One of my all-time favorite movies is not an action movie, a science fiction movie, a comic book blockbuster, or a fantasy film. It’s a baseball movie. Or is it?
Is it a movie about Berkeley, Iowa, Fenway Park, or America? It’s all of them, and more.
For every man who has unresolved issues with his father, this is the movie to watch. I dare you to make it to the ending without needing Kleenex.
Uniqueness of Field of Dreams
What other movie has these?
- Four, count ’em, four crescendoes!
- Ray Liotta in one of his earliest film performances, including swearing? (OK, he does that in lots of his subsequent movies.)
- Burt Lancaster as Doc Archibald “Moonlight” Graham in his final film performance at 74.
- James Earl Jones delivering show-stopping speeches as Terence Mann with his Darth Vader voice.
Ray, people will come Ray. They’ll come to Iowa for reasons they can’t even fathom. They’ll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they’re doing it. They’ll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won’t mind if you look around, you’ll say. It’s only $20 per person. They’ll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack.
And they’ll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They’ll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they’ll watch the game and it’ll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they’ll have to brush them away from their faces… People will come Ray.
The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will come Ray. People will most definitely come. –Terrence Mann
And that’s just one of the crescendos!
Based on W.P. Kinsella’s 1982 novel “Shoeless Joe,” the original 1989 film stars Kevin Costner as Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella, who builds a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield, summoning the ghosts of the sport’s past.
Synopsis of Field of Dreams
Thirty-six-year-old Berkeley alum Ray Kinsella (Costner) and his wife (Amy Madigan) are Iowa corn farmers behind on their mortgage when Ray hears “The Voice” in his cornfield:
If you build it, he will come.
He hears it more than once, but no one else does. He plows up his field and puts in a baseball diamond. He goes to Boston to find Terence Mann (think J.D. Salinger), a former writer and activist who inspired him in his youth, to get answers, but Mann is now a recluse and wants nothing to do with Ray and his plan. Nevertheless, Ray convinces him to accompany him to a baseball game at Fenway Park, where Ray hears “The Voice” say
“Go the distance”
and they both see a reference to Archibald “Moonlight” Graham on the scoreboard.
As they drive to Graham’s hometown, Ray shares with Terence that he and his father used to love to “have a catch” when he was a boy, but when he became seventeen, he told his father, John Kinsella, that his father’s hero Shoeless Joe Jackson was a criminal. Why did he say that?
I was seventeen… And he died before I could take it back.
When they arrive in Graham’s hometown in Minnesota they discover they’re too late; “Doc” Graham had died years ago. But he was a wonderful, loving physician. That night, as Ray goes for a walk, he passes through time as he sees a “Re-elect Nixon” sign, and comes upon Doc walking in the moonlight. He learns that Doc loved baseball, and his dream was to stare down a major league pitcher and get a hit, but he missed the opportunity.
It was like coming this close to your dreams, and then watching it rush past you like a stranger in a crowd.
But he had no regrets, despite Ray’s pleading with him to come with him, saying that it would be a tragedy not to take another chance at bat at his baseball field.
Son, If I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes, now that would have been a tragedy.
As Ray and Terence are driving home together to Iowa, they pick up a teenage hitchhiker looking for a farm team to play in. His name is Archie Graham. (More time travel.) They know they’re on to something.
They get home to the Iowa farm baseball diamond, and the ghosts of the Chicago Black Sox are playing there. They’d been banned from the game for the accusation of throwing the 1919 World Series. Where did they come from? The cornfield.
And that’s when the dreams begin to come true…
Field of Dreams: 1st Dream
As Ray is being threatened with foreclosure of his farm, Terence Mann delivers the speech mentioned above. You get choked up hearing it. Baseball is America, America is baseball… and people will come to visit his farm.
Terence Mann is invited to go out with the Team. Where? The cornfield. He gets his dream.
Field of Dreams: 2nd Dream
The young Archie Graham gets up to bat at the baseball field with a major league pitcher. He winks at the pitcher and, in return, gets a ball aimed at his ear.
But an emergency arises when Ray’s daughter falls off the bleacher and is choking to death on a hotdog she was eating. Archie makes the fateful decision to walk off the diamond to attend to her, and he is transformed into the older “Doc” Graham to save the girl.
Thank you, Doc
But Doc Graham says,
No, thank you.
He could no longer go back, but as he walks into the cornfield, Shoeless Joe calls after him
Hey rookie… you were good.
Field of Dreams: 3rd Dream
As Shoeless Joe leaves the field at dusk, he turns to Ray and says what the farmer had heard before in the cornfield, but with a particular emphasis
If you build it, HE will come.
