That Moment in Field of Dreams (1989): Archibald’s Sacrifice
The thing about vegetables is that pretty much all of them can’t talk. It’s a virtual guarantee. When you speak to a radish, it doesn’t answer, unless the nurse is late with the medicine. You can go just about anywhere from grocery store to produce farm and you can be fully assured that there is not a single carrot stick, cucumber gourd, lettuce leaf or avocado that’s going start rambling in your ear about how much they hate their job. It’s just one of those certainties in life; something you can count on in a world where not much can be.
But then there’s the corn. All stalk-y and ear-y. When they get together it’s hard to tell what they’re up to. Just ask Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner). He’s a normal guy. Got himself a nice wife, a home, a daughter, and he just started a farm out in Iowa. Big one. Lots of land. And lots of corn. Until today, his biggest worry was taking care of his family and figuring out all that farmy stuff. Just doing his thing, tending to his crops. And he hasn’t done a crazy thing his whole life. But he’s about to. And it all starts with that darned corn.
A hushed male voice tells him, “If you build it, he will come.” And like any sane person in an Iowan corn field at sunset when a hushed male voice tells them to build something in order for him to come, he drops his hoe and high-tails it out of there like a maniac on fire, screaming at the top of his lungs, “PLEASE DON”T KILL ME!”
Actually, he doesn’t run. He remains surprisingly calm, even when he hears it again. “If you build it, he will come.” This corn is a chatty bunch. Bunch? Is that right? A bunch of corn? Maybe bundle. Nope, a sheaf. Thanks Google. The corn is a chatty sheaf. That sounds worse. Sticking with bunch. “If you build it, he will come.” Okay, so they don’t have much to say, but they’re a persistent vegetable. Understandably confused, he heads back to the house in search of that whiskey bottle hidden under the corner stairwell. I made that part up. He actually tries to explain it all to his wife, who shrugs it off. They’re ex-hippes after all, so this kind of thing is normal. All that whacky weed in the 60s surely left a few voices stuck in their heads.
Thing is, this voice does get stuck in his head, and it keeps repeating like a really good chimichanga. And that’s when the visions start. That or else corn not only talk but have advanced knowledge of multimedia presentation software. Out in his cornfield, Ray sees a baseball diamond complete with stadium lighting, outfield warning track and a ghost.
Still incredibly calm, not once wondering if he’s recently received some serious blow to the head, he formulates a theory that surprisingly doesn’t involve treatment from a trained professional. At dinner with his wife and young daughter, he suggests that (deep breathe) the voice is telling him to plow under a large portion of his crop and build a baseball diamond so that once disgraced now dead Chicago White Sox outfielder “Shoeless” Joe Jackson can return to play after being kicked out of the league for his questionable involvement in a gambling fix in the 1919 World Series. Exhale.
In an extensive study of wife characters in popular film I conducted while typing this sentence, Annie Kinsella currently holds the top spot in the “Wife I’d Most Like To Have When Asking To Build A Full Scale Working Replica Of The Original Star Trek Enterprise Bridge With Hired Crew Who Only Call Me Captain” category as her reply to Ray’s monumentally unstable idea is: “You should do it.”
So they do it. But when it’s finished, the strangest thing happens. Nothing. All this talk of building things and some fella stopping over seems to have been for naught as the months go by and the field keeps empty. Seasons pass and Ray is left with an unused sports field and some crippling debt. They spent all their life savings and they’ve nothing to show for it. Nice going hushed male voice. You totally blow. Except . . .
There’s a guy on the field and it’s completely not a neighbor who could have had the best prank in the county’s history if he’d really put some thought into it. Instead, it’s none other than “Shoeless” Joe Jackson himself. And he’s not a zombie, which would have made for a whole different movie and . . . wait a minute! Grabbing a pen. Epic idea: Field of Dreams – If You Build It, He Will Eat Your Brain. Nice. Future secure. Meanwhile, Ray goes out and the two play a little ball before Jackson finally asks him if this is Heaven. Nope. Just Iowa. And because it’s just Iowa, it’s reality and Ray has to face the fact that his field is going to ruin him. Poindexter shows up to remind him that things are going from bad to worse.
