Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) has an interesting, baseball-laced background. His father had a brief career as a minor league baseball player and tried to pass down the traditional American love of baseball down to Ray, but as a rebellious teen about to throw himself completely into the hippie lifestyle of the sixties, Ray wanted nothing to do with his father or baseball. Now, at age thirty-six, Ray is a pretty normal guy with a wife, Annie (Amy Madigan) and a little girl, Karin (Gaby Hoffmann). He decides to become a farmer in Iowa and soon, starts hearing a voice in his cornfield.
“If you build it, he will come.” The voice is vague, mysterious and rather haunting, Ray can’t find a way to shake it. Through a vision, he figures out that the ‘it’ he should build is a baseball diamond and the ‘he’ will be Shoeless Joe Jackson, an expelled baseball player his father used to tell him stories about. To build this field would mean destroying some of his crop, a huge financial risk. To not build is more logical and safe, but would only leave Ray with a huge what-if. He realizes a part of him that fears aging, turning into his father and never doing anything great. What if his father ignored voices? It’s a huge leap of faith, but building this diamond could be his only chance.
So Ray and Annie decide to go for it and build a beautiful baseball diamond right next to their corn and house. Now everyone in this little Iowa farm town thinks they’re crazy. It takes a long time, and just when the financial issues are rising up, Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) shows up to play ball. Soon, more dead ball players come out of the field, but only the people who believe can see them.
As the financial issues become more serious, the voice returns, with Ray and Annie interpreting that it wants Ray to take Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones), a controversial author of the sixties, to a baseball game. When you’ve done this much at the whim of a disembodied voice, you’ve got to see it through to the end.
Now, I know that some people look at Field of Dreams as just a baseball movie, it’s not. Baseball just happens to be the physical theme that can be passed down from generations, with stories and action that can make anyone feel in their prime. It works well to bring out a simple past-time. The film does recognize that baseball is not the most important thing a man can do in his life, even if it is his dream. When we meet Dr. Archibald “Moonlight” Graham (Burt Lancaster), we understand how close he was to his dream of becoming a baseball star. He only played for five minutes in the majors and went on to become a doctor. For Ray, he finds this to be a tragedy, to come so close to a dream and back down to a normal vocation. Graham puts a larger perspective on his decision, saying, “Son, if I’d only gotten to be a doctor for five minutes… now that would have been a tragedy.” Baseball is a dream life, those five minutes on the field should be cherished, but the world does not revolve around it.
While this idea is mystical, intriguing and wonderful one thing really irks me…does this idea only apply to baseball? Could there be another person somewhere hearing voices and having visions to build a giant greenhouse where dead gardeners will show up and his/her dead and estranged parent will show up and they’ll bond by watering some flowers together? I don’t mean that to sound condescending, but rather hopeful. Why should there only be a personal heaven built for baseball players? How many people have ignored the voices and left the rest of us hanging in the non-exclusive parts of heaven? If you ever hear a voice telling you to build an outdoor theater showing Raider of the Lost Ark with a never ending supply of beer and chicken wings, don’t ignore it and let me say thank you in advance.
“Iowa? I could have sworn this was heaven.”