Not long ago I was channel surfing on a particularly boring Saturday night and was quite pleased to happen upon Field of Dreams just as it was beginning. Sometimes I wish life was a little more exciting, but mostly I’ve come to embrace solitude & the banality of my existence. I am so thankful that I enjoy movies, music, & books. I might not ever travel the world or achieve greatness on any level, but I have the ability to amuse myself and mostly avoid drama & meaningless turmoil. There’s something to be said for contentment & simplicity.
At any rate, I was 16 years old when Field of Dreams first hit theaters, and thru the years it has become one of my favorite movies. An uneventful July weekend is the perfect time to watch, and I realized something during my most recent viewing: the way I understand it at 49 years of age has evolved compared to how I saw it three decades ago. That seems like a pretty obvious conclusion, but I had not previously pondered the idea, and a few things dawned on me.
First, there’s a scene near the beginning when Ray Kinsella is plowing a large portion of his cornfield to build the baseball field, and several of his neighbors watch in astonishment, calling him a damn fool for what he is doing. Not long afterward his brother-in-law, who is some sort of financier or bank official, warns Ray that he’s going to lose his farm. Now, I still fully embrace the whimsy of Field of Dreams, but I also see the perspective of the naysayers & pragmatists who think Ray Kinsella is crazy, because he is indeed absolutely nuts. Idealism doesn’t pay the bills…something that a teenager doesn’t get, but a more season adult certainly does.
Secondly, let’s talk about Annie, Ray’s wife. Any man would be fortunate to have such a wife. My loneliness hadn’t bothered me until the past few years, but now I deeply regret not being married or having children. One of the ways I soothe myself on the matter is to look at a lot of young/youngish women (let’s say 20-something to 40-something) these days and realize that I may have dodged a bullet. I love & respect the ladies, but let’s just say they don’t make ‘em like they used to and leave it at that. Of course, while I stand by my assessment, I also realize it is a rationalization…a coping mechanism. There are Annies out there. Tough & strong-willed. Supportive. Honest without being harsh. Understanding. Willing to sacrifice, but also not afraid to put her foot down. Smart. Practical, but open to a little eccentricity. I just never found my Annie, or more accurately, haven’t been good enough for one to choose me.
There’s another scene, set at a school board meeting, that seems a lot more true to life than I previously realized. I don’t have kids and haven’t attended many school board meetings, but I keep up with current events. While book burning is the issue in Field of Dreams, such gatherings are more likely to erupt while debating things like Covid protocols, identity politics, student safety, or sexual impropriety nowadays. Same idea though. It’s funny how Annie is portrayed as an open minded, free spirited, literature loving liberal while the school board & all the uptight parents in the audience are painted as “Nazis”. I guess even one of my favorite films isn’t immune to Hollywood indoctrination. I never noticed that thirty years ago.
One thing I understand less now than I did back in the 80’s is Kinsella’s relationship with his Dad. He is 36 years old & afraid he’s turning into his father. What does that mean?? Why is it an issue?? My Dad & I have a really good relationship. Neither of us are perfect, but no one is, right?? I can think of alot worse things than turning into my father. In many ways I already have. Okay, okay…I get it to a degree. Though it’s not stated outright, Ray Kinsella feels like his father never did anything significant with his life. The old guy just worked, paid bills, and died. Building the baseball field is Ray’s way of making his mark…making an impact that he feels his father didn’t. I probably felt the same way when I was younger, but now a) I’ve led an even less impactful life than my father so I’m in no position to criticize, and b) Kinsella Sr. worked hard & raised his son, and I appreciate that contribution. If Ray had never built the baseball field – if all he ever achieved was being a good husband, father, & farmer – then that’d be a good life. Not everyone will live lives of prominence, grandeur, & prosperity, and that’s okay.
On a more shallow level…..
According to my research the price of gasoline in 1989 was $1.06/gallon, which explains why the already financially strapped Kinsella doesn’t hesitate to drive from Iowa to Boston to Minnesota and back to Iowa. There’s no way anyone would do that nowadays.
By far my favorite portion of the movie are the scenes involving Moonlight Graham. Not only is time travel cool, but it’s not something you’d expect to see in an alleged sports film. I couldn’t name another Burt Lancaster performance if my life depended on it, but he is fantastic in Field of Dreams (it was his final big screen role). This part of the movie briefly touches on the infamous butterfly effect, posing the question “What would’ve happened if Moonlight had gotten a hit in his one big league game??”. Perhaps he would never have become a doctor, which would have changed the lives of countless people. I’m a sucker for philosophical ponderings like that.
One of the things that I’ve always said about Field of Dreams is that it isn’t so much about baseball as it is a metaphor about regret, redemption, family, & the true meaning of happiness. And now I realize it’s also a story about having a mid-life crisis, but instead of buying a sports car or having sex with a 20 year old Ray Kinsella allows a mysterious voice to persuade him to build a baseball field & bring the ghosts of dead ball players back to play so at the end of the day he can introduce his Dad to his wife & daughter, which is actually a smarter choice than the car or the side chick.