Filmsite Movie 

Review
Field of Dreams (1989)
Pages: (1) (2) (3)
Background

Field of Dreams (1989) is a modern fairy tale celebration of the love of baseball, adapted by screenwriter/director Phil Alden Robinson from Canadian William P. Kinsella's 1982 novel Shoeless Joe.

[Note: Author Kinsella purposely used his own last name as the central character's name. Also, it was an oblique reference to Richard Kinsella - an Oral Expression classmate of confused teen Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger's controversial and sole novel The Catcher In the Rye, published in 1951. There were purposeful parallels drawn in the film between Salinger and the film's author-writer Terence Mann.]

Just one year after playing catcher "Crash" Davis in Bull Durham (1988), Kevin Costner appeared in this second sports film - another baseball-themed pro-Americana film coupled with the religious themes of faith and redemption. The fantasy classic told about how baseball was a metaphor for following one's dreams, providing a second redemptive chance at life and love, and a way to restore memories and reestablish family connections and generational relationships (especially between father and son). This sentimental, idealistic sports-fantasy classic became a smash hit in its unique depiction.

Its tagline described the film's plot:

All his life, Ray Kinsella was searching for his dreams. Then one day, his dreams came looking for him.

In the year 1988, struggling Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) was living with his wife Annie (Amy Madigan) and young daughter Karin (Gaby Hoffman). After hearing a strange voice on his mid-Iowa farm (the oft-quoted: "If you build it, he will come"), Ray inexplicably plowed down his corn-field to build a baseball diamond, and was viewed as crazy by everyone but his family. Annie's disbelieving brother Mark (Timothy Busfield) threatened to foreclose on the Kinsella farm.

Ray ultimately met with three sad and wistful icons or mythic figures, including:

  1. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), the ghost of a legendary ball-player who was banned from baseball for life (with seven other team players) after the 1919 so-called 'Black Sox Scandal'
  2. Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), a disillusioned, misanthropic, radical and reclusive African-American writer living in Boston, who resembled J.D. Salinger, and had written in the 1960s about the 'glory days' of baseball
  3. Doc Archibald "Moonlight" Graham (Burt Lancaster), another ghostly figure - a beloved small-town doctor who had lived in Minnesota - a rookie player who had yearned to make it into the major leagues; he had played in only one game for the NY Giants in 1905, but never came to bat

The film reached its climax with Mann's famous monologue on the place of baseball in American history, and the mythical "magic" of the field (of dreams) and its baseball diamond that would bring thousands to the place. Ray was also able to reconcile himself (by playing catch) with the ghost of his long-dead estranged father John Kinsella (Dwier Brown), another ball player (semi-professional).

The dreamlike sports film was nominated for three Academy Awards Oscars - Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay (Phil Alden Robinson), and Best Musical Score (a haunting and mystical score by James Horner). It was unusual for a Best Picture nominee to lack any actor/actress nominations. The inspiring, tearjerking story with a unique depiction of Americana, was an unexpected success and smash hit, and an uplifting fairy tale that celebrated the love of the game of baseball. At the box-office, it grossed $64.4 million (domestic) and $84.4 million (worldwide) after a long theatrical run.

This more traditional yet allegorical baseball film was inspirational and optimistic about returning to life to play once again. The life-affirming film was both nostalgic for earlier, more idyllic and less cynical times, and the never-ending and timeless appeal of baseball. It was also a celebration of life in the 1980s (following the Reagan Presidency), after so much hardship in the decades that had come before (marred by the Watergate affair, the many assassinations in the 1960s, and the drawn-out Vietnam War).

Earlier films with baseball-related sports themes included:

