You may be surprised to know, if you have kept up with this blog, that this avid baseball fan had not, until recently, seen Field of Dreams (1989). I was, of course, familiar with many aspects of it, and had seen bits and pieces of it. Who does not know the famous, whispered line “If you build it, they will come?” It is actually misquoted, too, because when Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) first hears it while out in his Iowa corn field, the voice from the beyond says “he will come,” emphasis mine. At any rate, I have been in a little bit of a baseball mood lately, which is ironic given that my beloved Chicago Cubs stink this year. Still, they are slated to play on the field that is right there in Iowa near where this film was shot. As such, we will call that the reason for finally getting around to seeing this classic.
Field of Dreams begins with a narration about how Ray came to be out in an Iowa corn field hearing voices. He grew up with a father, John (Dwier Brown), who raised Ray by himself when the boy’s mother died at an early age. This event caused John to work hard, making him an old man while still relatively young, though he was able to share his passion for baseball with his son. Nonetheless, Ray grew up rebellious, had his rebellion was stoked by going to the University of California – Berkeley during the 1960s, and getting married after John passed away before his time. Ray’s wife, Annie (Amy Madigan), was a classmate and fellow rebel, but one with Iowa roots, so that is where they moved to farm and raise a family. Things are going moderately well until Ray is stopped in his tracks by the voice. At first, he does not know what he is being told to build, but its persistence (despite neither Annie or his young daughter, Karin (Gaby Hoffmann), hearing it) convinces him that he is not crazy. So, that is something. His first clue comes when he has a vision of “Shoeless Joe” Jackson (Ray Liotta) standing by himself in the middle of a baseball field on his land. With Annie’s support, and despite the financial risks due to the lost crops, he burns through their family’s savings to construct a proper baseball diamond. And then nothing happens for several months. When the next summer comes along, just as the bills are piling up, Karin tells Ray that he sees a man standing on the baseball field. This is none other than “Shoeless Joe” Jackson in uniform, which should not be possible considering he appears as a young man even though he has been dead for a few decades. The next day, more players come, and the voice gives him another message: “Ease his pain.” Once more, Ray is consumed by the mysteriousness of this command, but another dream tells him that he must travel to Boston, Massachusetts, to see an aged author that he and Annie had idolized in college named Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), and take him to a baseball game. Annie is put off by this when Ray brings up yet another hairbrained scheme until he mentions the dream, claiming that she had the same one. Thus, despite the mounting likelihood of bankruptcy and losing the farm, Ray travels east. He finds an embittered Terence who wants nothing to do with Ray or the memories of the civil rights activism by which he had made a name for himself. Nonetheless, Ray manages to convince Terence to go to the game with him, and on the video scoreboard at Fenway Park, Ray receives another message. The voice says to “go the distance,” and the sign indicates Archie “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster), along with a town in Minnesota. This also brings Terence around to Ray’s side as he had seen the same thing, though he initially denies it. Yet, the person they are looking for died in 1972, which they find out when they arrive. A late night, frustrated walk by Ray takes him back to 1972, where he converses with Archie, then a physician. Archie had gotten into one Major League Baseball (MLB) game as a young player on the last game of the season, but did not get to hit. The next season he gave it up for his medical career. Believing that he can help Archie, Ray offers the old man to come with him and Terence. Archie refuses, but on their way back to Iowa they pick up a young hitchhiker also going by Archie (Frank Whaley), and they return to the farm. Archie joins the rest of the old-time players on the field, and the Kinsellas and Terence watch enraptured. This is when Annie’s brother, Mark (Timothy Busfield), the main force behind trying to get Ray to reconsider this mad scheme, intervenes. An argument breaks out, particularly when Karin innocently suggests they sell tickets for people to come and watch the players on the field that Mark cannot see. In the scuffle, she gets knocked to the ground. The players stop what they are doing when Karin is unresponsive, and Archie emerges from the pack. When he steps off the playing surface, he turns back into the older version. It means that he cannot go back to the game, but he is able to save Karin’s life. After this happens, a stunned Mark turns to see the baseball players, and begs Mark to keep the field. This also comes on the heels of an impassioned speech by Terence about the value of baseball, for which he is rewarded a place in the corn with the players. In the aftermath of all this, as the day is winding down, John emerges from the corn, finally gets to meet Ray’s family, and they play catch on the field. We zoom out with cars coming down the road to see the field.
The main reason for why Ray is so fixated on the voice in Field of Dreams is because he does not want to turn out like his father. Ray feels that John never amounted to anything, and he is worried that his life is headed in the same direction. While most people think it is a sign of lunacy to be hearing voices, as do the people in Ray’s town, the Bible will tell you otherwise. The film never comes out and definitively says that the words Ray receives are from God. In fact, when “Shoeless Joe” Jackson asks Ray if this is Heaven, Ray politely says no, that it is Iowa. There are some of you out there who will read this and think, oh no, I hope Heaven is not Iowa. To that I would say to travel to that fine state late in the summer, rent a car, and travel down the backroads when the corn is high. It might not be God’s actual dwelling, but it is pretty heavenly. It is also not the point. Christian history is full of people obeying the kinds of promptings Ray receives, and it leading to some glorious outcomes. Read the lives of the saints, and you will see what I mean. What I would like to focus on more is the mode of communication. Sometimes, God really does whisper to us in words as clear as those that come to Ray’s ears in the field. Others come in the form of a sign that only has meaning for us. God will always make his intentions known, either way. Another aspect of this is our impatience with the way God speaks to us. Ray has his family’s failing fortunes to consider, and the lack of clear directions make it difficult for him to continue. I have heard many complain how they wish God would come out and just spell it out for us in unmistakable language. If God did this, there would be no need for Faith. In this sense, the film is an excellent example of the rewards of keeping the Faith. God has something glorious in mind for all of us, and by trusting in Him, through the bad and the good, we will get our just desserts either in this life or the next.
I am happy that I finally watched Field of Dreams. If you are among the few who also have not seen it, particularly if you are a baseball fan, then I would recommend it. It works even if you do not enjoy the sport, but an interest in it makes it almost a magical experience. It brings alive Terence’s speech at the end about the importance of baseball. In any case, it is worth seeing.