Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) is a New York boy, reared by a father he loved, resented and finally escaped from, who has taken his wife (Amy Madigan) and daughter to an Iowa farm. One night a voice whispers, “If you build it, he will come.” Inexplicably moved, he builds a baseball diamond on the farm, where his father’s old baseball idol, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), soon materializes. Another message, “Ease his pain,” propels Kinsella to Boston to corral a reclusive novelist, Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), and a third mystic entreaty, “Go the distance,” sends them to Minnesota for an encounter with the ghost of another major leaguer, “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster). Finally, it’s back to his fungo Fatima and a game of catch with the one man he has been dreading and dying to meet.
Is this working-class fellow crazy for wanting to build a monument to his visions in his backyard? The new indie drama Take Shelter says, Mmm, maybe. But Field of Dreams sweeps many viewers along on its romantic notion of baseball as the eternal tree house of the American male. For a lot of men over the past couple of decades, this movie is their E.T. — the touchy-feely, throwy-catchy of a guy who follows mysterious voices that lead him back to his childhood heart and find peace with old ghosts. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he saw the movie and couldn’t stop crying. Others were more skeptical. Bill James, the sabermetrician who is the absent hero of Moneyball, said Field of Dreams was “about people who love baseball but leave Fenway Park in the fourth inning. Why does Jackson bat right and throw left, instead of the other way around? And where is his famous black bat?” But even the Sultan of Stats had to admit that “Costner is great, and I’m happy we have the movie.”
So love the movie and damn all those who don’t as soulless swine. Hate it and call it “Field of Corn.” But appreciate the head-on collision it engineers with things that matter: the desperate competition between fathers and sons, the need for ’60s idealism in the me-first ’80s, the desire for reconciliation beyond the grave. The field of dreams, the movie says, is the cemetery where your dad lies. If you go there, he may smile.
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