  • It Happened in Flatbush (1942), director Ray McCarey's romantic comedy was about a "Brooklyn team" (unspecified - but undoubtedly the Brooklyn Dodgers) and one of its washed-up ex-baseball players Frank "Butterfingers" Maguire (Lloyd Nolan) who returned to the field to manage his team, seven years after a catastrophic short-stop play that cost the World Series; he found himself personally clashing with the new pretty owner Kathryn Baker (now dark-haired Carole Landis) who was ignorant about the game
  • The Pride of the Yankees (1942), director Sam Wood's exceptional, classic biopic sports drama was about the life and career of NY Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig (Gary Cooper), from his playground days to Yankee stardom in the 1920s and 30s; at the height of his career, he was afflicted by a crippling, lethal and incurable muscle disease - ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (now bearing his name "Lou Gehrig's Disease") and eventually died; the film chronicled the struggles of his immigrant parents, his early life, his romantic courtship and marriage to Eleanor (Teresa Wright), his career and his courageous fight against the disease, and of course, his farewell address at Yankee Stadium: "...People all say that I've had a bad break. But today - today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth"
  • It Happens Every Spring (1949), director Lloyd Bacon's sci-fi (or fantasy) sports comedy told about shy chemistry Prof. Vernon K. Simpson (Ray Milland) who moonlighted undercover as St. Louis Cardinal ball player King Kelly; after his discovery of a formula for an unknown liquid substance that repelled wood, he used his 'talent' to become an unhittable pitcher with a ball that hopped across the plate, avoided wooden bats, and baffled hitters
  • The Stratton Story (1949), director Sam Wood's popular biographical drama was based upon the true story of 1930s major league Chicago White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton (Jimmy Stewart), a Texas farm boy whose sports career was cut short when a 1938 hunting accident led to the amputation of his right leg; with the support of his loving wife Ethel (June Allyson) and a wooden leg, he was able to return to minor league baseball in the mid-1940s with the Southern All-Stars
  • Angels in the Outfield (1951), director Clarence Brown's derivative fantasy sports comedy-drama told about how Aloysius X. "Guffy" McGovern (Paul Douglas), the brash and loud-mouthed manager of the hapless Pittsburgh Pirates, was confronted in Forbes Field one night by the voice of the Archangel Gabriel (James Whitmore), a representative of a celestial ballclub known as the Heavenly Choir Nine; in exchange for winning ballgames with helpful but invisible angelic player-ghosts, the belligerent Guffy was required to become a changed man and cut back on his swearing and fighting; it was revealed that orphaned girl Bridget White (Donna Corcoran) had prayed for the winning miracles, and the story broke nationwide by news-columnist Jennifer Page (Janet Leigh); the film was remade and modernized by Disney in 1994
  • Rhubarb (1951), a family screwball comedy with the subtitle "The Millionaire Tom-Cat" - starring Ray Milland and Jan Sterling; it was about a feral but loveable cat named Rhubarb who inherited a pro-baseball team - the Brooklyn Loons
  • The Winning Team (1952), Warner Bros' fanciful story of the big-league "Alex the Great" - a farmer-turned-pitcher named Grover Cleveland Alexander (Ronald Reagan), who pitched for the Philadelphia Nationals (Phillies), the Chicago Cubs, and the St. Louis Cardinals; his struggles with health issues, WWI-induced PTSD, alcoholism and epilepsy sidetracked his athletic career, but he was able to overcome with the support of his loyal and dedicated wife Aimee Arrants Alexander (Doris Day)
  • Roogie's Bump (1954), Republic Pictures' tale about a "miracle kid" named Remington "Roogie" Rigsby (Robert Marriott); "Roogie" developed an unusual bump above the elbow of his pitching arm, enabling him to pitch a "Super Zoom" ball and become a Major League pitcher; the film featured players from the Brooklyn Dodgers (including Roy Campanella) who played at Ebbets Field
  • Fear Strikes Out (1957), Paramount Pictures' and director Robert Mulligan's biographical drama (his debut feature film) was about a real-life major league Boston Red Sox baseball player-center-fielder named Jimmy Piersall (Anthony Perkins) who battled mental illness (schizophrenia) and institutionalization (in the early 1950s), due in part to the pressures brought upon him by his hard-driving and domineering father John (Karl Malden); the film was based on Piersall's 1955 autobiography co-written with sports journalist Al Hirshberg
  • Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), Paramount Pictures' moving and melancholic sports drama featured the tagline: "Nothing is more important than friendship. Not fame, not money, not death"; it told about a dim-witted, big-hearted catcher named Bruce Pearson (Robert De Niro) who was diagnosed with a terminal illness - Hodgkin's Disease; his best friend and roommate Henry Wiggen (Michael Moriarty) (aka Author), a star pitcher for the fictitious NY Mammoths, helped Bruce to make it through his final season of play
  • The Natural (1984), director Barry Levinson's uplifting, allegorical and mythical fantasy film about baseball (and redemption and second chances) was based on Bernard Malamud's 1952 story; Robert Redford starred as slugger Roy Hobbs - a "naturally"-gifted baseball-playing prodigy whose life and sports career were sidetracked when he was shot by a mysterious, disturbed woman; 16 years later, he made a miraculous comeback and led his New York Knights team to the World Series; the film concluded with the fulfillment of Roy's heroic quest - and his reunion with a pure "lady in the white dress" who had repeatedly inspired him and watched him from the stands; she was his childhood sweetheart and naive ex-girlfriend Iris Gaines (Glenn Close), with whom he had unknowingly produced an out-of-wedlock child
  • Bull Durham (1988), first-time director Ron Shelton's humorous and intelligent romantic sports comedy-drama was about a mediocre Carolina minor leagues baseball team - the Durham Bulls; it was the quintessential modern sports film about America's greatest game, starring three very complex characters involved in a love triangle and mentoring relationship - the film's plot integrally wove together minor-league baseball and sex during one long and hot summer season of ball-playing in 1987
  • Eight Men Out (1988), co-writer/director John Sayles historical drama, based on Eliot Asinof's 1963 best seller, was about the infamous 1919 "Black Sox" scandalous incident during the World Series, when players on the Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to deliberately lose the pennant to their underdog opponent; some of the unhappy team players, angry at stingy team owner Charles A. Comiskey (Clifton James), were bribed by mobster Arnold Rothstein (Michael Lerner) to lose the series against the Cincinnati Reds; suspicions arose amongst Chicago sportswriters Ring Lardner (John Sayles) and Hugh Fullerton (Studs Terkel) who wrote about the possible game-fixing scheme that ultimately involved "eight men" or players; two years later after the fix was uncovered, the players including 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson (D.B. Sweeney) were suspended for life from the game by the Commissioner
  • Major League (1989), writer/director David S. Ward's formulaic sports comedy began with the inheritance of a perennially losing team - the Cleveland Indians by widowed, ex-showgirl wife Rachel Phelps (Margaret Whitton), who eagerly schemed to move the team to sunny Miami, FL - but only if the team's yearly attendance dropped significantly (below 800,000); to her surprise, the recruited misfit players on her inept and underdog team began to win games, and ultimately they joined together to prevent her from sabotaging their game-play, and found themselves in the comeback climax pitted against the rival NY Yankees in the pennant playoff game for the division title

