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The Perfect Scene: “Field of Dreams”

“The Perfect Scene” is The Flyover’s ongoing series where we discuss our favorite moments in movie history.

 

The Movie

“Field of Dreams,” based on W.P. Kinsella’s 1982 novel “Shoeless Joe,” was released in May 1989. An immediate and enduring hit, it combines an engrossing plot with great casting and cinematography, beautifully capturing a story that feels universal.

“Field of Dreams” represents the America that those of us who believe in its promise still hold in our hearts. The power of having a dream, and the freedom to do so. Second chances. The beauty of baseball. The simple joys of life and family.

 

The Setting

The setting of “Field of Dreams” is perhaps more integral to its success than any other movie in film history. Not only is it central to the plot, but it also provides a beautiful canvas for director Phil Alden Robinson and cinematographer John Lindley to paint their story upon. 

They found the perfect location, the perfect farmhouse, and built the perfect field. 

In a cornfield in the middle of nowhere.

When most people think of vacation destinations, they think of Hawaii, Bermuda, or Europe. But, last year at this time, there was only one place I wanted to visit: Dyersville, Iowa.

As you drive for dozens of miles on one-lane roads, you start to wonder if this is going to be worth it. Will it be just another tourist trap? Could it possibly live up to the majestic vision you’ve had in your head since you were a kid? 

That first turn off the main road, and you can actually start to see the light stands rising like beacons in the distance. A few minutes later, and from afar you can see the house, just as you start to make out the field’s backstop. You make a left turn onto a long driveway, not even knowing for sure why you’re doing it, and there it is.

The Field of Dreams.

It’s as if Ray Liotta and Kevin Costner had left just minutes ago; everything looks, and feels, exactly as it did in the movie, and in your dreams.

You throw the ball around with a friend or a stranger and talk about your experiences with the movie and with baseball. You may come from vastly different backgrounds or hold disparate beliefs, but none of that matters in this moment.

You take a little batting practice, field some grounders and throw runners out at first base. You sprint around the bases as if you’d just hit a home run, and gleefully abscond into the cornstalks whenever a ball gets hit or thrown into its expanse. You’d swear you could see the millions of people who must have come here in the past 30 years, doing exactly the same thing.

Was it heaven? Maybe not, but it was close.

 

The Scene

“If you build it, he will come.”

“Ease his pain.”

“Go the distance.”

We’ve spent the entire movie, along with Ray Kinsella (Costner), trying to figure out this growing puzzle, yet we seem no closer to discovering the answer as the movie reaches its climax: a young Moonlight Graham leaving the baseball field, his lone at bat finally secured, to save Kinsella’s daughter.

Finally, the answer to the riddle is revealed. The voice didn’t present itself because of Shoeless Joe (Ray Liotta), Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), or Moonlight Graham (Burt Lancaster); though, maybe it was talking about all of them. All of these characters, including Ray, had dreams to fulfill and pains to ease. But, the most important piece of the puzzle, the answer, is standing behind home plate taking off his catcher’s mask.

John Kinsella. Ray’s father.

It is unclear, while the two men make small talk, as to whether John knows he is speaking with his son. They discuss baseball, the field, and heaven the way you might converse with someone you’d just met or haven’t seen in a long time. 

And of course, they hadn’t, due to a rift caused years ago and never mended. They leave out this reality, the pain they once caused each other: it has no place here.

And, with one simple question, everything is forgiven.

“Hey dad? You wanna have a catch?”

 

Why It’s Perfect

It’s perfect because of Kevin Costner.

“Hey dad,” he barely chokes out, unsure if John knows it’s him. His father turns back as if he had been waiting for it, grateful for just one more minute with his son.

“You wanna have a catch?”

Costner’s line reading is tremendous, five words containing years of emotional depth and spiritual release. He asks the question unsure whether his father has forgiven him or if the elder Kinsella will say yes. But, he has to ask.

When John says, “I’d like that,” and the first ball is thrown, Ray’s conscience is clear, as is his father’s. Now, it’s just a father and son having a catch.

It’s perfect because it looks great.

Filmed during that magical golden hour, the colors in the scene are downright heavenly. It’s picturesque, the kind of thing you might hang proudly on a wall in your house or a museum.

It’s framed brilliantly too: Costner suddenly seems like a child, looking up to his father like he once did all those years ago. He is completely vulnerable, the pain and hope welling up in his eyes.

We feel every step, every word, every pop of the mitt. 

It was worth it all.

 

It’s perfect because it’s about fathers and sons.

No matter how many times you watch this scene, you are hard-pressed not to get emotional. While studying the scene for this piece, I must have thought about Kinsella asking his father for a catch a dozen times, each one bringing goosebumps or the start of a tear.

This is what great art does for us. It makes us forget that we are watching a movie, or that we have bills to pay, and allows us to truly connect, if only for a little while. 

Because “Field of Dreams” is not a movie about baseball, not really. Rather, it’s a movie about what happens when hopes, dreams, and relationships don’t go the way you had planned, and what happens when they do. It’s a movie about second chances, about love and passion.

It’s a movie about fathers and sons.

As someone who spent almost my entire amateur baseball playing career being coached by a father who once played semi-professionally, it is impossible to watch this scene and not think of my dad. All those games we played and watched together for two decades. All those times we were frustrated at each other as we each navigated my teenage years. All those catches on the side of the house.

Those catches were almost a nightly ritual, something we’d do well past our arms getting tired or the sun having gone down. It was a way to connect even when neither of us had much to say. As it was for Ray, it is still one of the fondest memories I have of my childhood, and one of the things I most look forward to whenever covid-19 might allow me to go home to visit.

Because baseball, well…

“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time.

It’s a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and that could be again.”

 

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