Very few of us end up where we thought we’d be. I was once on a path for late-night television writing, then law school. Later, it was drinking alone behind dumpsters, and then a path for marriage and kids. Days off (like during President’s Weekend) afford me the time to look back on the compromises I’ve made with my life. If only I had…
I thought about all of these things as I watched Barry Levinson’s classic The Natural, a movie about Roy Hobbes (Robert Redford), a man blessed with great natural baseball ability but cursed with poor decision-making skills that often leave him adrift and alone. After suffering a career-ending gunshot wound at the hands of a serial killer (Barbara Hershey), he drifts through life until re-emerging sixteen years later as a middle-aged rookie for the fictional New York Knights.
Roy must overcome obstacles in the form of a skeptical coach (Wilfred Brimley), a former guy friend (Glenn Close) who claims to be the “mother” of his son, his own demons, and a GM, news reporter, and bookie who each spend the movie’s running time testing Roy’s loyalty to baseball and his own ideals.
I am drawn to the film in spite (or probably because) of its corniness. Most men aren’t affected by weepy movies with characters that endure tragedy; they seem to respond to movies about integrity, a trait that is celebrated only in art and not in life. Roy is true to himself and rewarded for it. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if that were true in the real world, too?
So, I’m putting The Natural into this week’s Fiction vs. Reality machine as my way of pushing for the widespread acceptance of integrity in real life. Also, I wanted an excuse to watch the movie again.
Just how would this movie play out in real life? Let’s find out.
Scenario # 1
What Happens: Ed Hobbes imparts words of wisdom to his son Roy. Then, he succumbs to a heart attack.
Hollywood Version: He tells his son that real strength comprises “a clear mind and an ability to see with your heart.” The audience and Roy are in a state of reverie.
Reality: According to Dr. Marcus Reinhardt, “The heart is a remarkable organ that can perform a great many functions; vision, however is not among them. If Mr. Hobbes could perform this task, he should not be on a farm but in a hospital… or a carnival. Besides, if a man could see with his heart, one would hope this man’s own would have seen this attack coming and warned him.”
Scenario # 2
What Happens: After lightning strikes a tree – the same tree under which Ed Hobbes died! -- Roy fashions the remaining “magical” lumber into a bat he brands “Wonderboy.” I am thankful Ed Hobbes did not die under a “magical” septic tank.
The powerful music swells as Roy and the audience enter into a tacit agreement in which it is understood that God has channeled His awesome power into a homerun-hitting bat. God really is listening.
Reality: “Last year, lightning struck my pizza shop,” reports Eddie Savorno, former Pizza Clown owner. “It did not make it magical; it set the entire shop and all of its workers on fire. I, too, made a bat out of the wreckage, but in lieu of hitting homeruns, I use it to keep away muggers from my cot at the YMCA, where my kids and I now sleep.”
Scenario # 3
What Happens: Before leaving to play for the Chicago Cubs, Roy confesses to a guy (Glenn Close) that he’s never been on a train. The guy responds, “Oh! Riding a train makes you feel important!”
Hollywood Version: Roy and the audience are charmed at the characters’ naiveté/poverty.
Reality: According to Steven Brillmen, attorney for H&R Block, “I ride a train to work everyday. I do not feel important; I feel suicidal. Perhaps you should instead interview the obese homeless man who urinates in his pants that sits next to me on every commute.”
Scenario # 4
What Happens: After getting shot by a lunatic lady and disappearing for 16 years, Roy returns to play for the New York Knights. During a harrowing losing streak, a “doctor” proffers advice to the team such as “losing is a disease. As contagious as bubonic plague… but curable! Just imagine yourself on a ship gently rocking.”
Hollywood Version: The team listens intently and takes notes.
Reality: “The pathology for bubonic plague is fairly simple,” asserts Dr. Levon Lewis, Harvard School of Public Health. “Pestis bacilli accumulate in lymph nodes draining the site of intradermal injection. The bacteria then multiply to high levels. The lymph nodes swell and become hemorrhagic, thrombotic and necrotic. Within 4 days, the patient succumbs to a purulent multifocal exudative bronchopneumonia. If caught early, a course of anti-biotics has been proven to kill the disease; however, clinical trials have not yet tested the efficacy of imagining yourself on a ship.”
Scenario # 5
What Happens: One of the greatest ballplayers of all time, “Bump” Bailey, drops his prima donna act and plays baseball with confidence and concentration, just as Ed Hobbes instructed his son Roy to do.
Hollywood Version: Bump’s efforts are rewarded with… an untimely (and hilarious) death. After walking through what looks like a plank of balsa wood, Bump conveniently dies leaving an open spot for Roy. The audience is… relieved!
Reality # 1: According to anthropologist Dr. Steven Hughes, “Whenever people think of the genocide, they always imagine themselves as victims, not as the perpetrators of mob-mentality violence. The characters’ and audiences’ elation at the demise of a perfectly good man encapsulates what is wrong with humanity. In some ways, Bump is lucky – he remains unaware of the evils in the hearts of the audience and Man. God help us all.”
Reality # 2: According to NY prosecutor Peter Mark, “’Bump’ might have sustained minor scrapes and bruises, but he would not die as a result of walking into a wall made from balsa wood. A more likely scenario is that Roy was waiting behind the wall and beat him to death with ‘Wonderboy.’ Considering his checkered past, Roy’s conviction would be swift. In this instance, I would push for the death penalty. When he is escorted to the electric chair, other prisoners would turn and say, ‘There goes Roy Hobbes, the best murderer that ever was.’”
Scenario # 6
What Happens: In a pre-movie newsreel clip that runs across the country, Roy fields questions from a gaggle of kids.
Hollywood Version: A boy asks, “What does it take to be a big leaguer?” Roy responds, “Well, you have to have a lot of little boy in you!” Then, he turns and makes eye contact with a 12-year old girl and winks. The newsreel announcer says, “Those words of wisdom might just change a young fan’s life!” Audiences smile.
Reality: According to adult film star Amber “All the Way” Burns, “Those words did, in fact, change my life. Yeah, that’s me – the girl – in that news footage. I took his advice literally and lost my virginity a few hours after that scene was shot. It put me on a path from Harvard to high school dropout and porn star. Ultimately, I never was a ‘big leaguer’ unless you count my successful line of ‘Wonderboy’ vibrators. Roy Hobbes is a liar and a monster.”
Scenario # 7
What Happens: Reporter Max Mercy tries to dig up dirt on Roy Hobbes.
Hollywood Version: After frantically searching through a few books of newspaper clippings, Mercy chugs booze and throws his hands in the air in dismay as if to admit, “Roy Hobbes really is a mystery!”
Reality: “This is poor journalism,” asserts Geoffrey Beane, executive editor, New York Post. “When performing research for an investigative piece, one needs to run exhaustive searches through microfilm, microphage, and old contacts including newspaper photographers, doctors, doctors assistants, ER attending physicians in all major hospitals and editors of all major newspapers. One may also hire private investigators to look into Mr. Hobbes. Since he did not change his name, there would be tax returns and employment records. And we don’t condone on-the-job drinking. Frankly, at the end of the film, when pictures appear from Hobbes’ past, Mercy should bury them out of embarrassment – his journalistic failure to get them on his own is humiliating for us all.”
Scenario # 8
What Happens: The Judge, Gus, and Memo Paris conspire over the course of an entire baseball season (and the movie) to subtly rattle Roy’s confidence and neutralize him as a threat; however, Roy’s constitution proves impervious to attack.
Hollywood Version: After the long-term subtle approach fails to yield successful results, the team focuses instead on Plan B, which involves simply force-feeding the guy poisonous desserts at a high-class party. Doctors are baffled.
Reality # 1: “Not a chance,” says Amina Goldsmith, Assistant DA, Tulsa, “When doctors treat patients, they immediately locate and identify the problem. They would uncover the poison almost immediately. This is a slam-dunk attempted murder charge for Memo and the other two would be charged with conspiracy.”
Reality # 2: According to Mark Shine, former Secretary of Defense, “When developing strategy for missions during which we must take out a target, although we consider the idea of a large-scale subtle manipulation of the target’s character, we find poison and/or explosives to be more efficient and effective.”
Scenario # 9
What Happens: While Roy recovers from inhaling a poisonous éclair – seriously, this guy is felled by all kinds of women – a doctor enters the room and delivers shocking news: his stomach lining is deteriorating and could, at any moment, “explode and kill him.” Roy can easily avoid this roadrunner death by quitting baseball forever.
Hollywood Version: All of the characters and the audience… are terrified.
Reality: According to Dr. Vincent Morris, NY Presbyterian, “Our understanding of the human body is always evolving; however, in my 37 years as a doctor, I can assure you there exists no disease in which fielding pop flies results in exploding stomachs. At the very least, I would suggest that Roy get a second opinion. Too bad Roy can only see with his heart and not his stomach.”
Scenario # 10
What Happens: Hobbes, confused after learning that he made a baby with that dude (Glenn Close) from his youth and suffering from a stomach disease so serious it bleeds through his skin, breaks his beloved “Wonderboy” bat during a seminal moment in the game.
Hollywood Version: He orders the batboy Bobby to “pick a winner” for him. After another round of magical lightning strikes, Roy uses Bobby’s homemade bat (the “Savoy Special”) to hit a homerun into the lights. A chain reaction of explosions leaves the crowd and the audience… enchanted!
Reality # 1: Roy strikes out – this time the lightning was a curse set in motion by ghost and all around great guy “Bump” Bailey. Roy blames Bobby for picking a “loser.” Then, he beats Bobby over the head with the Savoy Special. Roy’s son calls him a disappointment and a deadbeat. Without any skills, Roy lands a job cutting wood at Home Depot. He is nicknamed “The Natural” by customers who need help cutting and carrying two-by-fours.
Reality # 2: According to Stanley Kuric, head groundskeeper, “Just one week before that game, Fred Milston personally screwed in all of the light bulbs into those stadium fixtures. He was nearly 70 years old and it took him close to a week to finish that job -- he was so proud of the work he had done. Watching Hobbes round the bases with a smug smile after having defaced his work must have killed poor Fred. At least that’s what the police said when they found his body hanging from a noose by the rafters after the game. Such a terrible loss.”
Scenario # 11
What Happens: That guy (Glenn Close) watches as Roy and his son play catch on the guy’s farm.
Hollywood Version: The characters and the audience are happy.
Reality: According to Stacy Watkins, clinical psychologist and author of Failing To Plan Is Planning To Fail, “This movie is a wake-up call to all deadbeat dads and lazy men out there. We have a talented but unintelligent man with a myopic view of life. His refusal to make wise choices about his financial future is somehow considered a sign of integrity, not stupidity. How will Roy provide for his family? This devastating scene should scare even the weakest of men straight. Forced to quit baseball and in possession of no real world skills, Roy is relegated to playing catch with his son on a farm married to that strange man (Glenn Close). This is as far from a happy ending as it gets. And a great lesson that a man must plan for his future… or else he might end up with Glenn Close.”
Final Thoughts: Like Roy Hobbes, we never know just how far we’ll eventually stray from our natural gifts and whether or not we’ll be happy in that place.
The reality is that newspaper reporting (probably) requires more than flipping a few pages of old newspapers and pouting, lightning is dangerous and not a source of unending homerun power, and if you are ever approached by a guy who claims to be the mother of your child, get a paternity test – you don’t want to end up with Glenn Close unless it’s absolutely necessary.