The movie-site in Dyersville, Iowa celebrated its 30th Anniversary in mid-June of 2019 to commemorate "one of the most popular sports movies of all time." Filming lasted 14 weeks during the middle of a severe drought in the summer of 1988, on the farm of Don Lansing. In late 2011, the 200 acre Iowa farm was purchased by a Chicago investment group known as Go the Distance Baseball, for approximately $5.5 million. The restored baseball field and home annually receives about 115,000 visitors.

[Update: An MLB game was played at Dyersville on August 12, 2021 between the NY Yankees and the Chicago White Sox, on a newly-constructed temporary ball-park (with 8,000 seats) next to the original ball diamond or 'field of dreams'. The White Sox won the game 9-8. It was proposed that the 'Field of Dreams' game would become an annual event.]

The Story

Opening Introductory Voice-Over:

After the title credits (white letters on a black background), the opening narration (voice-over) described a strained father-son relationship between baseball-loving John Kinsella (Dwier Brown) and his son Ray, with additional background family information - accompanied by a montage of sepia-toned photographs, historical baseball footage, a Chicago Dailty Tribune newspaper headline, and other images taken to illustrate the decades:

My father's name was John Kinsella. It's an Irish name. He was born in North Dakota in 1896 and never saw a big city until he came back from France in 1918. He settled in Chicago, where he quickly learned to live and die with the White Sox. Died a little when they lost the 1919 World Series, died a lot the following summer when eight members of the team were accused of throwing that Series. He played in the minors for a year or two, but nothing ever came of it. Moved to Brooklyn in '35, married Mom in '38, was already an old man working at the naval yards when I was born in 1952.

My name's Ray Kinsella. Mom died when I was three, and I suppose Dad did the best he could. Instead of Mother Goose, I was put to bed at night to stories of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the great Shoeless Joe Jackson. Dad was a Yankees fan then, so, of course, I rooted for Brooklyn. But in '58, the Dodgers moved away, so we had to find other things to fight about. We did. And when it came time to go to college, I picked the farthest one from home I could find. This, of course, drove him right up the wall, which, I suppose, was the point.

Officially, my major was English, but really, it was the Sixties. I marched, I smoked some grass, I tried to like sitar music, and I met Annie. The only thing we had in common was that she came from Iowa, and I had once heard of Iowa. After graduation, we moved to the Midwest and stayed with her family as long as we could, almost a full afternoon. Annie and I got married in June of '74. Dad died that fall. A few years later, Karin was born. She smelled weird, but we loved her anyway. Then, Annie got the crazy idea that she could talk me into buying a farm.

I'm 36 years old, I love my family, I love baseball, and I'm about to become a farmer. But until I heard the voice, I'd never done a crazy thing in my whole life.

[Note: The internal logic of the film suggested that it was the year 1987, and Ray was 35 years old - born in 1952. He would build his 'field of dreams' (plow down part of his land) in 1987 and then wait through the winter before going on his road trip to Boston and Minnesota in 1988.]

