Dominick (Nicky) Luciano wears a 'Hulk' T-shirt and trudges off everyday to perform his duties as a garbage man. He uses his physical power in picking up other's trash and hauling it to the town dump. He reads comic-book hero stories and loves wrestlers and wrestling, Going to WrestleMania with his twin brother Eugene on their birthday is a yearly tradition. He talks kindly with the many people he comes in contact with during his day. He reads comic books, which he finds in the trash, with a young boy who he often passes by while on the garbage route. Unfortunately, Dominick has a diminished ability to use his mind. He has a disability.
Dominick's disability came as a result of an injury to the head in which he suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI). This injury left him slower, though it did not change his core characteristic as a strong individual who helps to protect others. Dominick is actually more able to live independently than he may seem at the beginning of the film. He lives with Eugene who is studying to become a doctor. Dominick provides the main source of income, while Eugene is off studying. Eugene must face the fact that he is to continue his education in a different city, and that he must move away from Dominick. Eugene also develops a romance which begins to separate him from his twin brother.
The film deals specifically with domestic abuse and how this can impact individuals, families, and then society as a whole. The strain that escalates between Eugene and Dominick as Eugene realizes that he must eventually leave Nicky, exploded on their birthday night. Eugene yells at Dominick and throws him against the wall. In this moment, Eugene must confront his own fears of being like his abusive father, the father which Dominick protected him against while he himself became the victim of the abuse. This event cemented the love between the two brothers, who from then on became the best of friends. Though they needed each other, they also both needed independence and the ability to grow and develop relationship with others. The fact that they must part ways became a very real emotional strain. However, by the end of the film, Dominick is able to say good bye to his brother and wish him luck. Eugene is able to leave his brother with the confidence that he has started to make a social network of people who care about him and will help him with his independence.
When Dominick witnesses the abuse of his friend he is forced to come face to face with the cause of his own trauma. In this state of extreme stress, Dominick almost completely shuts down. He then runs after the ambulance to the hospital to see what happened to his friend. After learning that the boy has died, he is confronted by the abusive father who, fearing his testimonial, tells him he didn't see nothing, doesn't know anything, and not to say anything, and that if he does he will kill him. Now that his own life has been threatened, he goes and find the hand gun that Larry used to kill the rats. He goes to the wake of the deceased boy and at gunpoint, kidnaps the baby of the grieving family. He runs away from the scene and hides in a building. When the police surround him, Eugene goes in the building to talk to his brother. Eugene then reveals the cause of Dominick's disability and they bring the baby back. The abusive father then wields a gun of his own threatening to kill Dominick, but Eugene stops him and Dominick tells the crowd that he saw the father throw his son down the stairs.
Through the climactic ending, the issue of dysfunctional behavior comes into view. Though Dominick's instinct to save the baby can be understood, we also see how damaging this response is. Dominick put the baby's life and his own life in grave danger. The larger societal consequences of these events is not directly implicated, but rather shown through the films ending. Despite the more optimistic ending portrayal, another sequence of events might just have likely occurred, in which Dominick is charged with kidnapping and possession of a firearm. It is somewhat difficult to believe that this went completely unaccounted. Furthermore, even if Dominick is not charged, there may still be a stigma against him within the community, not that there wasn't one before these events. Instead, the film shows that we must be able to recognize problematic behavior and act to curb it.
Dominick and Eugene was released in 1988, the same year as another film, Rainman, which won 5 Academy Awards. While Rainman was an achievement and helped increase the visibility with person with disabilities, it could be argued that Dominick and Eugene holds more valuable lessons for society. Whereas, Rainman demonstrated that mainstream American society might be able to learn from and care for a 'savant', if the 'savant' is the inheritor of a large estate. Dominick and Eugene show that a person with a disability might be able to care for and help save members of American society. The message of an independent person with disabilities may have been too strong for 1988. Hopefully someday society will see the strengths of individuals with disabilities, not as a threat, but as imperative for the strength of society.