I know. I'm a lifelong New York Mets fan. Those early years, after the team entered the National League in 1962, taught me the meaning of "diminished expectations." No World Series hopes there. Not even first-division hopes. Just satisfaction in a week of .500 baseball or delight in the (very) occasional Ed Kranepool home run.
Then came the 1969 Miracle Mets, who came out of nowhere to beat the indomitable Baltimore Orioles for the World Championship. It was as if God was saying, "Don't get too smug down there. I can still turn your expectations upside down." In other words, miracles can and do happen.
Think I'm investing five 30-year-old baseball games with too much significance? I'm not alone. In the new film "Frequency," the 1969 Mets also serve as a reminder that miracles do happen. The Mets, along with an unusual appearance of the Aurora Borealis over New York, become metaphors for the miraculous.
The film, directed Gregory Hoblit ("Primal Fear," "Fallen") and written by Toby Emmerich, tells the story of Frank Sullivan (Dennis Quaid), a New York City fireman whose hobby is operating a ham radio, his wife, Julia (Elizabeth Mitchell), and their son, John (James Caviezel). It's October 10, 1969, the eve of the 1969 World Series, and when the folks in Bayside (Queens) aren't talking about the series, they're talking about the unusual appearance of the Aurora Borealis--the first time in 90 years these heavenly lights have been visible over the city.
Cut to October 10, 1999. The Aurora is back, but not much else remains the same. Frank is dead, killed on October 12, 1969. John's life is a mess. The woman who loves him has just left him, and he's drinking too much. Just as his life hits bottom, John stumbles across his dad's old ham radio. Hooking it up, John hears a familiar but out-of-place voice. It's his dad. Somehow, the two Auroras, exactly 30 years apart, have brought father and son together again.
As soon as John realizes what's happening, he immediately sets outs to undo the circumstances that cost him his dad. Naturally, Frank is skeptical. It's only John's knowledge of the outcome of the 1969 World Series that convinces Frank that the voice on the ham radio is on the level--ultimately changing what happened on October 12, 1969.
The combination of baseball, the relationship between fathers and sons, and inexplicable reunions makes comparisons with "Field of Dreams" inevitable. But the two films are different, not only in the stories they tell but also in the way they navigate their emotional and spiritual terrain. Whereas "Field of Dreams" made the father-son relationship itself a source of conflict and regret, in "Frequency" the absence of a father is the source of pain and regret. The difference in John with and without his dad is dramatic.
And "Frequency" has a supernatural or miraculous element that "Field of Dreams" lacked. (The source of the voice Ray hears in "Field of Dreams" was Ray himself.) This sense of the miraculous is why "Frequency" really isn't science fiction, despite being labeled as such. We're never really told how father and son are reunited. What we get are two sets of heavenly lights, exactly 30 years apart, and the meek inheriting the Earth (or at least winning the World Series).
Events and forces beyond the Sullivans' control (and our comprehension) have intervened to, as Catholic theologian Thomas Howard once put it, "restore the years the moths and locusts have eaten." "Miraculous" works for me.
This restoration gives "Frequency" a hopeful tone. Some people may find it overly sentimental. But it stands out in a popular culture dominated by nihilism. "Frequency" is a cinematic repudiation of our notion that, as Thomas Hibbs of Boston College has written, "the underlying force [is] malevolent and punitive." That is, if there's an underlying force at all.
Whatever forces are at work in "Frequency" definitely want what's best for us. And, as a result, "Frequency" reminds us why people dare to hope: because they believe that the past, notwithstanding its undeniable power, doesn't have the final word.