The Mysterious Ghostly Voice:

While he was walking in the middle of his newly-purchased cornfield at dusk, mid-30s, idealistic, transplanted city boy-turned-novice Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) repeatedly heard a ghostly Voice (unconfirmed as Ed Harris, the real-life husband of Annie, Ray's wife). The whispered disembodied, mysterious voice suggested to the astonished farmer:

If you build it, he will come.

Rocking on their old farmhouse wooden porch swing, both his wife Annie (Amy Madigan) and daughter Karin (six year-old Gaby Hoffman in her film debut) were unable to hear what Ray was claiming. He hypothesized that there was a "sound truck" on the highway or nearby kids were playing a radio. Annie asked the obvious question about the cryptic message he had heard: "If you build what, who will come?" In the middle of the night after hearing the voice again, Ray rose from bed, looked out the window, and responded in the direction of his cornfield: "Build what? What is this?" - fearing that he was becoming delusional.

The next morning while eating breakfast cereal, Karin was watching the classic black-and-white Frank Capra film Harvey (1950) on television.

[Note: This Capra-esque film recalled the earlier film about a whimsical, slightly drunk middle-aged man, Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart), who believed he was befriended by a giant six-foot rabbit that no one else could see.]

Perturbed by the story's plot about an invisible rabbit, Ray clicked off the TV and told Karin: "The man is sick. Very sick." Later that morning in town at the farm and feed supply store, Ray asked one of the old-timers (James Andelin): "lt's just I've heard that sometimes farmers in the field - They hear things. You know, voices...Did you ever hear voices out there?" And then he disavowed that he was hearing things - as Willie Nelson's song "Crazy" (sung by Beverly D'Angelo) played on a nearby radio.

Later in the day while out in the cornfield, Ray again heard the voice, causing him to angrily throw aside his tools and shout back at the repeated, crazy auditory hallucination:

All right, that's it! Huh? Who the.... Who are you, huh? What do you want from me? Son of a...

For a moment, he dreamily envisioned a baseball diamond (with bleachers and floodlights) on his farm property. At the edge of the field, he also saw a uniformed baseball player standing and turning in his direction before the apparition disappeared. The camera pulled back from Ray - aghast at what he had just witnessed.

Ray's Decision to Build a Ball-Field:

During dinner that evening, Annie wondered if Ray was experiencing an "acid flashback" or "flash-forward," as the soundtrack faintly played John Sebastian's "Daydream" (sung by The Lovin' Spoonful). And then Ray hypothesized that the voice came from discredited "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), a member of the infamous 1919 Chicago White Sox baseball team that threw the World Series. And he was being instructed to build the ball-field to appease the ghosts of the disgraced Chicago 'Black Sox Scandal' players:

I think it means that if I build a baseball field out there, that Shoeless Joe Jackson will get to come back and play ball again.

Annie was truly shocked by the thought: "You're kidding," and later as they prepared Karin for bed, she again reacted: "This is the craziest thing ever." Ray agreed, since "Shoeless" Joe Jackson died in 1951, and was infamous for having been suspended from 'America's past-time' during the 1919 World Series scandal. In their bed illuminated by a full moon, Ray spoke about Joe Jackson's legacy and his semi-serious inclination to build the field:

Did you know Babe Ruth copied his swing?...He was supposed to be so graceful and agile. I'd actually like to see him play again, to let him play, to right an old wrong.

Annie was semi-supportive, but worried about their finances if he plowed down one of their cornfields: ("Are you actually thinking of doing this?"). But then Ray pondered about why he should build the field - it would fulfill the unrealized dreams of his father:

I'm 36 years old. I have a wife, a child, and a mortgage, and I'm scared to death l'm turning into my father....I never forgave him for getting old . By the time he was as old as I am now, he was ancient. I mean, he must have had dreams, but he never did anything about 'em. For all I know, he may have even heard voices, too, but he sure didn't listen to them. The man never did one spontaneous thing in all the years I knew him. Annie, I'm afraid of that happening to me, and something tells me that this may be my last chance to do something about it. I want to build that field.

