Monday, May 01, 2006

If you build it, he will come

Field of Dreams, starring Kevin Costner, is one of my favorite 80s films. I watched it again and again when I was a kid and I never got tired of it. Rewatching it, it is easy to see why. It is a truly unique film, combining fantasy, comedy, and heartfelt drama with ease. It is about Ray Kinsella, an ex-hippie who in his thirties has settled down to a quiet farming life with his wife and daughter in Iowa, giving up on his radical 60s dreams. This causes an inner conflict for Ray, since it reminds him of his father who gave up on his dreams, which Ray had always thought was pathetic. He never reconciled with his father before he died, and feels guilty for this. However, when a mysterious voice tells him to build a baseball field in his cornfield, ghosts of former baseball players like Shoeless Joe Jackson start appearing and Ray is sent on a journey which leads him to fictional 60s writer Terrence Mann (James Earl Jones) and ultimately a reunion with his father.

This film has many things going for it that make it great. Although it is ultimately a tearjerker, it also has a great comedic side, which can be seen in Ray's banter with his wife, the ghostly baseball players, and especially with Terrence Mann. Jones gives a particularly great performance as the jaded writer. The lighthearted tone of the film makes the more fantastical aspects of it easier to accept, and even when it gets melodramatic and a bit cheesy, it's only in the best way possible. The baseball theme and Midwestern setting also make Field of Dreams a particularly American film, and it gracefully combines the baseball storyline with the main narrative of Ray's quest.

Seeing it as an older viewer, Field of Dreams also has many relevant things to say about the nature of reconciling one's youthful dreams with the reality of growing up. It is also distinctly an 80s film, since it deals with the particular issues that Ray's aging hippie generation faced in this time. Ray takes a somewhat cynical view of his 60s idealism, and the writer Mann is particularly jaded when looking back at the 60s, realizing that much of their idealistic goals failed and that maybe those goals were ridiculous in the first place. However, the film still retains some of the spirit of the 60s as Ray's wife stands up against censorship and Ray stands up against opposition which tells him that building the field is ridiculous.

But beyond the aging hippie angle, the film has a lot to say about dreams for everyone. Ray has to realize that he never accomplished the dreams he had for himself in his youth, and that he settled for something seemingly less with his Iowa farm life. However, he isn't particularly unhappy with his life, in fact, his wife and daughter give him a great deal of satisfaction. But he still has some regret, and he feels that he has succumbed just like his father had, which he had hated. He also feels guilt over the poor way he treated his father. In the end, he realizes that his life may not have turned out like he had dreamed, but it is still good nonetheless. He also does not completely give up on his dreams, since he still takes risks, such as building the field. He does not feel as if he settled for less. Finally, Ray's reconciliation with his father is extremely touching and a perfect ending to the film. Every time I've seen it, it's made me cry, even when I tried not to. Field of Dreams is a great film, one that is unlike any other and which encompasses many aspects which would make it enjoyable to anyone. It can be watched over and over again, and I highly recommend it.

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