OK, so I’m a sentimental fool.
I’ve been around the block a few times, and like most heterosexual men I’ve had the uncomfortable experience of sitting through some dreary chick-flick like Beaches or Stepmom while the lady on my arm blubbered into her Kleenex.
My Achilles’ heel is Field of Dreams.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson, who adapted it from a book by W.P. Kinsella, Field of Dreams is being screened Friday afternoon at the Lucas Theatre, as part of their summer movie co-promotion with the Savannah Sand Gnats.
That’s right, it’s a baseball movie. You know it: It’s the one where Iowa farmer Kevin Costner, at the command of mysterious voice on the wind, plows under his cash crop of corn – spending the family nest egg in the bargain – to build a state-of-the-art baseball diamond.
There’s magic in them thar cornfields, as it happens, and before you can say “Henry Hill” you’ve got Ray Liotta, playing long-dead ballplayer Shoeless Joe Jackson, who’d been banned from professional play after throwing the 1919 World Series.
(Liotta’s New Yawk accent, as my friend Jim Morekis points out, doesn’t help the credibility factor, since the real Jackson was from rural South Carolina.)
Soon Joe – he’s a ghost, duh – is joined by his teammates from the blackballed Chicago White Sox. What Ray Kinsella (Costner) discovers, while other-worldly music plays and shooting stars streak across the Iowa sky, is that these guys never got to fulfill their baseball destiny. Ray’s cornfield of dreams is where God (or somebody) has sent their restless spirits to play a few final games, just for the sheer fun of it.
OK, right now there’s a lot of sap in the air. But it’s done well, and if you employ what filmmakers call “suspension of disbelief” (i.e. just go with it) it’s a nice little fantasy. This was before Costner became a dependably obnoxious actor.
But Field of Dreams doesn’t end with the “Black Sox.” The voice tells Ray to search out reclusive 1960s radical Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), which Ray does, not having the slightest idea why – but hey, the voice was right about the cornfield.
What follows is a series of totally unbelievable but engrossing (and well-acted) scenes involving visions, gut instincts, subtle metaphors, and a dead doctor named Moonlight Graham (who comes to life in the form of Burt Lancaster).
What you don’t realize is that Robinson has been dropping clues all along as to what the story is really about.
As a teenager, Ray had become estranged from his father; they’d said some angry things and Ray ran off to pursue the hippie dream, never to see him again. The old guy had died before Ray “got the chance to take it all back.”
The ending makes me choke up every time, and I’ve owned Field of Dreams since it first appeared on VHS way back in 1989.
Now, I can’t catch or throw a baseball to save my life, never could. My dad and I never once “had a catch,” as Ray would say. Oh, Dad would have if I’d asked him, but sports never interested me in the slightest. I was a guitar player.
When my father died at 81, three years ago, we’d never had a (terribly) cross word between us.
When I see the ghost of Ray’s dad, as a young man, make his first appearance silhouetted against the backstop, I start to choke up. Turns out he, too, had unfulfilled dreams.
I cry when Doc Graham says “If I’d never gotten to be a doctor, now that would have been a tragedy.” I cry when Terence Mann says “People will come.” I cry when Shoeless Joe says “No, Ray. It was you.” I’m getting goosebumps as I write this.
That’s because Field of Dreams isn’t a really baseball movie at all. It’s about the connection between fathers and sons, fused by blood and love and loss and experience, that can never be un-made. No matter how many baseballs – or epithets – have been tossed.
No matter how much corn has gone under the bridge.
Field of Dreams
Where: Lucas Theatre, 32 Abercorn St.
When: 3:30 p.m. Friday, July 31
Tickets: $8 public, $6 seniors and military, $4 SCAD students
Phone: (912) 525-5050
Sand Gnats: $17 includes movie ticket, round-trip transportation to and from Grayson Stadium for Friday night’s game, and one general admission game ticket.