Construction of the Ball Diamond:

Although Annie thought Ray was slightly "crazy," she agreed to let him proceed: "...if you really feel you should do this, then you should do it." The next day (and for days to come), neighbors gathered on the road nearby to watch as "damned fool" Ray plowed under his cornfield and constructed a baseball diamond (with bleachers and floodlights) - a self-destructive non-sensical decision. At first, on a tractor with Karin by his side, Ray spoke about Shoeless Joe's past scandalous baseball history - explaining how he didn't believe that Joe, idolized by his father, was directly involved in the 1919 World Series debacle:

(partial voice-over) Ty Cobb called him the greatest left fielder of all time. He said his glove was the place where triples go to die....Could he hit? Lifetime average .356, third highest in history...When he was still in the minors, he bought a new pair of spikes that hurt his feet. ln about the sixth inning, he took them off and played the rest of the game just in his socks. The other players kidded him, called him 'Shoeless Joe' and the name stuck....Then in 1919, his team, the Chicago White Sox, they threw the World Series....lt means they lost it on purpose. Gamblers paid them to. Except Shoeless Joe. Now, he did take their money, but nobody could ever prove that he did a single thing to lose those games. I mean, if he's supposed to be throwing it, how do you explain the fact that he hit .375 for the Series and didn't commit one error, huh?... Twelve hits, including the Series' only home run, and they said he's tryin' to lose?....The commissioner of baseball suspended eight of the players, including the great Shoeless Joe Jackson, for life....lt means they never let him play the game again. (Later that night, to Annie) My father said he saw him years later playing under a made-up name in some 10th-rate league in Carolina. He said he'd put on 50 pounds, and his spring was gone from his step, but he could still hit. (smiling) Dad used to say nobody could hit like Shoeless Joe.

[Note: In reality, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson was a right-handed, barely-literate Italian-American, not a left-hander from the rural South in Carolina. In the film, Liotta batted right-handed and threw left-handed - the opposite of "Shoeless."]

One night against a blue-black sky as he admired his finished creation, Ray spoke to Annie about taking an enormous chance with their finances: "I have just created something totally illogical....Am I completely nuts?" That night, Ray became restless and sat by his 2nd floor bedroom window looking out at the empty field - hoping for something to happen. Annie asked: "Any sign?" - Ray was needlessly optimistic: "Something's gonna happen out there. I can feel it." But for many months, through the cold winter and Christmas season, the field was snow-covered and Ray was becoming disconsolate and forlorn.

One night during the next spring, the Kinsella's living-room TV in the farmhouse was broadcasting the first exhibition game of spring training from Florida, as the announcer talked about a "southpaw" (left-handed) pitcher. Annie and Ray were struggling with their dire financial straits as they examined their accounts: "Well, considering how much less acreage we have for corn, I say we'll probably almost break even. We used up all our savings on that field, Ray....Makes it real hard to keep the farm."

Shoeless Joe Jackson's Mystical Appearance on the Field:

They were interrupted by Karin's insistence that she sighted something on the ball-field: "Daddy?... There's a man out there on your lawn." Was it the long-awaited sighting of the ghostly, dead baseball player? Left-handed 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson, wearing an old-fashioned S-O-X uniform, made the most memorable mystical appearance (or materialization) at the edge of the baseball field. Ray's wife encouraged him to go on outside, while she made coffee. The shadowy figure knelt down in the grassy ball park and touched the grass, then was amazed as Ray switched on the park's lights to illuminate him. He turned to face Ray as he strode onto the field, and they nodded to each other in acknowledgement.

Ray grabbed a bat and hit some practice fly balls to him in left-field, and then near home plate, they introduced themselves to each other. Ray asked: "I bet it's good to be playing again, huh?" Joe Jackson responded as he admired one of the bats:

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.

After selecting a bat, Joe asked to be pitched to - so he could hit some balls. One of Ray's curve-ball pitches was hit back toward the mound and struck the ball bag. After knocking out lots of pitches, Joe nostalgically remembered his love of the thrilling game:

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.

Ray's family slowly emerged onto the porch from inside. Joe criticized the glare of the floodlights in his eyes, since in his day, they didn't exist ("It makes it harder to see the ball"). After Ray reasoned: "The owners found that more people could attend night games." Joe scoffed: "Owners!" and then met Annie and Karin - but was careful not to step off the field. Karin innocently asked Joe: "Are you a ghost?" When Joe asked what she thought, she told him: "You look real to me." He turned to run off the field, but then swiveled around and asked: "Can I come back again?" Ray was encouraging: "I built this for you." Joe planned to return with seven other banned players on his White Sox team who also sorely missed the game ("It would really mean a lot to them"). Ray was inviting: "Yeah, anytime. They're all welcome here." Just before his departure, as he trotted off into the surrounding outfield, Joe asked one final crucial question:

Joe: Hey, is this heaven?
Ray (smiling): No. It's Iowa.

Then, he raced toward a surrounding cornfield and faded or disappeared into the darkness of the tall corn rows. Ray turned to Annie with confirming determination: "We're keeping this field" - and she agreed: "You bet your ass we are."


Next Page