1 Sep 2021

Field of Dreams

From At The Movies, 7:50 pm on 1 September 2021

In times of uncertainty, it can feel good to wrap yourself up in something cosy and familiar that can always be relied on to make you feel better.

Cue the 1989 baseball movie Field of Dreams.

Dan Slevin: Whether it's The Princess Bride, Dirty Dancing or The Castle, I do believe we all have a selection of films that we can watch regularly - as often as once a year.

Not as a ritual, like a Christmas movie, but more because of what it does for your soul. It might remind you of a time when you first saw it, it might be a film that's rich enough for your appreciation of it to grow and change as you yourself grow older.

I don't know what your one is, but I want to make a case for one of mine: 1989's magic realism baseball movie Field of Dreams, written and directed by Phil Alden Robinson, based on the novella Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella.

I watched it again last night through a thin veil of tears, it makes me so happy.

It stars Kevin Costner at the peak of his Hollywood everyman phase as Ray, a reluctant Iowa farmer who hears a voice in his cornfield one day telling him that "If you build it he will come".

Baseball fan Ray thinks that means that if he ploughs under a few acres of his crops and installs a pitching mound, bases, home plate, and lights for night games, then disgraced former White Sox hitter Shoeless Joe Jackson will come back and play ball one more time.

Of course, it's not quite that simple and the voice starts making even more cryptic demands.

I've never seen a game of baseball and have no great desire to. As far as I'm concerned baseball only exists so that people can make great films inspired by it - Bull Durham, A League of Their Own, Moneyball - but Field of Dreams is the best.

The more you watch it the more you get out of it. You soon realise that baseball is just context and that what you are watching is a gentle portrait of intergenerational angst, a changing America, a family that's found love and now has to work out how to send that love where it is needed.

On Ray's quixotic journey he meets a disaffected author, an ageing country doctor and a wide-eyed young ballplayer and his mission is to discover the connection between them all - and to him.

The cast is magnificent.

Amy Madigan is Ray's wife Annie, a dream wife you might say. Ray Liotta plays Shoeless Joe and James Earle Jones is the reclusive voice of the 60s Terrence Mann. But most marvellous, in his final screen big-screen performance, is legend Burt Lancaster who gets the magical tone so perfectly you'd swear he has a permanent twinkle in his eye.

This time around I was struck by the spiritual dimension - I've always been moved by the family stuff - but that sense of embracing the unknown, the adventure beyond the life we have here was what I felt most strongly last night. Or maybe it's just the acceptance of the unknown, the unknowable, that I felt.

Anyway, I'll have to watch it again next year to see what I can learn from it then.

Field of Dreams is rated PG and is available for rental from Apple or Microsoft or - when alert levels allow - you can rent the Blu-ray from Alice in Videoland in Christchurch. I recommend their subscription offers if you aren't able to visit them in person.

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