Some of the films I offer up for these Film Fridays are a bit obscure – they haven’t been seen by everybody. Others are quite well-known, if not as appreciated as I wish they were. And still others, like today’s selection, are usually considered classics. So it goes for Field of Dreams. There is plenty to say about this simple little baseball film. It’s been quoted, it’s been mocked, it’s been praised for being one of the only 90s Costner films without the obligatory butt shot. The truth is, somewhere around the turn of the century (that is, 1999 – 2001), sports movies underwent a slight change. The straight inspirational stories morphed into melodramatic accounts of underdogs proving their mettle, and so we got tales like Remember the Titans, The Rookie and Miracle among many others. Now, most of these films remain worthwhile, but they often seem cut from a Disney-fied archetypal mold. Sports became about winning and proving something, not about personal growth. Compare the sports movies of recent years to some of the classics like today’s pick or another classic like Hoosiers. Were these predecessors about winning and showing up the bigger, badder team and/or colliding against some societal stereotype? Or, on the contrary, were they about drawing together as a community, learning about each other, and having faith that what mattered was how one transcends his own circumstances rather than how he sticks it to the other side? Some recent films have kept this idea, but they are few; most are just about winning and losing. This is why I cherish a movie like Field of Dreams – because it is hardly “just a movie about baseball.” Rather, baseball is “just a metaphor for something bigger.”
One of the first films I like to show whenever I lead a Theology and Film night is this simple little story of a man who hears voices and decides to build a baseball field in the middle of his cornfield. I tell those who gather to watch that if this film is about anything, it is about the journey of faith. Ray Kinsella hears a whisper coming from the corn, and though it does not explain or clarify, the words nag him until he acts in faith and sets to work obeying what he can best figure the voice is asking him to do. Later, when his work does not yield the immediate results, he holds fast to the validity of what he has done, despite critics all around him (some in his own family) who believe he’s forgetting about his responsibilities to properly provide for his wife and daughter. And in the midst of the struggle, the voice whispers again, and Ray, acting in blind faith, takes to the road to follow its promptings, though he has no idea what the ultimate goal is. Sure, he questions, he complains, and he struggles to maintain obedience to the voice, but, in the end, after the hard, tangible work of believing in an unseen purpose, Ray encounters… well, those of you who have seen the film will recognize the significance of those final moments.
If the blind faith aspect is not plenty reason to go back and watch this film, here are five others:
#2 – James Earl Jones and Burt Lancaster. Just try to tell me these two weren’t some of the most subtle yet inspirational characters in sports film history.
#3 – The wonderful history of baseball woven into the film and accented with references to the 60s. This film is a kind of time capsule.
#4 – The banter of the baseball players who come out of the corn. So much fun to watch.
#5 – The fact that, given the ending (with the line of cars), the story is saying something about how even one man’s journey of faith can affect a multitude.