Often, when I’m asked my favorite movie people are surprised at my list. Manhattan, Woody Allen’s epic of love and innocence lost, Claire’s Knee, Eric Rohmer’s homage to man’s pursuit of the perfect woman, and Field of Dreams.
It’s always been hard to quantify to female friends and relatives just how deep this movie cuts.
From a purely artistic perspective, it is almost the perfect film. The acting is beautifully understated, from Burt Lancaster’s last role, to James Earl Jones’ scruffy Terrance Mann, to Amy Madigan’s understated Annie (no coincidence that her name was Annie, as Costner’s film a year earlier revealed the mystery of the “baseball Annie” in Bull Durham).
But perhaps most surprising was Costner himself, who managed to control his performance so we felt that his befuddled Ray Kinsella was fully believable.
A man’s quest to resolve his relationship with his father though, is the real theme of the film, and Costner undertakes this journey with the perfect combination of naivete and eagerness.
But it is that aspect that has made this film a celebrated classic.
But to me, it is even more personal and always leaves me a blubbering fool.
You see, growing up, my father instilled a love of baseball in me. He was a true “fan”. And yet, despite having a son with talent (which he never seemed to recognize) he refused to encourage that talent.
My father was as far from an athlete as could be. He was all about academics. Driving me to scholastic accomplishments, but more to the point, from his #1 ranking in medical school, to his international reputation, it was the intellect that he pursued.
When I was young, all I would want to do was play “catch”.
It is so hard to describe the bond that develops between a child and his father from this simple act of throwing and catching a ball.
I could stand endlessly for hours with friends doing this, no speaking, just tossing back and forth.
But my dad wanted no part of it. Despite giving me his “Pete Reiser” signature model glove from his childhood, I would have to beg, plead, and cajole him into coming outside.
And he would say to me “OK, 10 throws but that’s it”. And every time I conned myself into believing that no father, no red blooded American dad, could ever really NOT want to play catch with his son. Would ever REALLY stop throwing at ten.
But every time, we would go outside, the count would start. 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 … and inside he would go. Back to Walter Cronkite, or the MacNeil/Lehrer report. Or his medical journals.
And I would be left there, a bundle of youthful energy, subtly, but clearly, being told I just wasn’t worth it. Wasn’t worth the few minutes of what should have been joyous father son time.
In Field of Dreams, it is the Costner character, the son, who refuses to play catch with his dad, when he is 14. His journey is to realize how foolish this was. What he missed by not sharing his life with his dad.
The film ends this way: Ray has not called John Kinsella, his father, “dad” the whole scene, simply calling him John, for fear of revealing to this young “ghost” his true identity…
He’s introduced him to his wife and daughter as “John”, not wanting to break the magic of the heaven he has created to bring back all of the characters in the movie.
As the scene clears of every other character, we are left with just Ray and his father, as a young man, younger even than Ray is now, discussing the Field, and “heaven”. Finally, as John gets set to join the other ballplayers by disappearing into the corn,…
Ray (choking back tears): “Dad, you wanna have a catch?”
John (Ray’s father as young man): “I’d like that”
Cut to Ray and John throwing the ball back and forth as the sun sets…
And cut to my tears, flowing again.
Dad, would you like to have a catch….?