Why I should have seen it already:
It’s a kind of movie they don’t make anymore. Also, I’ve seen enough parodies of “The Voice” scene that I should probably know what it’s parodying.
Now that I have:
The movie starts out with Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) narrating his entire life up to the current point. With his mom dying very early in Ray’s life his dad had to raise him on his own. His dad was super old already so they didn’t have much in common. Ray was also bothered that his dad always pronounced “Pokemon” as “Pokey Man”. So Ray went to college (Berkeley!) across the country after a big fight. Ray gets married to his college sweetheart, has a daughter, buys a farm, and he goes to his dad’s funeral.
BUT THEN he starts hearing ghosts in his corn field. “If you build it, he will come.” Through the miracle of scripts-that-need-to-be-finished Ray knows exactly what that means. If he builds a baseball field on his farm, Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) will come over and play baseball with him!
Ray explains to his family that Shoeless Joe is a baseball player and not a train hobo. Shoeless Joe was accused of being paid to lose games on purpose and banned from baseball for the rest of his life. Being his Dad’s hero, Ray sees returning Shoeless Joe to his former glory as a way of making it up to him. Also, by former glory he means “Shackle his spirit to my backyard and watch him play baseball for eternity.”
Well, “If you build it, he will come.” is a little misleading. It implies Ray has a choice in the manner. Really, it should be saying “BUILD IT.” The Voice torments Ray with sleepless nights and makes him look crazy in front of his neighbors until he agrees to make the field.
Anyway, Ray’s wife Annie (Amy Madigan) agrees that Ray should look crazy and helps him with his task. Even his daughter helps him build his financially problematic baseball field in order to see ghosts. Ray is a bad dad.
The baseball field sorta works like a roach motel for the ghosts of forgotten baseball players. They wander in, all bright eyed and curious, then SNAP! They’re trapped! The players are forced to return to the field everyday so Ray and his daughter can watch baseball games for free while Annie… I dunno… she cleans the house or something. THIS IS NOT ABOUT HER IT’S ABOUT MAKING RAY’S DREAMS COME TRUE.
Eventually, The Voice makes Ray go on a road trip with Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) and travel through time to talk with a dead doctor (Burt Lancaster). The dead doctor played one inning of one game in the Major League before having to quit. So he became a doctor and basically took care of every kid in town for free. Which sucks! (I guess?) Either way, what he needs is a prescription of more baseball.
Back at home, Ray’s family is about to become homeless because the baseball field makes it hard to grow enough crop to keep the land. Darth Vader tells them not to worry. He predicts people will come visit the farm and pay Ray twenty bucks a person for no reason at all
Then he looks into the camera, giggles, and runs into the corn field never to be seen again.
Ray realizes one of the baseball player ghosts is his dad. “If you build it, HE will come.” Ooooooooooh… I get it!
Ray has chained his dad’s spirit to his baseball field trap. The Voice was the devil. The end.
At its best, Field of Dreams is an overly romantic look at the past and a slightly ham-fisted way of showing that missing out on one dream leaves room for others. Take the dead doctor for instance. He missed his chance of playing in the Major Leagues, but then he became the well loved and respected doctor who really made a difference in his town. The movie takes the time to point out we shouldn’t feel sad he didn’t get to play baseball. When his younger self shows up as a ghost to play on Ray’s field he finally gets to live his dream. But the second Ray’s daughter gets hurt he runs off the field, becoming his older self permanently and does the doctor thing to save her. For a movie about how magical and American a sport based off Cricket is, it’s a strangely powerful scene.
At its worst, Field of Dreams doesn’t really know what it’s doing. At one point its about not wanting to become your father. At another point its a life changing road trip film. Then its about getting back what made America great (sport betting scandals!). It feels like multiple incomplete scripts were stapled together. Also, for a movie about baseball it has surprisingly little baseball in it. The characters seem more interested in the aesthetics of the game (hats, hot dogs, doing the Wave) than they are with the actual game.
I like Costner as an actor. He’s really good at being totally unassuming, which is by no means a stab. The way he reacts and talks on film doesn’t feel Hollywood and by proxy: fake. He’s a normal dude. But “normal dude” can be a little boring. That’s why it’s such a revelation when James Earl Jones shows up. The dude has presence! It gives the movie a second life.
Field of Dreams‘ opening narration was unneeded for the film. Everything that’s covered in this introduction is also touched upon during the movie. It’s like we weren’t trusted understand that Costner and his wife used to be hippies from merely their use of the word “righteous” and constant talk about the 60′s. It wasn’t that subtle, guys.
I do like that it’s a counter culture family who is given this magical “All-American” task of taking care of the spirit of baseball. It would have been cooler if they were more hippie and less Iowa-y though. Speaking of which… why they bought a farm in the first place is never explained. They were radical, pot-smoking, English majors from Berkeley. WHY DID THEY BUY A FARM IN IOWA?
While watching Field of Dreams, how unfair Ray was to his Annie was always in the back of my mind. The movie loves Ray and wants him to live out a great adventure and make up for past mistakes with his dad. Annie on the other hand has to deal with the terrible finances and never gets anything out of the sacrifices she makes for her husband. Also, at the end of the film, she’s basically doomed to the fate of running a stupid tourist trap in Iowa. Earlier in Field of Dreams we see her during a PTA meeting full of passion and a sense of right. She could have done SO much more than carry her husband to all his goals.
In the end, Field of Dreams ain’t a bad flick. There are moments where it gets close to what it actually thinks it is, but the film never makes physical contact with the ideal. There are better movies about baseball and lost chances out there.
And they are all called Rookie of the Year.