Thursday, April 5, 2012

Baseball Week Countdown: #2 - Field of Dreams

Perhaps the most intriguing thing about baseball, and the strength of the sport's ability to translate so easily at times to the silver screen, is the mystique surrounding the game.  Baseball is America's Pastime, no matter what those football fanatics say, and it has been around longer than any other major sport in this country.  And that rich history breeds legend, controversy, and heroics that have shaped the way we see the game these days.  There is probably no surprise with these final two entries into the countdown, but there shouldn't be any surprise.  These films share something many others don't; fantasy.  There are fantastic elements at work which accelerate the power of the dramatic elements, and make them memorable above and beyond any type of straight baseball drama.  They are magical, and no baseball film is more magical than the film we look at here.

#2 - Field of Dreams

"If you build it, he will come."

This legendary line, spoken by a disembodied spirit in an Iowa cornfield, is one of the most iconic lines in all of cinema.  And it is spoken to one Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner, who else?), an Iowa farmer and family man who hears the mystical whisper one evening in his cornfield.  Build what?  He doesn't know at first, but soon discovers, through a vision, that the voice wants him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his crops.  The scenario is surely crazy, yet Ray never feels anything but compelled to follow through with the request.  He destroys a large area of his cash crops, despite already being badly in debt, and builds a pristine baseball field.  And then he sits, and he waits for an answer.

Ray's wife, Annie (Amy Madigan), is a loving companion who supports her husband up to a point.  She fervently defends Ray in the face of the townsfolk who are certain he has gone mad.  But when their house and their livelihood is threatened, the stress of Ray's decision begins to put a strain their life.  And then, one evening at dusk, their young daughter Karin informs them that there is a man standing on the baseball field.  It is "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, one of the infamous eight players of the Chicago White Sox (The Black Sox), charged with throwing the 1919 World Series.  Jackson, played here by Ray Liotta, arrives and speaks to Ray and asks if he could bring some friends along to play.  Even typing this sends a chill up my spine.

So Jackson brings along other deceased members of the Black Sox, and they scrimmage on the magical field.  Ray is certain the voice is content, but then hears the voice say one evening "Ease his pain."  The voice is not done with Ray, and the latest command sends him on a cross-country trek to meet Terry Mann, a journalist who has in recent years closed himself off from the world.  All of these commands, the journey of Ray and Terry Mann, played by James Earl Jones, are Ray's attempts to answer the voices, but Field of Dreams is not about appeasing these men.

Field of Dreams is about fathers and sons, and when the true answer to the voice arrives, Ray's dead father, it is clear the voice is giving Ray another chance to reconcile his estranged relationship.  If ever there was a tearjerker made for men and their pent-up emotions, this is the film that has made grown men cry more than any other.  The logic here is not important, the message is.  Field of Dreams is about hope and family and love, and baseball sits firmly at the heart of the picture.  It is magic realism at its highest power, and told with such conviction by the players involved that any sort of logic goes out the window.  Emotions take over.