What makes a life truly worth living? Few people living a privileged first world life - and I'm not talking about the top 10.000 - are satisfied by simply existing. Most of us, if not all of us, want to be remembered in some way, go down in history you may say. We want to be someone, to fulfill some sort of purpose in our life, a reason for a different future than one lacking a past that included us.
Field of Dreams is a movie about this strange human struggle for validation and how people often have very different views on what makes a life worth living. In the middle of the attention, there's hippie-turned-farmer Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) who has built up an idyllic existence with his born-and-bred country girl wife Annie (Amy Madigan) and their daughter Karin. One day he hears a voice telling him to build a baseball field in his back yard, which he does - and as if things couldn't become stranger, the ghosts of old baseball players start appearing on the field. Confused, Ray goes on a quest to find his all-time favorite author Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones) to help him understand the messages he's receiving and the purpose of his Field of Dreams. Terrence Mann was an activist writer back in the 60s and 70s and so certainly lived a life worth living in many ways, however he retreated from the public when he felt people weren't listening to him anymore.
When Todd asked me and some other bloggers to join him for his next blogathon, he also asked us to tell him what movie we were going to write about: „after all we don’t want everybody reviewing Field of Dreams, now do we?“. My knowledge of baseball basically consists of playing Wii Sports and listening to High School Musical's catchy "I Don't Dance" and so I grabbed the closest bat and opted for the seemingly popular choice of the mentioned movie. Surprisingly, no one actually had chosen to write about it - all the better for me. Contrary to what I had expected though, Field of Dreams isn't actually your classical sports film - and I take it that means it's not your classical baseball film either. Nor could it be described as a film that just 'happens to be about baseball'. It is a film that fully and unashamedly embraces the love that a lot of people have for this particular sport but uses this as a background for a story of emotional conflict. The pan shots of the gigantic private field in the dark lit by big, bright lights are impressive even to people unfamiliar and relatively indifferent towards baseball. And so are the (mainly fictive) famous characters in the movie - you believe in the figure of Terrence Mann (inspired by J.D. Salinger himself) and in the kind of influence his writings have had, as much as you believe in the Dr. 'Moonlight' (Burt Lancaster has grown old!) or Ray Liotta's Shoeless Joe Jackson. It's sort of like that first time you watched a big epic Hollywood classic; you didn't really know any of these actors or people behind the camera, but you bought into their status at once.
The film could have been a corny one when it comes down to the characters' motivations. In essence, the character of Ray is striving toward an almost spiritual, incomprehensible to common people kind of achievement. In fact, I was reminded of this when listening to a podcast on this year's Noah, a story which bears close resemblance to this baseball front-runner. This god-like, destiny factor threw me off a little when the movie began, but I soon threw away my initial skepticism when the movie took some humorous turns. The raging little speech Annie gives in the first third of the movie has to be my favorite scene at all here - she's a kick-ass character, proving that supporting female roles can be much more layered than preached by so many blockbusters these days. On one hand, she's a caring mother, then she's a highly skilled farmer and also an avid reader and someone who lives up to many of the ideals she had as a young woman in the 60s. For a short time, this takes the spotlight from Ray, and sure enough we never do get much background on him except for his troubled childhood. But that's okay because what Ray really incorporates is... everyone. In a rather perfect, almost naive way - granted - but he does offer a blank, meaning-searching canvas that the viewer is able to project his own feelings on to.
Field of Dreams is one of those films you can watch without being a fan of the genre or sub-genre it represents, as it focusses on a theme as universal as the reason we stay alive. It is filled with neat performances and relatable characters, and apart from the absence of a strong villain and Gaby Hoffman not looking like she could be Kevin Costner and Amy Madigan's child (original novel author Kinsella's two only complaints about the movie), it lives up to deliver light-hearted yet inspiring entertainment.
FIELD OF DREAMS
1989 • USA • English
director Phil Alden Robinson
author Phil Alden Robinson, (W.P. Kinsella)
pictures John Lindley
★ Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, James Earl Jones
FINAL FRAME: STRAWBERRY
It's good to be playing again.