Field of Dreams
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson
Release Date: Friday, April 21, 1989
Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Producer(s): Brian E. Frankish, Charles Gordon, Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin
Cast: Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta
By Nell Minow
Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), who grew up in New York and went to college at Berkeley, stands in the middle of his first Iowa corn crop and hears a voice say, "If you build it, he will come." He begins to understand that this means he must plow under the corn crop and build a baseball field so that Shoeless Joe Jackson, barred from baseball since 1919 and dead for years, can play on it. Ray and his wife (Amy Madigan) know this is a crazy thing to do, but they do it. And "Shoeless"Joe Jackson does show up, with his teamates. Jackson had been the hero of Ray's father, a former minor leaguer, with whom Ray had never been able to connect.
The voice speaks again: "Ease his pain." Ray comes to understand that this refers to an iconoclastic author of the 1960s named Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones), now a recluse. Ray finds him, and together they hear the voice say "Go the distance." This leads them back in time to find an elderly doctor (Burt Lancaster), who had a brief career in baseball but never got a chance at bat in a major league game. On their way back to the farm, they find him again, as a young man, and together, they return to Iowa, just as the farm is about to be foreclosed. The doctor gets his chance at bat. Mann gets to tell another story. And Ray gets a second chance to do what he regrets not doing as a teenager, to play catch with his father.
The themes of this movie are dreams, family, and baseball. There are echoes of Ray's father throughout the movie. It begins with Ray's description of growing up, using his refusal to play baseball as his teenage rebellion, and as a way to test his father's love. Ray tells Mann that his father's name was used for a character in one of Mann's books. Ray builds the field to bring back Shoeless Joe, his father's hero, the hero Ray accused of being corrupt because he knew that would hurt his father. And of course at the end, it turns out that the dream all along was not bringing back the greats of baseball, but of a reconciliation with his father that was not possible before he died. "I only saw him when he was worn down by life," Ray says. His own understanding and maturity are what enable him to see his father as he really was, even before he reappears on the baseball field. Ray asks his father, "Is there a heaven?" and his father answers, "Oh yeah. It's the place dreams come true."
This is a great film for families to watch together, to help them talk about dreams and trust, and strengthening family connections. They should also find out more about Shoeless Joe Jackson and the famous "Black Socks" scandal. "Eight Men Out," with D. B. Sweeney as Jackson, tells this story sympathetically. The Ken Burns PBS documentary about the history of baseball also has a video devoted to the story.