Field of Dreams: a confession

What is it about Field of Dreams?

Why does that movie grab me about the heart and throat and squeeze so tight every time I’ve been it — and I’ve been it a lot.

If you’ve never seen Field of Dreams, let me explain.

A farmer (Kevin Costner) builds a baseball field in the middle of an Iowa cornfield that magically summons long-dead baseball players. Everyone who returns to play ball returns for different reasons, from Shoeless Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta) to an old doctor (Burt Lancaster) to Costner’s long-dead father, from whom he was estranged.

That is the barest of barebones plot outlines for Field of Dreams, based on the book Shoeless Joe, by Edmonton native  W.P. Kinsella.  It was nominated for three Oscars in 1989; best picture, best score (James Horner at his most touching), and screenplay. It lost all three (best picture was Driving Miss Daisy … seriously?). I’m not saying it was the best picture of the year, but I don’t know if any of the films of that year have had the cultural staying power of Field of Dreams, if for nothing else than the film’s most famous line, “If you build it, they will come.”

Funny thing is, I know I should probably hate Field of Dreams.

First, it’s mythologizes baseball, which is the most overrated sport in history. James Earl Jones gives a lengthy soliloquy about baseball that, in another film or on print, would make me queasy. But in this film, for some reason, it works beautifully.

Second, a lot of the dialogue is corny and over-the-top. “Is this heaven?” a character asks. “No, it’s Iowa,” replies Costner. Make me gag… but it doesn’t. After watching it again, which I did just minutes ago, I recognize just how corny a lot of the dialogue is. But I don’t care.

Even the music might be a bit much. It’s typical of James Horner (Titanic)… florid, gushy, with swelling strings and harps and all that stuff. But it works in this film, boy, does it work.

I know a lot of people decry Field of Dreams for its essentially ridiculous story line and overwrought writing. But the damn thing gets to me every time. When Costner meets his dad, he says, with a slight catch in his throat, “Hey, dad… you wanna catch?”  The music swells, my throat tightens and my eyes swell with tears. Yep, every time.

Father-son movies are some of my favourite weepers, as they used to call tear-jerkers in the days when they made, well, tear-jerkers. Searching for Bobby Fisher is an underrated gem, as is October Sky. I can’t recommend these movies enough, especially if you’re a parent looking for a movie you can watch with your tween or teenage kids.  But Field of Dreams is the all-time champ — corny, ridiculous, overwritten, overwrought. And I love it.

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