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Field Of Dreams

Field Of Dreams

By Stephen Amos • April 26th, 2014
Static Mass Rating: 5/5
Universal Pictures

Original release: April 21st, 1989
Running time: 107 minutes

Director: Phil Alden Robinson
Writers: W.P. Kinsella, Phil Alden Robinson

Cast: Kevin Costner, James Earl Jones, Ray Liotta, Amy Madigan

Field Of Dreams

It’s often been said there’s nothing original any more, especially when discussing Hollywood movies. Take any film in the last 100 years and there’ll be obvious debts to those preceding them. Even at the dawn of film the lexicon of cinema came from existing media – books, the theatre etc , and possibly the most influential book of all time – the Bible. In this respect Field Of Dreams is no exception. Throughout its 107 minute running time there are numerous parallels with other great films, some intentionally and others because the language of film dictates. It also uses religion in a way that, whilst not new, is no less interesting. What makes a great film then is not whether it is original but how it uses the existing norms to tell its own story.

The opening scenes for example are reminiscent of the beginning of Citizen Kane. We start with a montage of someone’s life, from birth to death, and then hear the words that will serve as a spring board for the rest of the movie. In Kane we see a close-up of the great man’s moustachioed mouth as he utters his last words – ‘Rosebud’. In Field Of Dreams the words are almost carried on the evening breeze to Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella as he walks through his corn field.

We’re not told where the voice comes from, although judging by the fact that only Ray hears it, it may all be in his head. The voice is almost a whisper yet seemingly loud enough to carry through the corn field – ‘If you built it, he will come’. We’re not told who ‘he’ is or what needs to be built. This is mystery which will carry the film through its various stages.

This unorthodox beginning introduces the themes that will be touched upon throughout the film – mystery, madness, fatherhood, baseball and, of course, dreams.

Field Of Dreams

Later that night Ray, this mind and heart racing as he tries to make sense of the voice, looks out at his field and imagines a baseball field there. He knows what he has to build and it fills him so completely that he can’t let it go. Kinsella mirrors Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfus) in Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. He’s been given a glimpse of the dream but not enough for him to understand exactly what it is he is searching for, and yet he’s completely consumed by this thought. He doesn’t know where it came from, nor does he know why, he only knows he MUST follow it through. Like Neary, Kinsella’s an everyman caught up in the most remarkable of circumstances. He’s the link between the audience and the dream and we want him to follow this yellow brick road and see where it leads. We share his fear at the start of the journey, yet at the same time we also fear not going.

One of the most remarkable characters is Ray’s wife Annie, played by Amy Madigan. She knows how much it means to him and backs him all the way, later shielding him from the extent of their financial troubles the baseball diamond has caused them. She shows humour and concern and at one point even compares her husband’s mystery with Rosebud, the sleigh at the end of Citizen Kane. This is of course the opposite of Neary’s wife Ronnie (Teri Garr) who leaves Roy to his obsession and disappears from the second half of Close Encounters. This is also indicative in the tones of the two movies with Field Of Dreams aiming for a more emotional story than Close Encounters which waits for its climax to deliver its wallop.

As he builds the diamond he tells his daughter, Karin (Gaby Hoffmann), stories of the Chicago White Sox baseball team and their fall from grace in the 1919 World Series in which eight players were convicted of throwing the championship. The players were banned from ever Field Of Dreamsplaying again. One of the eight was a hero to Ray’s father – ‘Shoeless’ Joe Jackson. Ray, like his father, believes Joe to have been innocent as his performance was unparalleled in the series. Throughout the film Ray tells of his biggest fear – becoming his father, yet here, without his realising it, he is following in his father’s footsteps. Once the diamond is complete the wait beginnings. The bills pile up and the seasons pass. Then one evening Karin, who has been looking out the window, interrupts her parents to tell them ‘Daddy, there’s a man on your lawn.’

The man is the late Shoeless Joe played by Ray Liotta. ‘Are you a ghost?’ asks Karin. ‘What do you think?’ he replies evasively. There’s a definite religious allegory at work here. The religion is baseball and here we have this figure that has been revered by both Ray and his father being resurrected. Of course, Jackson’s not here to save the world but ultimately to save Ray. Jackson asks if ‘This is Heaven?’ to which Ray replies ‘No, It’s Iowa’. Maybe heaven does exist on earth. But this is only the beginning of the adventure. The voice returns this time telling Ray to ‘Ease his Pain’. Field Of Dreams follows this pattern, Ray is once more confused and a little angry yet, in another moment of inspiration, he realises what the voice wants and soon he’s on the road to talk to his childhood hero – the author Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones).

Terrance Mann represents the sixties, a time when there was a feeling that anything was possible despite of and, possibly because of, the problems people were confronting at the time. It is also when Ray and his father stopped speaking (Ray claims he was emboldened to rebel against his father after reading a Terrance Mann novel). Mann is disillusioned by the past, by the promise of the sixties that was never fulfilled. Whereas Kinsella’s viewed the decade with the nostalgia of youth, Mann believes that it was a time when people stopped taking responsibility for their own actions and started to look for others for inspiration (others like him).

The scenes between Ray and Mann provide humour that is contrasted with the growing precariousness of the future of the farm back home. Ray ‘convinces’ Mann to accompany him by Field Of Dreamssticking his finger in his coat pocket and pretending it’s a gun, whilst at home Annie brother, who, along with his partners, has bought the farm’s mortgage off the bank and are threatening to foreclose.

Of course the very nature of Field Of Dreams is optimism – we knew the family will be ok. We know the farm will be saved from the bank and we know the dream will become real. Yet at this point we still do not know what that Dream is entirely. As Ray and Terrance Mann continue the journey we are taken time travelling to the early 70s and one character seemingly exists in a completely different era than the present. We’re never given an explanation and are asked to accept this without question. If a cinemagoer asks for a reason for these moments of magic then this film is obviously not for them. It asks us to suspend our disbelief in a much greater way than most movies can get away with. There’s one question we’re all allowed to ask and, as the protagonists return to the farm, we’re encouraged to contemplate – Why is this happening?

At the end of the film we realise we’ve been looking in the wrong direction. Each step’s been designed like some sleight of hand, taking our eyes away from the obvious, and instead look at what the director wants us to see. Ultimately Field Of Dreams is not about the fantastical but the more mundane – the relationship between a father and son. The achievement of this film is that, even though we’ve been treated to a giant MacGuffin , we’ve still been given all the information we need for the climax to have the emotional punch it requires. It’s a technique used repeatedly by Alfred Hitchcock and others. As Glinda, the Good Witch, says at the end of The Wizard Of Oz, the answer was there all along. Sometimes it’s not obvious to the protagonists – as with the reporter in Citizen Kane who laments that he would never find out what the word ‘Rosebud’ meant only a few seconds before the audience are shown the burning sledge. Other times it needs someone to point out the truth. As Glinda does in Oz, Shoeless Joe Jackson does in Field Of Dreams.

‘It was you Ray, it was always you’.

Field Of Dreams

Stephen Amos

Stephen Amos

Stephen read Film Studies at Middlesex University in the 90s but after graduating found life got in the way of his desired profession. Instead he stumbled into Finance and today works in the accounts department of Coleg Y Cymoedd, one of the biggest FE colleges in Wales.

The great loves in his life, beside his wife and two children, are Blues music, amateur photography and movies. A fan of all genres lists his top 5 as - Pan’s Labyrinth, Cinema Paradiso, King Kong, Star Wars and Casablanca. You can keep up with him on Twitter @WelshBluesman

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