Field of Dreams

Way more than just the best sports movie ever

Posted 08 Feb 2017    Edited 08 Feb 2017

Don't read this entry if you think you'll ever want to watch the movie Field of Dreams, but haven't yet.

Start of the Movie

Field of Dreams opens up with Kevin Costner's voice explaining that his name is Ray Kinsella. He says he was born back east somewhere and he didn't get along with his dad, so he went to Berkley for school and "majored in the sixties" and met his wife Annie, who never got to meet Ray's dad before he died. She was from Iowa, so after graduation, they got married and moved to Iowa and bought a farm and that's where the story starts: Ray as a new, kinda nervous farmer.

You see Kevin Costner [Ray] walking around a corn field with a shovel. It's like right after sunset outside. After walking around for a second, he hears this whisper voice that says, "If you build it he will come" and he just kinda smiles like, "Someone is trying to scare me or goof on me, but they're not gonna get me," and he keeps walking, and after a couple seconds, he hears again: "If you build it he will come."

He yells back to his wife Annie [played by Amy Madigan] and daughter who are on a swing on the porch at the house. He's like, "Did you hear that?" And she's like, "Hear what?" And he's like, "That voice." And she's like, "No."

Then he's like standing there in the middle of the cornfield puzzled. He walks off camera, and the camera stays fixed, so you're just staring at the tops of corn stalks. With eyes on the corn, you hear the voice again saying the same thing. Kevin Costner runs back into frame a couple seconds later mega pissed. He yells at his wife to ask if she heard it that time, and she says "No" again.

He's back in the house talking to Annie, and she is like, "If you build what, who will come?" and Ray's like, "I don't know." He wakes up in the night one night and looks out at the cornfield, and he sees the corn disappear over this huge area of the field to make way for a baseball field with stadium lights and dugouts and few short rows of stadium seats. Then there's this smashcut to the shoulders and head of Ray Liotta in an old timey baseball uniform turning around to face the camera from looking away [this might get confusing, so I'm gonna set down a ground rule: if I just say Ray, I'm talking about the character Ray played by Kevin Costner. If I talk about the Ray who is Ray Liotta, I will use the full name Ray Liotta].

The next day, Ray tells Annie, "I think I figured out what the voice meant," and he explains that he feels like he has to build a baseball field; and, if he does Shoeless Joe Jackson will get to come back and play ball again. The history of the real Shoeless Joe Jackson and the 1919 Chicago White Sox is important to the film. Basically, in the 1919 baseball World Series, the Chicago White Sox lost on purpose for a rigged bet and they all got kicked out of baseball forever, including Joe Jackson. That's a pretty important part of the movie. Probably, you should skim the Wikipedia article on the "Black Sox Scandal" here.

So, after some discussion on how crazy it is, Annie encourages Ray to follow the voice and his "vision" and build the field. He plows under an unharvested crop of corn and pretty much just builds a baseball field. On completion of the field, he kinda admires it for a night, and then nothing happens. This sequence starts where he watches the field out the window for a year and still nothing happens. Everyone thinks he's a total lunatic.

He sits down with Annie and she's balancing the budget and the daughter Karin is like, "Dad!" but the situation is tense so Ray's like, "In a minute, Karin." Annie says, "We're in big trouble because we didn't have our full corn crop this year." And Ray's like, "So can we not keep the field?" And she's like, "It makes it kinda hard to keep the farm..." Then Karin yells out again, and Ray's like, "Not now, Karin!" But she's like, "Someone's in the field."

They all go out there, and Ray Liotta [as a young Joe Jackson] is out in the field in full 1919 baseball regalia. He talks to Ray and talks about how he died inside when he got kicked out of baseball and he and Ray play catch and he makes Ray hit him some balls into the outfield. He asks Ray, "Is this heaven?" Ray's like, "No. It's Iowa."

Joe talks about how there are others and asks if he can invite them. Ray says, "Yeah, I built this for you." Annie invites Joe into the house for coffee, but Joe hesitates at the edge of the field and says, "Sorry, I don't think I can." Joe leaves by walking into the corn and once he's like two feet into the stalks he disappears. Not like, he disappears in the corn like a normal person could. He like dissolves.

Ray and Annie [and you as a viewer] are like, "Whoooooooaaaaaaa..."

