Field of Dreams Revisited

Field of Dreams came out on May 5, 1989. My father died on June 1, 1989, and I saw the film in the theater a couple weeks later. It's a film, in many ways, about fathers and sons—about the impossibility of communication and communion between them made seemingly final by death and about the powerful fantasy of being able to reverse that years later. For a son to have one more catch with his father, one more conversation. Who wouldn't want to believe that? At eight, in the summer of 1989, I wanted it more than anything.

And for years after, Field of Dreams remained my favorite movie. I bought the DVD to take to college with me. I learned that the film's James Earl Jones character had originally been J.D. Salinger in W.P. Kinsella's novel, Shoeless Joe. When Salinger threatened to sue over the film, the screenwriters imagined a new, but similarly reclusive, writer to take his place. I found Archibald Graham in the Baseball Encyclopedia, where his stats matched those in the film. What's more is that his story—the briefest of flashes in the pan, a single inning of a game, followed by a long, distinguished career as a local doctor—is largely true to life. I learned that the field had been built for the film and since preserved as a tourist attraction. Of course, I wanted to go, but still haven't been. I learned how the film's final scene with cars approaching the field at night was shot—locals parked their cars along the road to the diamond and turned their headlights on and off. When filmed from a helicopter—if only they had had a drone!—this gave the impression that the cars were in motion towards the field. 

I watched the film every year or two, still loved it, though I realize that many viewed it as schmaltzy. My unassailable defense has always been the circumstances around which I first encountered the film. But that's something of a cop-out, perpetuated largely by my belief that this film, at its core, is about fathers and sons. Does anyone recall that James's Earl Jones's fictional film father reports him missing after Kevin Coster takes him to a Red Sox game and then on to Minnesota? Or that Jones's initial encounter with Costner mirrors that of Costner and his lost father? Or that Lancaster is the other side of a man like his father—someone who gave up on a more attractive (at least to a son) dream of playing professional baseball to live a fairly conventional life as a doctor in his hometown. It's a choice that most boys, even after they become men, can't understand. But because this is a fantasy, Lancaster gets a second chance to play ball, Coster gets a reunion with his father, redemption is possible. As Jay Gatsby said, "Can't repeat the past? Why, of course, you can!" 

And that brings me to my most recent viewing of the film. It's still about fathers and sons, but it's now about something else to me too—the long periods of time, the years and decades, in between real chances in one's life. It's about the sadness of that absence of opportunity that makes up most of a life. The moments when chances present themselves and then disappear, often forever, are so few, so far between. That's what the Costner character, Ray Kinsella, realizes and what prompts him to build the baseball field, to listen to the voice, to risk his family's finances. He knows that he may never be able to do so again.