Thursday, November 8, 2012

Movie – Field of Dreams (1989)

I’ve only ever known one person who hated Field of Dreams.  She’s also the only person I’ve ever known who hated The Princess Bride, so make of that what you will.  Her reason for hating Field of Dreams was two-fold: she didn’t like baseball, and she didn’t like how unrealistic the movie was.  I can understand the first reason, but I had to really fight to hide my laughter at the second reason.  Watching a movie where a disembodied voice tells a man to build a baseball field in the middle of his corn crop and expecting it to be “realistic” seems really bizarre to me.  Since then I’ve seen other disparaging comments about this film that also boil down to the fact that it’s unrealistic.  I am not one of those people who feel that way.  Not only do I like baseball, but I have a very personal connection to this film because of my relationship with my father and the fact that he passed away a few years before this film came out.  I will talk about that in this post (in a well-marked section that can be skipped by those who have not seen the film and want to avoid spoilers.)

I should acknowledge right up front that I know this movie is not perfect.  The time periods are off some because of adapting a book for the screen ten years too late.  The antagonists (woman who wants to ban a book, the brother-in-law who wants to sell the field) are two-dimensional.  And there are historical inaccuracies in regards to some of the ballplayers, especially “Shoeless” Joe Jackson shown hitting right-handed when he was a lefty.  None of these really matter to me in the overall scheme of things, though.  What matters is how the movie connected with me.

Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), his wife Annie (Amy Madigan), and daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffman) live on a farm in Iowa.  Ray and Annie have it mortgaged to the hilt and are barely getting by.  One day while in his corn field Ray hears a voice that says, “If you build it, he will come.”  (Not “If you build it, they will come” as so many people misquote nowadays, probably because it has become a marketing catchphrase.)

Ray thinks he’s hearing things – which he actually is – and he ignores it.  He hears it again, though, and sees a vision of a baseball field in the middle of his corn.  He doesn’t know why, but he feels compelled to make the vision true.  As Annie asks, “who will come?”  Ray doesn’t know.  She supports him, though, and he plows under part of his corn harvest.  No one appears, though, and he becomes the laughing stock of the area.

Annie’s brother Mark (Timothy Busfield) urges Ray to sell the farm to try to recoup some of his money.  Ray refuses.  Mark decides to take matters into his own hands and later in the film he has control of the mortgages Ray owes on the property and uses that to try to force Ray’s hand.

Before that, though, Ray goes out one evening and finds a man in a baseball uniform standing on the field.  He appears disoriented and doesn’t know where he is.  He introduces himself as Joe Jackson – a player whose history Ray is familiar with because of Ray’s father’s love for the team Jackson used to play for.  The movie explains who he is and how he came to be banned from the game of baseball.  The thing is, Jackson has been dead for many years.

Ray takes things in stride and welcomes “Shoeless Joe”.  Jackson says there are other players that he knows would like to come and asks Ray if that would be okay.  Ray says yes and over the next few days a number of players, all in old uniforms, appear on the field.  They arrive and leave by walking through the cornfield beyond the outfield grass.

One day Ray hears the voice again, but this time it leads him to look up legendary writer and recluse Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones).  (Any resemblance to legendary writer and recluse J.D. Salinger is completely intentional).  Ray drives to Boston, finds Mann, and convinces him to go to a baseball game at historic Fenway Park.  Mann does, and while there both he and Ray get another instruction for them to look up a ballplayer named Moonlight Graham (Burt Lancaster). 

Eventually everyone, including Mann and Graham, end up back at Ray’s farm.  The brother-in-law Mark is just about to seize control of the farm if Ray won’t come to his senses.  Here is where I will explain my personal connection to this film.  It contains spoilers for the end, so if you do not want to read them, please skip past this until you see the end of the spoiler section marked out.


Terrence Mann is invited to join the ballplayers when they leave the field and go wherever they end up going (a lot of people interpret it as heaven).  Ray finally loses his cool a little bit.  He’s done everything the voice has asked him to do, he’s almost ruined his family and lost his farm, others get rewarded, but he gets nothing? 

Ray realizes that Shoeless Joe is still there.  Jackson says to Ray, “If you build it, he will come” – emphasizing to Ray the word he had overlooked.  Jackson moves aside and Ray sees one more ballplayer, in catcher’s gear, still on the field.  The player removes his mask and it is Ray’s father, who had passed away while the two were still estranged from each other.  It had been his father that had instilled the love of baseball in Ray and his biggest regret is not getting a chance to reconcile with him.  Choking up a little, he hesitantly asks his father if he wants to play catch.  He does and they do – both sharing their unspoken love for each other through their love for the game of baseball. 

I’m man enough to admit that I started crying at this scene.  Part of it was happiness for Ray, but it was also something else.  You see, I had lost my father a few years before this film came out.  He wasn’t home a lot when I was little, but when he was the two of us would play catch with each other.  Despite the other bad things that were going on then, I had fond memories of those times I shared with my father.  When I saw this scene in the movie I ached to play catch with my dad one last time and I couldn’t.  The young adult I now was knew it would never happen, so the tears came.  To be completely honest, I’m getting a little misty-eyed now just reliving how I felt.


