Wednesday, 30 September 2015

"For it is money they have and peace they lack..."

SPOILER ALERT! But you should have seen this film by now, so it's yer own fault.
"This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. 
It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. 
Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come."

Most of us are familiar with the whole "If you build it he will come" quote, but "Field of Dreams" is a whole lot more than that. I recently watched it again whilst on holiday (having not seen the movie for at least a couple of years), and I realised something very odd happens every time I view it.

"Field of Dreams" grows in importance the older you get.

That's not to say it held no value when it was released. It was an instant classic back in 1989, comparable to "It's a Wonderful Life" in terms of emotional fantasy. But I believe it to be a far deeper, richer experience.

On the surface it's an easy-going, "gentle" movie with deep sentiments running through it. It made me cry the first time I saw it - I was fourteen, and desperately trying not to blub in front of my Dad (who was also blubbing). A large part could be down to the late James Horner's heart-tugging score,which perfectly captures the emotion of the story. But it has the same effect every time I watch it - and it is intensifying with age.

Why does this film grow in importance the older you get? Having turned forty this year, this 'landmark age' forced me to take stock of where I'm at. What I've achieved. Where I've been and where I'm going. Lots of questions, confusion, self-doubt, sorrows... Things which "Field of Dreams" addresses with great perception.

So what is it about?


O Ye of little faith...

Or: Believing in something when the louder voices are telling you 'NO'.

The story opens with Kevin Costner's Ray Kinsella (his best performance) hearing a mysterious voice in his corn fields whisper "If you built it he will come". Ray eventually deduces that he should turn a large chunk of his land into a baseball field. Of course.

Struggling with mounting debts and the possibility of losing everything, Ray embarks on a journey of faith, of taking huge risks and the likely conclusion of falling flat on his face with nothing to show for it. 

Ray's fears are represented by the 'bad guy' of the story - his brother-in-law Mark (Timothy Busfield). Except Mark, in reality, isn't the bad guy. He's the voice of reason. Everything he has to say about Ray's seemingly foolish decisions is, on the face of things, sound judgment. Mark believes he is doing his best to protect his sister and niece.

But Mark is solidly grounded in unbelief. He's probably never taken a crazy chance in his life. What could have been 'the bad guy' role, Busfield never strays too far into being unlikable. As much as you're rooting for Ray, you can fully understand Mark's reasoning.

During a make-or-break moment, Ray has Mark in one ear informing him the bank will foreclose on his property, counter-balanced by one of the finest speeches in cinematic history.

Faith, in human terms, often makes very little sense. Knowing whether to push on or when to quit never gets any easier. Should you fulfill your destiny; be the person you were meant to be, even if it means giving up your dream for something more rewarding?


Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham
We just don't recognize life's most significant moments 
while they're happening. Back then I thought, 
"Well, there'll be other days." 
I didn't realize that that was the only day.
 On his quest, Ray meets elderly doctor Archibald Graham - an ex-ball player who was full of dreams as a young man, but turned his back on his love of the game for a more noble profession. In one of the many magical story beats, Archie - as a young man - hitches a ride with Ray and Terrence as they drive home. By this point Ray is a dab hand at going with the flow, so he takes young Archie back to the baseball pitch.


Following a dramatic turn of events, Ray's daughter is knocked unconscious - and only one man can save her. Young Archie has to make the same decision again. He knows that if he steps off the pitch, it's over. No going back to living the dream as a ball player. But it's a decision he has made before, and he does it again. Crossing the boundary, young Archie Graham transforms into old Doc Graham; sacrificing his dream to save a life. But the other players - heroes that he aspired to be - congratulate him for his sacrifice. Being recognised and appreciated by his peers is Archie's "reward".

Fifty years ago, for five minutes you came within... 
y-you came this close. It would KILL some men to get so close 
to their dream and not touch it. God, they'd consider it a tragedy.

Son, if I'd only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes... 
now that would have been a tragedy.


The story has its share of characters that are burdened by life; the life they thought they wanted, or by the person they thought they were meant to be. James Earl Jones plays Terrence Mann, a reclusive author who resents his legacy as a 60's radical, when his childhood dream was to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. 
Later, Ray explains to Mann what caused the rift with his father, John Kinsella: Baseball. After an argument with his Father, Ray refused to play catch again. A decision he still regrets. Intentional or not, John imposed his love of baseball onto his son - but all it achieved was a breakdown in their relationship.

 I've been told over the years -  by women - that "Field of Dreams" holds a lesser impact for female viewers. They get it, they like it - but it's a film that's 'okay for men to cry at'. At the heart of the film is a father/son relationship.The story opens with some backstory about Ray's upbringing; how his relationship turned rocky with his Dad, and how Ray went off and did his own thing.

 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."
"If you build it, he will come" might be the line that everyone remembers. But what it's really about is the other two lines of dialogue the magical 'voice' whispers:

"Go the distance" and more importantly - "Ease his pain."
 Ray Kinsella: Is there a heaven?
John Kinsella: Oh yeah. It's the place where dreams come true.
[Ray looks around, seeing his wife playing with their daughter on the porch]
Ray Kinsella: Maybe this is heaven.

At the end of the film, Ray finally has peace. Heaven isn't a tropical island or a place of luxurious indulgence - It's a playing field, playing catch with his Dad. But this personal gift from heaven isn't the end. People, in their thousands, begin to arrive at the field; all searching for their own peace.

The story resonates more the older I get, for all of these reasons I've mentioned. And as if it has a life of its own, it will continue to grow in relevance.  Some films entertain, some educate. And some are a gift.

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