November 7, 2016

Field of Dreams, the movie

So, after that message at Samhain -- a message that wasn't even for me -- I decided maybe I should watch this old movie, give it another chance.

I remember seeing it when it was new, probably on VHS. My dad liked baseball movies. I think I liked it at the time, when I was 12, but as an adult, I just assumed it was cheesy, corny, if I thought of it at all. A lot of 80s movies were. And Kevin Costner, though he was a big, big star in his day, is kind of a joke now. Ever since Waterworld, a movie that doesn't quite deserve its reputation.

But now, as an ancestor worshiper, it looks very very different. Spoilers ahead.

Ray Kinsella came of age in the 60s, attending Berkeley, as far as he can get from New York. Alienated from his father, missing his dead mother, he simply ran away. His father was an old-fashioned man who once played a season in the minor leagues, and whose hero was Barefoot Joe Jackson, one of the Black Sox, the eight men permanently suspended from professional baseball for supposedly throwing the 1919 World Series. Ray's parting shot to his father was that he couldn't respect a man whose hero was a criminal.

In the 80s, Ray's wife Annie convinced him to buy a farm in Iowa. One day, out in his cornfield, Ray heard a voice whisper to him. "If you build it, he will come." Again and again he heard it. No notion of who "he" was, none of what "it" was, until he had a vision of a baseball diamond there in the corn. So, with his wife's support, he plows under a couple of acres of his crop, and builds one. (If this movie were made today, she'd fight with him about it, not support him, and their little girl Karen would be a teenage boy.) A year went by, and then one evening as he's trying to figure out the bills with his wife, as they agonize about the diamond that has cost them crop land and might cost them their farm, his daughter says, "Daddy, there's a man out there on your lawn." And there's Barefoot Joe, who just missed the field and the play. And then with him come the other Black Sox, who missed it too. Men dead for decades, back at their prime but with all their memories, back to play ball, walking out of the cornfield.

The voice comes again. "Ease his pain." After a book-banning incident at the PTA, Ray decides that the "he" in this case is Terence Mann, his favorite author from the 60s. Finding an old interview in which Terry said he'd seen Moonlight Graham play the one half-inning of one game he got in the majors, and that his childhood dream had been to play a game with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field, Ray sets out to take Mr. Mann to a ball game, and eventually to his own field in Iowa. After some initial reluctance, Mann joins Kinsella at a game, where both of them hear the voice whisper, "Go the distance" and see the stats for Moonlight Graham appear on the scoreboard. Together, they head for Minnesota, on a baseball odyssey. There, they discover that Archibald Graham became a doctor after retiring from baseball, and has since died. But on the way back to Iowa, who should they pick up on the side of the road but a very young Graham.

Graham joins the ever-increasing number of dead ball players on the Field, which turns out to be lucky, as he's able to save Ray's young daughter from choking on a hot dog. But having become his older self to do it, Archie can't go back to the game, and he vanishes into the corn all the players come out of.

Ray and Annie's financial situation is getting worse and worse, and Annie's brother Mark is trying to convince them to sell to his group so they can stay in the house, before the farm is foreclosed on. They refuse, standing by the field and the ball players, the latter of which Mark can't see. But Karen and Shoeless Joe both insist that "If you build it, they will come," that the existence of the ball field and the game will draw people from all over, people who don't know why they've come, but come they will, and they'll pay for the privilege.

And then, finally, one more player steps out of the corn and onto the grass, a young rookie from the minors name John Kinsella. The "he" the Voice keeps talking about. Ray's father, whom he never apologized to, who never met Annie or Karen. And Ray gets to say he's sorry, and to play catch with his father one more time.

And he did build it, and so they do come.

Maybe it is a bit corny, but I don't care. The Voice gives me chills every time I hear it, as do the moments when the players step out of the cornfields. The resolution makes me cry. This is a movie about hero worship, heroes in the modern sense of people we admire deeply, and about ancestor worship. About building relationships with the Dead, and making peace with them that you never reached during their lifetimes. About knowing your ancestors and where you came from.

Most people now can't imagine building relationships with people they can't see or touch (even most Christians, who may manage it with their god, but can't conceive of doing it with anyone else). Movies like this one give them a fantasy of those people made physical again, able to be heard and touched and seen with the eyes. But those of us who worship and serve the Dead, the Ancestors, we know that there are sensory organs other than the eyes, the ears, the skin, and that we can see and hear and touch the Dead, if only we take the time to learn how. Movies like this serve a purpose, though. They give people a touchstone for the idea of dealing with the Dead, let them fantasize about what it might be like to meet their Dead heroes, their Dead family. And that brings them a step closer to communing with them, can even allow them to brush against their Dead, to hear the echoes of their voices, even if they don't know that's what's happening. It can bring them comfort and hope.

So bring on more cornball movies where the Dead return and having touching moments with the living.