Middle of the Movie

So, the ghosts [or shadows or whatever they are] of the 1919 Chicago White Socks start playing baseball every afternoon in Ray Kinsella's baseball field, and every night they evaporate into the corn. Ray and Annie and Karin watch them, and they enjoy it but they don't really get what the point of it is. Annie's brother works at the bank that gave Ray his farm loan. He [the brother] thinks that Ray is a retard for building the field. He tells Ray that he has defaulted on enough payments that the bank could repossess the farm or whatever. The brother and the rest of Annie's family cannot see the baseball players.

One night, Ray is talking to Joe, and after Joe leaves and Ray is left alone in the field, he hears the voice again. It whispers, "Ease his pain." He immediately gets mad. He's like, "Thanks a lot, asshole voice."

Shortly thereafter he attends a school PTA meeting with annie. The subject of the PTA meeting is the banning of certain books from the school library. The specific author being discussed is Terence Mann. Now, Terence Mann is not a real person, but there are things about him that are inspired by the author JD Salinger. Salinger was the guy who wrote Catcher in the Rye. After Salinger became really popular, he went into seclusion and pretty much stayed that way until he died.

So, this lady gets up in front of the school board and everybody and basically says that Terence Mann's writings are a bunch of smut and the he was a chronic masturbator and stupid stuff like that. Annie, who is sitting in the crowd, gets really mad and stands up to defend Mann's writings as words of wisdom that served to inspire people to believe and practice peace in troubling times [the sixties]. We see that, during all this, Ray has a pad of paper and a pen and has written "EASE HIS PAIN" all over it in big, bold letters.

The PTA lady starts firing personal attacks at Annie like, "Your husband's an idiot who made a stupid baseball field!" And Annie wins the argument by pointing out the totalitarian evil inherent in banning literature. Everyone at the meeting cheers for Annie as a heroin of social justice or whatever, and Ray's like, "We gotta go," and pulls Annie out into the hall to discuss his new revelation. Annie is like relishing in her victory over the PTA lady, and Ray is like, "I know whose pain I'm supposed to ease: Terence Mann's."

So he starts reading articles on Mann to figure out what his pain might be and how he could possibly help him. Ray finds out that Mann used his father's name [John Kinsella] as the name for one of the characters in a story. He also comes across this interview that Mann did where he said:

As a child, my earliest recurring dream was to play at Ebbets Field with Jackie Robinson and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Of course, it never happened, and the Dodgers left Brooklyn, and they tore down Ebbets Field. But even now, I still dream that dream.

Annie is hesitant about Ray leaving for Boston to find Terence Mann given the dire nature of their finances, but she relents once they both realize that they have recently dreamed the same exact dream where Ray is eating a hot dog at Fenway Park with Mann. He heads for Boston in his old Volkswagen van, unsure of what he'll say to Mann if and when they meet.

Ray eventually finds Mann who gives him a very unkind reception. Mann [played by James Earl Jones] has not written a novel in many years and spends his time developing interactive software for kids to teach them nonviolent conflict resolution skills. He is exhausted by his years of interaction with his readers who insist that he return to writing and social activism. Ray tries to assure Mann that he is not interested in anything like, but Mann forcibly throws Ray out of his apartment saying: "Peace, love, dope! Now get the hell outta here!"

Ray comes back in a few seconds later with his hand in his pocket insisting that he has a gun. Mann is like, "Show it to me" and Ray's like, "It's my gun. I don't have to show it to you." Then Mann comes at Ray with a crowbar and chases him around the apartment.

After the scuffle, which Ray ends by loudly reminding Mann that he's a pacifist, Mann finally finds Ray's persistence endearing and decides to attend a game in Fenway Park with him. Ray asks him about the quote about playing at Ebbets Field. Mann's like, "I never said that. I don't recall even thinking it."

At the game, Ray is sitting with Mann eating a hot dog in the exact way he and Annie foresaw in the dream. All of a sudden, Ray hears the voice again, and it whispers, "Go the distance." The JumboTron screen wigs out and instead of the score to the game or advertisements or whatever, there is a message that pops up that seems to only be visible to Ray:



Ray writes down the information and asks Terence Mann if he saw it. Mann is like, "Saw what?" Ray apologizes to Mann saying, "I guess you didn't have to be here tonight." Ray takes Mann back to his apartment in the van. As he's leaving the van, Mann asks, "What did the voice say?" and Ray's like, "Leave the man alone. He's done enough." Mann walks away from the van toward his apartment.