Ray looks over to see a young catcher removing his mask and says to his wife in stunned recognition repeating something else “The Voice” had told him
It’s my father, “Ease his pain.”
His wife replies
“Go the distance.”
Ray responds, in reference to his father
“It was YOU?“
Shoeless Joe corrects Ray
“No, Ray… it was YOU.”
… as Joe disappears into the cornfield.
Ray tells his wife as his father walks toward him
“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 replies
“Why don’t you introduce him to his granddaughter.”
As John Kinsella introduces himself, Ray says to his daughter Karen
“Karen, this is my… this is John.”
His wife excuses herself to let the two men talk because
“If all these people are going to come, we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
John Kinsella says to Ray
“It’s so beautiful here, for me… it’s like a dream come true. Can I ask you something… is this heaven?”
Ray: It’s Iowa.
John: Iowa? I could have sworn it was heaven.
Ray: Is there a heaven?
John: Oh yeah, it’s the place dreams come true.
( sorry, Disneyland )
Ray looks around, sees his wife playing with their daughter on the porch, and replies
“Well, maybe this is heaven.”
As night begins to fall, John says reluctantly
“Well, good night Ray.”
Ray: Good night, John.
[They shake hands, and John begins to walk away]
And just when you think that Ray will miss his opportunity, he calls out…
[and John recognizing his name, turns]
Ray, choked up, asks
“You wanna have a catch?”
John: I’d like that.
Night falls as Ray picks up a ball and glove, and the music swells… but it’s not over yet!
Ray smiles as he throws the ball to his Dad, and as his wife turns on the overhead field lights, the camera pulls back from the two men on the field, and you see…
Field of Dreams: 4th Dream
… miles of car headlights stretch into the distance, coming to Ray’s “Field of Dreams,” which he’ll now be able to keep. The last crescendo.
The Music for Field of Dreams
A good movie is made a great movie by its score. James Horner was reluctant to do the music for this film. However, after watching a rough cut, and was so moved that he accepted the job of scoring the film. And it’s spectacular. You know Horner from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man: No Way Home, The Legend of Zorro, A Beautiful Mind, Apollo 13, Braveheart, Avatar, and the upcoming Avatar: The Way of Water.
There were other songs in the soundtrack that would have been meaningful to Ray from the period between the ’60s and ’80s.
- The Doobie Brothers, who I’ve seen many times, were popular when Ray and his wife were at Berkeley, and their hit China Grove was featured.
- Willie Nelson’s Crazy is performed by Beverly D’Angelo.
- John Sebastian‘s Daydream is sung by The Lovin’ Spoonful.
- The Allman Brothers Band do Jessica.
- Duke Ellington performs Lotus Blossom.
Kevin Costner has made three baseball movies. He had just come off doing the 1988 film Bull Durham, about a major league player sent down to the minor league Durham Bulls. Following Field of Dreams, Costner made one more baseball film, the 1999 movie For Love of the Game, where the actor is proud of saying to Conan O’Brien that he pitched a “perfect game.” But the multiple Academy Award-winning Dances with Wolves, which he also directed, made him a breakaway star.
If the 1984 Robert Redford film The Natural was mythic (think “The Odyssey”), then Field of Dreams was epic.
Why Field of Dreams?
Thirty-four years ago I was invited to go see the movie by my golf coach. He had already seen it and tried to explain why a baseball movie was magical and special, but I didn’t get it… until I saw it.
There’s something special about baseball: when I was about 11, I played Pop Warner baseball. I was never very good at it, but my father would come to watch me play sometimes.
How popular is Field of Dreams?
In 2017, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Good enough to be picked up as a TV show. Lisa Katz, the president of NBCUniversal Television and Streaming, said in a statement provided to People magazine,
“Through the years, ‘Field of Dreams’ has remained a fan favorite, maintaining its rightful position in the zeitgeist. It’s whimsical and grounded, a space where Mike Schur excels, and we’re looking forward to bringing a new version of this classic to Peacock TV.”
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry at the end of Field of Dreams
Kevin Costner says it’s our generation’s It’s A Wonderful Life. Every man cries during this movie; you will too. Go watch the movie. You need it; it will be good for you. Watch it for Father’s Day.
You’ll like it if: you like baseball, a well-written story, a bit of time travel, and you’re not afraid to cry.
You won’t like it if: you think there’s no crying in baseball, and you have a cold heart.
P.S. Here’s a modern-day bonus for you.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian