A few years ago, I was summoned home. It was my dad. It was time, I was told. I remember all of the thoughts and memories that raced through my mind, all of the things I had to say. I even wrote them down. But when I arrived, I simply stood in the doorway, tight-lipped and afraid. I was lucky. It was a false alarm but the moment remained with me.
A good film can be measured by how much it is beloved despite its ridiculousness. By all accounts, Field of Dreams is absurd, but I love it. And so do most men. The central idea is strong and it carries us along: what if you could share one last moment with the person who shaped you and apologize? It imagines a fantasy world in which men who unload their burdens and responsibilities are rewarded with love, approbation, and financial success.
The film follows farmer and family man Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) who, after hearing voices that bear fortune cookie advice, convinces his wife to let him follow those instructions (which includes building a baseball field) despite great personal financial and emotional cost. Ray’s journey takes him across the country in search of a reclusive writer (James Earl Jones) and a former ballplayer-turned-doctor. In the end, Ray’s passion and irresponsibility are rewarded.
So I’m throwing Field of Dreams into the Fiction vs. Reality machine this week. Not to make fun of it, but to convince everyone that the fact that this could never happen in real life is a mistake that must be corrected. So just how would this play out in real life?
Scenario # 1
What Happens: After hearing voices and seeing visions of a baseball field, Ray delivers an impassioned speech to his wife about his desire to bankrupt the family so he can feel “spontaneous” and avoid the responsibilities of adulthood that crushed his father’s spirit.
Hollywood Version: Ray’s wife agrees to go along with the plan. She doesn’t want him to end up like his father, too.
Reality: According to psychiatrist Nina Motaine, “From what we know, Ray’s father was a war hero and a talented ballplayer who lost his young wife to cancer and was forced to give up his dreams to raise a son alone without any help from relatives. The fact that he put him through college – Berkeley, no less! – is amazing. And he is rewarded with a petulant son who now demonizes him to his own family. This is detestable.”
Scenario # 2
What Happens: Ray builds a baseball field.
Hollywood Version: Based upon a five-second vision, Ray builds a state-of-the-art baseball field all by himself in a few months.
Reality: According to architect Steve Halloway, “One cannot build structures without a clear set of blueprints. The construction of a baseball field requires adherence to strict measurements, a working knowledge of physics, and cooperation from state and local authorities. It also requires at least $100,000 and a construction crew of at least 25 men. Unless, he enlisted the help of the ghost players, it would take 5-15 years to complete. This is the most unrealistic part of the film.”
Scenario # 3
What Happens: After the field is completed, a strange man wearing an outdated baseball uniform shows up on the farm in the middle of the night and expects Ray to hit fly balls to him.
Hollywood Version: Assuming the man is a ghost and not a murderer, Ray is… elated and caters to the ghost’s whims without subjecting him to any questions.
Reality: According to Iowa Sheriff Reginald Martin, “Based upon my years of experience, when a man shows up uninvited to your home in the middle of the night, he is there to rob, rape, or murder you. Or all three. Very rarely does that man want to conduct batting practice.The townsfolk are right; this man is a fool.”
Scenario # 4
What Happens: During a PTA meeting, parents discuss the merits of Terrance Mann’s (read J.D. Salinger’s) seminal novel about the 1960s.
Hollywood Version: The parents’ concerns are met with calm and insightful rejoinders from the school board about the value of the novel. For no apparent reason, Ray’s wife attacks a concerned mother and rallies the crowd against her by employing the same bully tactics of the very tyrants she claims to despise. The crowd in the film (and the audience) rejoices. Then, seconds after conducting (and winning) a poll, she runs away to revel in her “victory.”
Reality: “Not likely,” says Phillip Marker, Arizona school board president. “Informal polls conducted by sociopathic parents during a PTA meeting are not legally binding and do not inform our policy decisions. We have a committee that meets twice a year. Those closed-door meetings are the times during which we make recommendations, one of which will be to send her to a psychiatrist. Her husband may hear voices, but she is crazy.”
Scenario # 5
What Happens: Ray picks up reclusive writer Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones). In Ray’s attempt to “go the distance,” he is magically transported to 1972 and strikes up a conversation with Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, the old town doctor.
Hollywood Version: After seeing a marquee with The Godfather emblazoned on it, Ray instantly accepts that he has traveled back in time and uses this gift to talk to an old man about his dreams.
Reality: Wanting to see The Godfather on the big screen, Ray forgoes his plans and watches the movie. Then, he sleeps with as many women as possible. Later that night, he tells Terrance Mann he “went the distance” with five college coeds. The voice just says, “Yes!”
Scenario # 6
What Happens: After Ray’s brother-in-law is unsuccessful in his attempts to persuade the couple to sell the farm to avoid bankruptcy, he throws their daughter Karin off the bleachers.
Hollywood Version: First of all, no one (except for me) laughs. While the daughter lay unconscious, Ray stops his wife from calling 911 – the doctor ghost already called dibs. The characters and the audience are annoyed with the mother for wanting living medical professionals.
Reality # 1: According to Dr. Levy Smith, “In the time it takes the ghost doctor to saunter over to the choking child, she would have been dead for over a minute. I don’t know about ghosts, but humans require oxygen to live.”
Reality # 2: “This is a textbook case of attempted murder for the brother-in-law and negligent homicide for Ray,” asserts Leroy Jones, Santa Barbara Police Sgt. “And I would charge the ghost ‘baseball’ gang with conspiracy. They threw a game together, then they helped murder a child together, and now they’ll go to the electric chair together.”
Scenario # 7
What Happens: Ray has one last chance to sell the farm and avoid bankruptcy.
Hollywood Version: Both the daughter and Terrance Mann give heartfelt and beautiful speeches about our lost innocence as a nation. They suggest that baseball is the antidote to our capitalistic greed. Then, they declare that people will feel compelled to drive to the farm to watch baseball and regain their innocence. THEN, they lay out a pricing plan for Ray to charge these suckers ($20!). The audience is entranced.
Reality: According to Ray Lowenstein, former owner of the New York Mets, “Considering the time this took place, this is exactly two times higher than our pricing structure. And our price includes restrooms, parking, competing teams, food and drink. Frankly, Ray’s ability to bleed these poor people dry to profit for his own family makes him exactly the kind of general manager that we abhor. He is the greediest of them all. For shame.”
Scenario # 8
What Happens: The baseball ghosts ask Terrance Mann to join them in the cornfield.
Hollywood Version: Terrance and Ray assume he is wanted for his mind – his passion for writing has been reignited and he believes this will be fodder for a new novel. They (and the audience) are imbued with hope.
Reality: The players, dead since the early-mid 1900’s, are unenlightened and still harbor a deep racism. Mann learns, with dawning horror, that he was asked not to write about the afterlife, but to clean up after it.
Scenario # 9
What Happens: Ray has a catch with his dad.
Hollywood Version: Hatchets are buried, the triumphant music swells, and every guy in the audience (including me) tears up. Women remain universally unmoved.
Reality: After a few tosses of the ball, the old problems resurface. The father and son reignite their old arguments that culminate in a shouting match after which Ray leaves to blow off some steam. The wife “eases the pain” of Ray’s father. Turns out, everything -- the voice, the field, etc -- was all part of an elaborate plan by the father to exact revenge on his immature and spoiled son.
Scenario # 10
What Happens: People arrive at the farm in droves. The uplifting music swells.
Hollywood Version: The family and the audience are happy for Ray and his family. The moral is to follow your crazy dreams/voices and you will be rewarded with riches, the only valuable currency in life.
Reality# 1: According to Iowa Senator Frank Sartoel, “This man is vile. He does not understand the local and global economy. By plowing under his crops, he is producing less corn, which in turn causes a chain reaction that essentially leads to less production and profit for all of his neighbors. On the other hand, his ‘ghost field’ blocks up traffic, which will force us to hire more police officers and rebuild the infrastructure of that town. That comes from taxpayer money. So Ray keeps the profit and makes millions at the expense of his neighbors and the world. This is a field of dreams… for a conservative Republican.”
Reality # 2: According to Stephen Thie, vice president of risk assessment at TDBank North, “No. According to the brother-in-law, the bank already purchased the note. Ray had until business close to take the deal; otherwise the bank would foreclose the next day. In this instance, the paperwork would have already been processed. First, they would not accept his package of twenty dollars bills. Second, they would still foreclose on the property. Third, since the bank owns it, they would continue the ghost field and make a tidy profit. They might, however, hire Ray at minimum wage to maintain the field. The only voices he’ll hear will be the guy announcing specials at Home Depot.”
Final Thoughts: Most of us are never going to build that field. Our parents will disappear and with them our memories of them and of us. But the film remains. And it reminds us. It’s not a lot, but it helps.
The reality is that abandoning your family and your responsibilities in pursuit of your dreams will (almost) never result in financial success, strangers who trespass on your property should be arrested (and not supported), and finally, if you hear voices, please see a psychiatrist. – you have a problem.