It wasn’t just me who connected with the film.  It was very popular with audiences and received a Best Picture Oscar nomination.  More than 20 years later the baseball field built for this movie is still there and thousands of people travel to Iowa every year to visit it.  This is all because of how the movie Field of Dreams affected them, too.

While I can intellectually acknowledge some areas of the film could have been better, because of the personal connection I have with this movie it is impossible for me to emotionally give this film anything less than five stars.  If you have any love for baseball, or for your father, then you must see this film.

Chip’s Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

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  1. Yeah, I cry at this one too, but I'm a baby so I cry at movies a lot. Field of Dreams is full of heart without being schmaltzy. Field of Dreams works for me.

    In the early nineties, my family took a cross country road trip and one of our stops was the Field of Dreams farm in Iowa. So yes, there exists a photo of me walking into the cornfields at the edge of the baseball diamond. It's pretty cool.

    1. That's great that you got to visit the actual field. Thanks for sharing the story (if not the photo.)

  2. I loved this movie, too. I think people need to accept it as a fantasy and not look for realism.

    Not that into baseball to know about those facts about Shoeless Joe. They did get the year "1972" and "The Godfather" connected right, though.

    Also I thought the book ban scene - which was just one scene in the film - was one of the strong points in the film because it establishes the couple's interest in literature and builds up to Terrence Mann.

    1. "I thought the book ban scene - which was just one scene in the film - was one of the strong points in the film because it establishes the couple's interest in literature and builds up to Terrence Mann."

      Agreed. I didn't have a problem with the scene; I just felt the woman who was trying to ban the book was played so broadly that she ended up being two dimensional.

      "They did get the year '1972' and 'The Godfather' connected right, though."

      I'm afraid you lost me on this reference. Can you elaborate?

    2. When Ray meets Moonlight Graham (Burt Lancaster) it's supposed to be the year 1972. Ray looks at the marquee of a movie theater and it says "The Godfather", which came out in 1972, so the filmmakers got their facts right. If the marquee said "Jaws" it would be a gross error.

    3. Gotcha. Thanks for explaining. In regards to my comment about the years not being consistent I was referring to the relative ages of Costner, whose character was born in the 50s, but was supposed to be a college hippy from the 60s, who had a child in the 70s, who was only a little girl in 1989. I think they bumped the birth year up to match Costner's age, instead of setting the film in the late 70s.

    4. Wait a minute, now I'm confused. In the book, what year do the events take place? Also, when did the book come out?

    5. The book came out about 10 years before the movie. Both book and movie take place in the "present". In the movie Costner's character tells us how he was born in the 50s, went to college but "mostly majored in the 60s" (plus when he meets Terrence Mann, Mann says, "oh God, you're from the 60s, aren't you?"), then says how he got married and had a kid a few years later (hence the 70s). The movie came out in 1989. Costner himself was only 34 (born in 1955) and too young to have been a 60s hippy in college.

      It's sort of like how they kept part of the timeline from the original broadway musical in the Mamma Mia movie (the ages of Steep, her friends, and her old lovers all put them in the 1970s back when she was dating them - consistent with the original musical), but still tried to set the movie in the present, making Streep a 39 year old mother, whose own mother kicked her out of the house for the shame of being an unwed mother - in 1990 (based on her daughter being 18 in 2008 when the movie was set).

      Yeah, I'm anal about timelines making sense in movies. I immediately picked up on the fact that Hanks was way too old to match up with the man we saw reminiscing at the beginning of Saving Private Ryan. Same thing with The Green Mile. Both of those movies had explanations for the discrepancies, though.

  3. I love this film unabashedly, and the final line spoken by Costner never fails to produce the desired lump in the throat. And while I don't give a flying rip about baseball, the speech delivered by James Earl Jones about the importance of the game is still one of my favorite movie speeches.

    As for the lack of realism...well, it's called "magical realism" for a reason, and this film is one of those that hits its notes perfectly, or perfectly enough that I don't care about which side of the plate Jackson stands on.

    1. "while I don't give a flying rip about baseball, the speech delivered by James Earl Jones about the importance of the game is still one of my favorite movie speeches."

      Thank you for including this comment. I've always wondered about this. I love the speech, but then I love baseball. I always wondered if that speech meant nothing to people who didn't care about the game.

      I agree on it not really mattering how Jackson hit. I forget what movie it was (maybe the Babe Ruth one with John Goodman?) but the actor couldn't hit well enough left handed to be believable (Ruth was a lefty) so they just had him hit right handed, run down to third base, and they reversed the shot. According to IMDB's trivia, Ray Liotta, who played Jackson, spent months learning how to hit and throw the correct way and the director told him it didn't matter if it was correct or not because "he was a ghost". Not sure if it's true or not.