Ray does a U-turn and once he gets all the way around, his headlights illuminate Mann who is just standing there in the middle of the street. Ray's like, "What the..." and Mann just says, "Moonlight Graham." Ray freaks out. He's like, "You did see it!" And then Ray asks Mann what he thinks it means. Mann like, "It means we're going to Minnesota to find Archibald Graham." and Ray's like, "What will we do once we get there?" and Mann's like, "How the hell should I know?"

They drive in the van to Chisholm and find out that Archibald Graham has been dead for several years. The townsfolk who knew him confirm that he got into the major leagues, but never got to really play. They tell Ray and Mann that, after the majors, Graham pursued his education in medicine and became the town doctor.

Not knowing how to proceed, Ray goes for a walk through Chisholm that night. Looking around at the movies playing as new releases at the theater and at the license plate tags on the cars, he realizes he's been transported ten years into the past. He stumbles upon Graham who is also out for a walk. Ray tells him that he has come all the way from Iowa and Boston to meet him, and Graham invites Ray to his doctor's office. He explains that although his dream was to play in the majors, the disappointment of the fact that he never got to play [besides a couple minutes of one inning in the outfield] is outweighed by the joy he experienced his whole life as a doctor. Ray tries to tell him that he'd experienced a tragedy by getting so close to his dream. Graham says, "If I had never been able to be a doctor - that would have been a tragedy."

Graham admits that even though he has no regrets, he really wishes he could have experienced what it was like to stare down a major league pitcher and wink at him right before the wind-up. Graham asks Ray, "Are you the kind of man who could grant me that wish?" Ray says that he could if Graham would come with him back to Iowa. Graham politely declines, saying that he needs to get back to his wife, who would worry he'd got a girlfriend.

Ray returns to the motel where he and Mann are staying and explains everything to Mann. They decide that they've tried their best in Chisholm and Ray offers to take Mann back to Boston, but Mann insists on seeing the players back in Iowa. On the car ride back home, Ray pulls over to pick up a hitchhiker. It's a young kid who says he's looking for a gig playing baseball with a town team who would give him a job and a place to stay [a system that was popular in the midwest in like the twenties or something]. He says his name is Archie Graham.

Before they get back to the farm, Mann starts asking Ray about why he didn't get along with his father. He talks about kinda the usual father/son conflicts but says that a major turning point in their relationship [the point when Ray refused to ever have a catch with his dad] was right after he read the The Boat Rocker by Terence Mann. Mann's like, "That's not my fault that you stopped playing catch with your dad." Ray's like , "I know," and then he says that the last thing he ever said to his dad before he died was that he could never trust a man whose hero was a criminal. Mann's like, "Who was his hero?" and Ray's like, "Shoeless Joe Jackson."

End of the Movie

They get back to the farm. Mann and Archie [who gets to fulfill his wish to wink at a major league pitcher] can see and interact with the ball players, but Annie's brother still can't. The brother starts dialing up the pressure on Ray to turn the farm back to the bank. This will ensure that Ray and Annie can keep the house, but the bank will take possession of the farm, including the ball field, tearing it down to make space for more crops.

Ray's like, "No way!" and the brother gets furious. Karin, who's sitting at the top of the bleachers eating a hot dog pipes up with this prophecy about how "people will come," basically saying that people will be drawn to the field to watch the ball games and they'll pay admittance fees that Ray and Annie can use to pay back the bank.

Mann picks up on Karin's line of prediction and basically restates her prophecy with greater eloquence and more explanation about people's desire for connection to the past that will draw them to the farm to watch the games. The brother hears all this and gets pissed. He goes up to Karin and the bleachers to pick her up, kinda to show, "this is your daughter and you're turning her into a psycho," but he accidentally drops her onto the ground. She gets knocked out and is not breathing. Archie Graham, who sees all this happen, comes through the crowd of ball players, and stops at the edge of the field [the same place where Shoeless Joe stopped and said he couldn't cross]. He decides to cross the threshold. As he does, he transforms into the old "Doc" Graham that Ray met in Iowa. He's got his doctor's bag and everything. He comes over to Karin and declares, "This child is choking to death." He slaps her on the back until she coughs up a chunk of hot dog and resumes breathing and consciousness.

