I don’t do enough sports movies on the blog here, not because of the lack of quality films, but rather my ambivalence towards the common tropes and thematic elements common in a lot of sports movies. To be fair, how many times can one watch a story about some down on their luck school going up against the big collegiate sports team and make it to the finals as the underdog? Or perhaps you want a veteran sports player trying to compete one last time to go out on a high note? Maybe something in tune of a ragtag group of misfits (young or old) seemingly putting aside their differences and coming together to work as a team? A lot of sports movies all follow this particular arch, but don’t really develop into something more than the underdog story or redemption film. On the rare occasion you get a film that captures the essence of the sport at the most base level. It isn’t about winning or losing, but the effect that the game has on the people who experience. Sports have a certain way to bring about the bonding experience, either socially or on a personal level.
I remember my time playing little league and some competitive teen baseball games. I was never really one for the athletics, probably explaining my “meh” attitude towards sports involvement, but I understood the nature and meaning behind taking part in sports. One is that I experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, something that kids these days won’t experience since we don’t want kids to have hurt feelings. The other memories is with playing catch with my dad, the almost Norman Rockwellian past time of America and bonding experience. Every child at one point or another has played catch with their dad, an experience that is cemented in your mind as it conjures up summer days in the backyard throwing a ball around. A simple act of throwing and catching a ball has a profound effect, enough to illicit a strong emotional connection towards a game that is apart of our lives as it is apart of everyone’s pastime. This long intro now leads me into the reason for today’s pick, Field of Dreams.
“If you build it, he will come.” That’s the ethereal message that inspires Iowa farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) to construct a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield. At first, “he” seems to be the ghost of disgraced ballplayer Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), who materializes on the ballfield and plays a few games with the awestruck Ray. But as the weeks go by, Ray receives several other messages from a disembodied voice, one of which is “Ease his pain.” He realizes that his ballfield has been divinely ordained to give a second chance to people who have sacrificed certain valuable aspects of their lives. One of these folks is Salingeresque writer Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), whom Ray kidnaps and takes to a ball game and then to his farm. Another is Doc Graham (Burt Lancaster), a beloved general practitioner who gave up a burgeoning baseball career in favor of medicine. The final “second-chancer” turns out to be much closer to Ray. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi
If I were to rank sports films, Field of Dreams would be number one. There is no doubt in my mind that this is what sports is about. It isn’t the focus on the athletes since we essentially understand what they are out there doing. They play because they love the game or they love the money of the game. But we rarely get to see the effect that games have on the people that experience them from the stands or the connection that we ties to the memories of the game. If you have never seen the film, stop reading and go watch it right now, cause I will spoil a few things here in the review.
At the heart of the film, baseball is the thing that ties all our lives together. The creation of the ball diamond is the catalyst to explore several different themes in the film, from the Kinsella family believing in the message and understanding to the supporting characters of Lancaster and Jones, representing the ties to the past and meaning that baseball had to them in their youth. The answer always comes back to baseball, the metaphorical glove that catches all the memories we have about life and youth.
The field itself is an enigma, as much like the Kinsellas, we take it on faith as to what is happening. It’s magical in a way that those who love the game will sit in the bleachers and just watch at the perfectly manicured lawn and fill in the field with memories of games they watched or played. It is a simple diamond, one without all the advertisements and sparkly things that owners think make a good ballpark. It is a statement about baseball, where those who love the game will just go to a field and play. There is no need for the crowds, the lights, and scoreboard, just the need for a field that lets them play. If there is a field, people will come to play. They will come to experience the game, either reliving their glory days or cementing new ones. That is the power of the game, one that you can respect.
This has been one of my dad’s favorite films for about as long as I can remember. Reading the novel by W.P. Kinsella called Shoeless Joe and even taking the family to the actual field of dreams lot in Dyersville, IA, this isn’t just a baseball movie. For me, Field of Dreams transcends the typical sports movie and makes a point to connect the game to life. I will remember the time I spent playing baseball with my dad, playing catch in the yard and going to games with him. It is what his father did with him and the experience continues with me and my future hellions.
Field of Dreams is just shy of being a perfect film. From a story telling stance it is just magical. The beautiful story of a man’s connection to the game to the final closing moments of the film all reach a certain crescendo of emotional heights. I can’t help but be captivated by the story, images and meanings all within the film. Every guy will tell you how much like Field of Dreams, some will deny crying at the closing moments of the film, but they are all liars. The final lines of film manages to resonate deep within my memories and heart, creating that debilitating cascade of tears that is the payoff for the film.
It’s poignant, heartfelt, meaningful, and above all else, a true sports film. Field of Dreams will turn every guy with a childhood memory of playing catch with their dad or playing ball into a tearful child. There is no helping it so don’t fight it. But the film also makes a statement about baseball that makes you appreciate the game even more and while I would tell you what that is, James Earl Jones makes a better orator for the message.
*images via RottenTomatoes