared by President Barack Obama back in 2013. In recognition of the month, here’s a look at some of the most memorable instances of mental illness in film. While movies can often give an inaccurate portrayal of mental health issues and lead to common misconceptions that people believe to be true about those who live with mental illness, on the flip side a Hollywood film can also bring mental health issues to light in a realistic and sensitive way, bringing more awareness and money to a particular illness than a million fundraising events ever could.
1. Rain Man
Rain Man is one of the most famous movies about autism and is almost solely responsible for the common misconception that people on the autism spectrum are also savants, which of course isn’t always true. “That 1988 movie, in its first 101 days, accomplished more toward bringing Savant Syndrome to public awareness than all the efforts combined of all those interested in this condition the past 101 years following Dr. Down’s 1887 description of this disorder,” wrote Dr. Darold Treffert, an autism expert who was consulted for the film, in the paper “Rain Man, the Movie/Rain Man, Real Life.”
Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar for his iconic performance as Raymond Babbitt, the autistic brother of Tom Cruise’s character Charlie who inherits all of their father’s estate. When Charlie finds out a brother he didn’t even know existed has gotten all of his father’s money, he heads on a road trip to the mental institution where Raymond lives. Over the course of their adventure, Charlie has to deal with Raymond’s autistic rituals and difficulty with emotions, but also discovers his amazing mathematical and memory skills. That leads to the famous scene in Las Vegas in which Raymond helps Charlie win the money he needs to pay off his debts by counting cards at the blackjack table. In order to prepare for the part, Hoffman did months and months of research on autistic savants and got to know a couple people with autistic savant syndrome.