Filmsite Movie 

Field of Dreams (1989)
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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, after hearing a strange voice on his mid-Iowa farm (the oft-quoted: "If you build it, he will come") and inexplicably plowing down his corn-field to build a baseball diamond, Ray met with three sad and wistful icons or mythic figures, including (1) the ghost of ball-player Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) who was banned from baseball for life after the 1919 so-called 'Black Sox Scandal', (2) disillusioned, misanthropic, and reclusive African-American writer Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), resembling J.D. Salinger, in Boston, and (3) small-town doctor Doc "Moonlight" Graham (Burt Lancaster) in Minnesota - a rookie player who years earlier yearned to make it into the major leagues. The film reached its climax with Mann's famous monologue on the place of baseball in American history.

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 film was both nostalgic for earlier, more idyllic times, and 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 sports themes included Bang the Drum Slowly (1973), and the similar uplifting and symbolic sports-fantasy The Natural (1984), starring Robert Redford as slugger Roy Hobbs - in another story of redemption and second chances.

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: Plans are in the works for a MLB game to be played at Dyersville on August 13, 2020 between the NY Yankees and the Chicago White Sox, on a newly-constructed temporary ball-park (with 8,000 seats) next to the original 'field of dreams'.]

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 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 - to 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 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 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.]

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."

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