As Graham crosses back across the edge of the field, he doesn't turn back into Archie, but remains an old man. Ray's like, "Oh no. I'm so sorry!" but Doc reiterates to Ray that he doesn't have any regrets about choosing to be a doctor and kinda expresses his gratitude to Ray for getting the opportunity to play for real. He shakes everybody's hand and dissolves into the corn after winking at Ray, saying, "I'd better get back. Alicia will think I got a girlfriend."

Annie's brother's eyes are opened and he's like, "When did all these baseball players get here?" and he finally tells Ray, "You can't sell the farm."

Shoeless Joe decides to call it a night with the baseball and everybody walks back into the corn. As they're packing up the last stuff for the night, Joe asks, "Hey, do you wanna come with us?" and Ray's like, "In there?" - pointing to the corn. Joe's like, "Not you. Him." - pointing to Terence Mann. Ray loses it. He's like, "I've done all this stuff exactly how I was asked and I've never once asked what's in it for me." Joe's like, "What are you saying Ray?" Ray's like, "I'm saying... What's in it for me?"

Joe and Mann both tell Ray to basically just keep doing what he's supposed to and not ask for more. Mann leaves into the corn, himself dissolving like the shadows. Joe looks back on Ray and one other ball player who has stayed behind. Joe quietly admits that everything ["If you build it he will come", "Ease his pain", and "Go the distance"] was all for Ray.

The ball player who stayed behind is the catcher. He takes off his mask, and Ray loses his bearings. He says to Annie, who is standing next to him holding Karin, "That's my dad."

Ray's like, "What should I say to him?" and Annie's like, "How about you introduce him to his granddaughter?" He goes over there and introduces him to Annie and Karin as "John." Annie and Karin go back in the house to give Ray some time with his father.

After talking to him as "John" Ray breaks down and says, "Dad? Wanna have a catch?" John and Ray play catch as the camera pans out, revealing a line of hundreds of headlights making their way through the country roads to Ray and Annie's farm.


I love this movie. I don't know if I'd call it a "sports film" but it is definitely my favorite one where a sport is featured. I like how it creates this amazing story using baseball as an environment.

I feel that I relate well with this movie, too. I think that the father/son conflict is felt and understood by almost any man who watches it. There's another point where I really connect with this film: mystic revelation.

I'm a Mormon. for us, the concept of revelation is extraordinarily important. We believe pretty literally in what the Bible says Jesus said:

...go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

~ Mark 16:15 - 16

We don't believe in being "damned" in the Catholic sense of getting tortured forever by demons in hell. It's more about the tragedy of losing opportunities for growth. One of the things we miss out on without baptism is the opportunity to open the doors of revelation through the Holy Ghost.

We have this belief in the church that after a person is baptized [literally immersed in water by someone who has priesthood authority like the apostles of Jesus had], she or he can receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the same authority. Although we don't teach exactly the same things about the Holy Ghost in the "trinitarian" sense of many Christian churches, we believe that the gift of the Holy Ghost endows the receiver with revelation - that God will communicate with him or her, directly, the way He did with prophets throughout the Bible [and outside the Bible].

I bring this up because members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [Mormons] report experiences with the Holy Ghost that are totally similar to the experiences of Ray, Annie, and others shown in Field of Dreams.

The pattern of following vague, but undeniable promptings or feelings to unknown ends is commonly reported in the church. I have personally had times when I've got a super strong set of impressions and thoughts that have led me to irrational behavior [like, for instance, a prompt to say something totally offensive in the face of someone I had just barely met], but that have worked out toward some end that I didn't see coming, but recognized as important [and even, sometimes, transcendent] after the fact.

It is this pattern of revelation that leads me to love and appreciate Field of Dreams even more than I would were I not a mystically-minded person. Ray's struggle is understood by every Mormon who, after her or his baptism, feels the unrelenting push to do something irrational and perhaps even irresponsible, but who realizes, in the end, that it was all part of a greater plan [such as Ray's reunion with his estranged father].

David Bednar, a Mormon apostle, gave an interview on revelation that the church stitched into some video and graphic design elements. I'll share that three-part interview series here. Part three is the one I think is most applicable to this discussion. In it, Bednar talks about his own experience receiving revelation that is really similar to Ray's experience: not really knowing where things are headed.

Field of Dreams is the gem of 1989 cinema, in my opinion. And Ray and Annie and Terence and Karin show us what it's like to have the gift of the Holy Ghost.