Filmsite Movie 

Review
Field of Dreams (1989)
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Background

Field of Dreams (1989) is a fairy tale celebration of the love of baseball, adapted by screenwriter/director Phil Alden Robinson from W. P. Kinsella's novel Shoeless Joe. The film is almost dreamlike (aided by the mystical score by James Horner). Just one year after playing catcher "Crash" Davis in Bull Durham (1988), Kevin Costner appeared in this second sports film - another baseball-themed film coupled with the religious themes of faith and redemption. This sentimental, modern fantasy classic became a smash hit in its unique depiction of Americana.

The Story

Standing in the middle of a cornfield, an idealistic, transplanted city boy-turned-Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) repeatedly hears a ghostly Voice - the words of discredited "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), a member of the infamous 1919 Chicago Black Sox baseball team that threw the World Series. It tells him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his corn field, to "ease his pain":

If you build it, he will come.

He also hears other cryptic messages, such as "Go the distance." So with this idealistic and crazy vision, he builds a baseball field with bleachers and floodlights right in the middle of a cornfield. [The field exists in reality on Don Lansing's farm in Dyersville, Iowa.]

Ray's wife Annie (Amy Madigan) is semi-supportive but worried about their finances. No one but those who believe can see the ghostly ballplayers who begin to appear. [This Capra-esque film recalls Harvey (1950), a film in which its main character believes he is befriended by a giant rabbit that no one can see. (Ray's daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffmann) is watching Harvey on T.V. at one point in the film, to emphasize the connection.)] The ghosts of "Shoeless" Joe and other Sox players, disgraced in the 1919 scandal, come back from the dead, and appear for a few games with Ray - to be rehabilitated.

Joe Jackson - who had been banned from 'America's pasttime' during the 1919 Black Sox scandal, makes the most memorable mystical appearance (or materialization) in the baseball field. The sighting of the dead baseball player, idolized by Ray's father, occurs after Karin tells her father one evening: "Daddy?... There's a man out there on your lawn." Ray's wife encourages him to go on outside, while she makes coffee. The shadowy figure kneels down in the grassy ball park and touches the grass, then is amazed as Ray switches on the park's lights to illuminate him. He turns to face Ray as he strides onto the field, and nods in acknowledgement.

Ray hits some practice balls to him in the outfield, and then they introduce themselves to each other. Ray asks: "I bet it's good to be playing again, huh?" He responds: "Getting thrown out of baseball was like having part of me amputated. I've heard that old men wake up and scratch itchy legs that have been dust for over 50 years. That was me. I'd wake up at night with the smell of the ball park in my nose, with the cool of the grass on my feet, the thrill of the grass." He asks to be pitched to - so he can hit some. After knocking out lots of pitches, Joe remembers:

"Man, I did love this game. I'd have played for food money. It was the game, the sounds, the smells. Did you ever hold a ball or a glove to your face?...I used to love traveling on the trains from town to town. The hotels, brass spittoons in the lobbies, brass beds in the rooms. It was the crowd rising to their feet when the ball was hit deep. Shoot, I'd play for nothing."

He asks: "Can I come back again?" He is planning to return with seven other banned players on his team who also miss the game. Just before his departure, before trotting off toward a surrounding cornfield and disappearing, he asks: "Hey, is this heaven?" Ray smiles: "No, it's Iowa."

Ray travels to Boston to see controversial 60s writer, a disillusioned and reclusive, J.D. Salinger-like Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), to help him seek out the meaning of the voices and the purpose for the field.

Mann tells him, in a memorable speech, how baseball once reflected the best about America:

The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It's been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again. Oh people will come, Ray. People will most definitely come.

He also meets with a small town doctor, Dr. "Moonlight" Graham (Burt Lancaster in his final theatrical film role), a rookie player who years earlier yearned to make it into the major leagues, but whose pro baseball career was limited to only one inning. The ballfield becomes a place where people who have sacrificed parts of their lives for others are given a second chance.

This mystical sports film ends with the revelation that all the strange and compelling 'voices' that Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) has heard (i.e., "If you build it, he will come," "Ease his pain," and "Go the distance") are not

(1) to summon the ghost of "Shoeless" Joe Jackson and fellow banned Chicago White Sox ballplayers,
(2) to renew the spirit of disillusioned author Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), or
(3) to give Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham (Burt Lancaster) a chance to play in the majors

Instead, the voices are actually Ray's own internalized desire (Ray: "It was you" Joe: "No, Ray. It was you") to allow his estranged ghostly father John Kinsella (Dwier Brown) to appear for reconciliation. He reacts with great surprise.

Oh, my God...It's my father... ('Ease his pain.' 'Go the distance.')... My God. I-I only saw him years later when he was worn down by life. Look at him. He's got his whole life in front of him, and I'm not even a glint in his eye. What do I say to him?

His wife Annie suggests that John meet his granddaughter Karin. When father and son speak alone, John says: "For me, it's like a dream come true. Can I ask you something? Is-is this heaven?" Ray responds, typically: "It's Iowa." John replies: "I could have sworn it was heaven...It's the place dreams come true." Ray ponders: "Maybe this is heaven." And then, slightly choked up, he requests: "Hey Dad? You want to have a catch." The two enjoy a game of catch between father and son one more time as the sun sets.

The film ends with a stream of cars (and headlights) approaching the ballfield in the middle of the Iowa cornfield, signaling that Ray isn't going to lose his farm after all.