When Ray Kinsella hears the whisper and begins plowing up his Iowa cornfield, I can start to feel the emotion building toward the sanctity of the baseball field. Too often, Field of Dreams is condemned as “only a baseball movie” by some, when in fact, the beauty of the film transcends any single genre to something sublime.
Kevin Costner’s opening monologue shares more than a few lines of dialogue should: how his father grew up in a different time and tried to instill things he loved in young Ray, how his mother died and left a gaping hole in their family, how young Ray ran away from his father like the Prodigal Son, how his father died before they reconciled. And then… he hears the whisper, “if you build it, he will come.” Suddenly, there are second chances at all of the big feels -redemption, restoration, reconciliation – and for the first time in his life, thirty-something Ray Kinsella has a calling, a vision, a reason, a purpose.
But who is the “he” in mind when Kinsella announces his sudden decision? The audience knows that Shoeless Joe Jackson will play a role here thanks to the foreshadowing (and the fact that most people over ten have seen at least part of this film), but next, we’re on to the way that Kinsella’s wife (Amy Madigan’s Annie) tells Ray that he might be crazy but if he thinks it’s what he’s supposed to do, then he should do it. Seriously, who wouldn’t want their spouse, friend, or confidant to buy into the mission or vision of what they feel called to do? Kinsella is chasing this because the one true memory he has attached to his father is their mutual love of baseball, even if the team Ray picks as a child to root for is because he can thumb his difference in his dad’s face. And now, he’s supposed to build a cornfield baseball field because somehow it will “ease his pain.”
Consider those factors for a minute: the prodigal who ran away from home to the West Coast, returns to the central states with his one true love, finds himself yearning for something simpler, more pure, that is actually an homage to his father. He grew up without the iconic family situation – as is in fact an adult version of a Disney movie child, orphaned and left to fend for himself, with an unseen Mister Miyagi-like guide, akin to Joseph Campbell’s hero myth. Throw in the fact that Kinsella’s field will somehow bring the ghosts of the Chicago White Sox players who played in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal where they threw the World Series, where one of them will ask if they’re in heaven, and there’s a supernatural element to the way that healing comes through playing a game in exponentially powerful ways.
There’s also a “belief” element here, too, like The Polar Express or It’s a Wonderful Life that pop around Christmastime. Not everyone can see the ghost players, the spirits who come to inhabit the field that Kinsella builds because not everyone thinks they could possibly be real. It’s the spiritual payoff to Kinsella’s belief – because he builds what can’t be seen or believed, he finds healing – and so do all of these other souls. But for those who see and believe, there’s more – there’s faith, hope, and even love. There’s something deeper in this Iowa cornfield that makes it akin to the kingdom of heaven being here and not yet.
Somehow, in this baseball field, people begin to see that even if they can’t quite wrap their minds around it, that heaven does show up but it’s not heaven completely fulfilled. It’s a perfect place that will only be more perfected some day when they disappear into the corn.
And it’s a comforting reminder to all of us in our different siloed quarantines that the best is yet to come.