Most Inspiring Film, 1989 – 5-Star Masterpiece
Field Of Dreams is about Lost Dreams and the Place to Find Them
And it’s about baseball; but baseball is just a metaphor for something bigger. It’s about an Iowa farmer named Ray who hears a voice that tells him, “If you build it, he will come.” He knows the Voice wants him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield; which, oddly enough, he’s willing to do because he thinks it will keep him from ending up like his dad – a man that “never did one spontaneous thing in his life.” But he thinks the field is for “Shoeless” Joe Jackson – one of the infamous eight “Black Sox” that were barred from baseball for life in 1920 – so he will come and play baseball again… which he does, but that’s not the reason for the field.
Later, Ray gets a second message that tells him, “Ease his pain,” which sends him off on a road trip to pick up Terence Mann – really J. D. Salinger, author of Catcher In The Rye, according to Shoeless Joe, the book on which the film is based – and a small town doctor named Archibald “Moonlight” Graham. Kevin Costner plays Ray, Amy Madigan plays his wife Annie, Ray Liotta play Shoeless Joe, James Earl Jones plays Terence Mann, and Burt Lancaster plays Moonlight Graham. Together they find their dreams on a baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield. But, as wonderful as all this is, that is still not why Ray was told to build the field.
At the climax of the film, Ray has to make a choice between selling his farm in order to keep from being foreclosed on, and risking everything in order to keep the baseball diamond. At that point, Terence Mann makes a little speech about what is best about America, and how baseball has marked the time throughout the years and helped keep us on track. Both he and Ray’s daughter, Karin (played by Gaby Hoffmann), tell Ray that if he keeps the baseball diamond, people will come and pay to see it, and that will save the farm.
But what is the baseball diamond, really? Several times, people ask, “Is this Heaven?” and Ray answers, “No, it’s Iowa,” which is a funny line; but the truth is, it really IS Heaven, because it’s the place where dreams come true, as Ray’s dad later points out. Heaven has set down on a farm in Iowa in the form of a baseball diamond in order to redeem and heal some broken lives. Isn’t that what God does? Isn’t that what He did with the Tabernacle in the wilderness, with the Temple in Israel, and with Jesus in Judea? And isn’t that what He’s going to do one day with the New Jerusalem? He’s going to set Heaven down on earth and all His people’s dreams are going to come true.
The heart of Field Of Dreams is Ray’s relationship with his dad. He builds the baseball diamond because he’s afraid of becoming like his dad. Ray and his dad didn’t get along growing up: they both loved baseball, but they pulled for different teams; when Ray went off to college, he picked the one furthest away from his dad; he even told his dad he could never respect him because his hero was a criminal – Shoeless Joe. I was stupid like that once. I said and did stupid things to my dad because we didn’t get along and I didn’t want to end up like him. I think MOST guys feel this way, which is why this film speaks to so many of us in the place where they have our deepest pain.
When the Voice says “Ease his pain,” at first, Ray thinks he’s talking about Terence Mann, which is why he went off to find him; and near the end of the film, when he sees his dad (played by Dwier Brown) as a young man, he says, “It was you,” thinking that it was HIS pain he was supposed to ease. But Shoeless Joe corrects him in one of the most poignant moments in the film: “No, Ray, it was you.” All this was done to ease Ray’s pain.
There’s a valuable lesson here. Earlier, Shoeless Joe invites Terence Mann to go back with him and the other ballplayers to find out what’s beyond the corn. Ray gets miffed because he thinks HE’S the one that should go back. After all, he built the baseball diamond, and it’s his cornfield the players are living in. So he questions Shoeless Joe, asking point blank, “What’s in it for me?” and Shoeless responds, “Is that why you did this, Ray – for you?” Of course, it wasn’t. But he’s starting to feel entitled. That’s when he realizes what this whole experience has really been about.
In the process of easing others’ pain, he has eased his own. That is the nature of giving and self-sacrifice: “Whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25) Whatever we lose on earth we will find in Heaven. Oh, if only we would learn this lesson in America today – it would change everything! Ray risks everything to help others, and in the process, gains everything.
Throughout history, and around the world today, people are risking everything for others, and in the process, they’re finding themselves and their dreams. George Mueller, William Wilberforce, Mother Theresa, people who went to New Orleans to help rebuild, people who have gone to Haiti to help there… the list is endless. These are people who either built or are building orphanages, hospitals, schools, houses, churches, sports programs, arts programs, you name it… so that others can come and find their dreams. That was once the mantra of America: if you build it, they will come. It’s even written in so many words on the Stature of Liberty. Do we still believe it?
There is one thing that lasts, and that is really what this movie is about: the Kingdom of Heaven. When Christ left earth and walked back into Heaven, He turned to his team and said, “If you build it, they will come.” Build what? His Kingdom. It’s not a kingdom of bricks and mortar, nor even a kingdom of baseballs and bats: it’s a kingdom of relationships. Only relationships last. That’s why we’re here.
If you ask most middle Americans what they’re building, they’ll say, “A family.” But is that about Christ and His Kingdom, or is that about you? Most people see their family as an extension of themselves; but your family is really just your team. What are you and your team building? If most of us were honest, we’d have to answer, “A kingdom of self,” because that is what most of us are living for. Self doesn’t satisfy, which is why everyone that comes to the end of themselves ends up at the throne of Christ with broken dreams, asking Him to fix them. It’s not our broken dreams that Christ needs to fix, it’s our broken relationships, beginning with HIm. He will give us new, better dreams, and it is those NEW dreams that will ease our pain.
If we start living for Him instead of ourselves, and if we start building His Kingdom instead of our own, we will find our field of dreams. What physical talents and spiritual gifts have you been given? That is a clue as to what you should be building. Your work, whatever it is, can be a field of dreams for someone else, and, in the process, a way for your dreams to come true and your pain to be eased. It’s a simple answer that has existed for two thousand years.
What is the Voice telling you to build right now? If you build it, He will come. He will most definitely come.
Waitsel Smith, March 15, 2010
For more movie reviews, go to Movies by Decade, my movie review website.
Text © 2010 Waitsel Smith. Photos © 1989 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.