Field of Dreams: Fantasy Fable Starring Kevin Costner and Burt Lancaster

The film is directed and written by Phil Alden Robinson, adapting W. P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe.

The narrative is rather simple: Iowa farmer (Kevin Costner) hears a voice one day, If you build it, it will come, prompting him to build a baseball diamond in his cornfield so that he can make peace with his dead father. The ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) shows up, followed by other players who were disgraced at the 1919 Black Sox World Series scandal (the subject of John Sayless Eight Men Out).

Is the movie Capracorn or Capraesque?  That will depend on your values and the kind of movies you like. Then and now, its a rare movie. In 1989, some perceived it as a magical experience, offering a rare glimpse at the vastness, goodness, and grandeur of Middle America. These days our movies are so cynical, reflecting paranoia, disillusionment and mistrust, that Field of Dreams is almost refreshing in its simplicity and naivet. A film without any cynicism, it demands uncritical receptivity from its viewers.

The interaction between Costner and the ghost recalls classic films like Harvey, in which James Stewart communicated with a six-foot invisible rabbit. Though soaked with rather basic Freudian psychology, Costners reconciliation scene with his dead father is moving; it affected strongly young men in similar position to Costners.

The strong supporting cast includes Amy Madigan, Burt Lancaster, and James Earl Jones, who delivers a powerful speech about how baseball once reflected America, disregarding the racial segregation and discrimination against black actors that prevailed at the time.

In 1989, the picture touched many people in the same way as Frank Capras Depression era fables, evoking nostalgia for simpler, more innocent times. A mystical fantasy about belief and hope in the mundane life, Field of Dreams is a meditation on how to regain passion for life while maintaining your conscience and identity intact.

A uniquely American film (that indeed didnt play well in foreign countries), Field of Dreams was typical of many 1980s movies in its peculiar blend of countercultural and traditional values. The films sentimental premise struck a chord and the movie became a surprise box-office hit, defying the more conventional wisdom that baseball movies are not commercial.

Detailed Plot

Ray Kinsella is a novice Iowa farmer who lives with his wife Annie and his daughter Karin.  In voice-over narration, which begins the film, Ray explains how he had a troubled relationship with his father, John Kinsella, a devoted baseball fan. While walking through his cornfield, Ray hears a voice that whispers, “If you build it, he will come.”

Ray continues to hear the voice before seeing a vision of a baseball diamond in his field. Annie is skeptical of his vision, but she allows Ray to build the field. Months pass by, nothing happens in the field, and Ray’s family faces financial ruin.

Karin then spots a uniformed man in the field, who, Ray discovers, is Shoeless Joe Jackson, a deceased baseball player idolized by Ray’s father. Thrilled to play baseball again, Joe asks to bring others to play on the field. He later returns from the cornfield with the seven other players banned in the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

Ray’s brother-in-law, Mark, who can’t see the baseball players, warns Ray that he’ll go bankrupt unless he replants his crops. While in the field, Ray hears the voice again, urging him to “ease his pain.” After attending a PTA meeting about banning books by the radical author Terence Mann, Ray decides the voice is referring to him.

A magazine interview reveals Mann’s childhood dream of playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ray tracks him down in Boston and persuades him to attend a game at Fenway, where Ray hears the voice urging him to “go the distance.”

The scoreboard shows statistics for a player named Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, who played one game for the New York Giants in 1922, but never had a turn at bat.

Ray and Mann travel to Chisholm, Minnesota, where they learn that Graham became a doctor and died years back. During a night walk, Ray finds himself in 1972 and encounters the then-living Graham, who states that he moved on from his baseball career and enjoys his medical career. He declines Ray’s invitation to fulfill his dream.

However, while driving back to Iowa, Ray picks up a young hitchhiker who introduces himself as Graham. While Archie sleeps, Ray reveals to Terence the details of his falling out with his father, after an argument in which Ray denounced Shoeless Joe as a criminal. At the farm, more players have arrived to field two teams, and Archie finally gets to bat.

The next morning, Mark returns and demands that Ray sell the farm. Karin says that they won’t need to sell because people will pay to watch the ball games. Terence agrees that “people will come” to relive their innocence, and Ray refuses to sell. Frustrated, Mark scuffles with Ray, accidentally knocking Karin off the top of the bleachers. Archie runs to help and, stepping off the field, becomes the old “Doc” Graham.

After reassuring Ray that his true calling was medicine, Graham shakes hands with the players and leaves. Suddenly able to see the players, Mark urges Ray not to sell the farm.

Shoeless Joe invites Terence to enter the cornfield. He rebukes Ray’s desire for a reward, reminding him why he sacrificed so much: “If you build it, he will come.” The catcher removes his mask and Ray recognizes his father as a young man. Shocked, Ray now understands that “Ease his pain” referred to his father, but Joe counters that the voice referred to Ray himself.

Ray introduces his father to Annie and Karin and asks his father to have a catch. As they play, hundreds of cars approach the field, fulfilling Karin and Terence’s prophecy that people will come to watch baseball.

Oscar Context:

Field of Dreams was nominated for three Oscars: Best Picture, Robinsons adapted screenplay, and James Horners original score. James Horner.

It lost the Best Picture to Driving Miss Daisy, which also won the Oscar for Alfred Uhrys screenplay.  The score award went to Alan Menken for The Little Mermaid.

 

Cast

Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella

Amy Madigan as Annie Kinsella

James Earl Jones as Terence Mann

Ray Liotta as Shoeless Joe Jackson

Burt Lancaster as Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham

Timothy Busfield as Mark

Frank Whaley as Archie Graham

Gaby Hoffmann as Karin Kinsella

Dwier Brown as John Kinsella

Fern Persons as Annie’s Mother

 

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