Convinced this magical field has more to offer, Ray refuses to replant corn and believes somehow he can save the farm. And that’s when the voice comes back, and once again, its message is a little cloudy. “Ease his pain,” it says. Whose pain? Well, Terrance Mann’s pain, that’s who. At least that’s what Ray figures out a bit later. Mann is a prize winning author and satirist and has been a recluse for decades, dreaming about playing baseball. Naturally, he has pain that needs easing.
Eventually, Ray and Mann agree that there’s something a little odd happening between them. They join forces and follow the voice across country on a journey of self discovery and learn that things heard might have more meaning than expected, especially when coming from a hushed male voice in a corn field.
Directed by Phil Alden Robinson, based on the book by W. P. Kinsella, Field of Dreams is decidedly not a baseball movie. Sure there are a few baseballs in it, every character either knows about or plays baseball, baseball references are used throughout, a central plot point involves a man building a baseball diamond and two others who had dreamed about or gave up dreams of playing baseball, a major plot twist is discovered at a professional baseball game, and all stories converge and culminate on a baseball field, but its got nothing to do with baseball. It’s like saying the movie Titanic is about the Titanic. And, yes, some of it was, that’s true. Actually a lot. Really, like the entire thing from beginning to end. But it was mostly about Jack and Rose. That’s what I’m saying. Their endearing love. And how old Rose friggin’ tossed a multimillion dollar blue diamond off the back of a boat. Man, that was awful. She’s got that hot granddaughter she could have given it too. Set up a nice trust fund for her great grandkids. Heck, how about a charity? A lot of folks could have used that money. But no, right over the railing. Wait. What was I saying? Baseball. Yes. Field of Dreams is not about Titanic. I mean not about sports. It’s actually a rather magical film about forgiveness and reconnecting with family, about holding on to hope and believing in yourself even when other don’t. It’s fantastic.
That Moment In: Field of Dreams
Scene Setup: Ray has followed the mysterious voice to Boston and found Terrance Mann, somehow convincing him that he’s not a crazy person. It helps that Mann himself sees a vision and hears the voice at a major league baseball game. The two head west to find a ballplayer named Archie “Moonlight” Graham, thinking he is the next piece in this wild puzzle. When they get their though, they learn he’s already dead, passed on years earlier after being the town doctor for decades. What next? Well, fate answers that. In the evening, Ray takes a walk, leaving Terrance in the hotel. Once he’s outside, poof, he’s in 1975, strolling along a deserted main street. Well, not entirely deserted, there’s an older gentleman up on the corner wearing a top coat and gripping an umbrella. Ray runs over and the two strike up a conversation and soon Moonlight Graham is telling Ray about that one time fifty years earlier when he had one chance in the big leagues to make a play but it never happened and so he gave it up and fixed kids his whole life. No more interest in baseball. Seems like Ray struck out. Ha, baseball reference. But the next day, while driving back to Iowa, Ray and Terrance come across a hitchhiker. He’s a young guy who, surprise, wants to play baseball. His name? Archie Graham. Did you just get chills? I got chills.
Back at the house, a lot has changed since Ray took off to kidnap Terrance and round up Moonlight. While it was originally just “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and a few of his teammates popping out of the corn rows, now whole teams are coming out to play. Except Ty Cobb. Stick it, they told him. On the field, they play full games and play all day. And they’ve been expecting Moonlight. When he arrives, he is already expected and given a place in the batting order. It gives Ray and Terrance the warm fuzzies as they continue to feel the magic this baseball field delivers. The guys call Moonlight a rookie and give him a man’s initiation to the game, winging fastballs right at his head, mostly because the kid gives the pitcher a wink, thinking it will throw him off. It doesn’t. It’s not what the boy was expecting, but he’s a sport and after Jackson gives him a little advice, he does what he came to do: get his hit. He pops one up that brings in the run. The crowd goes wild. Well Ray, Annie and Terrance do.
The hit gives the old doc his dream. This ball field is in fact just as the title suggests, a place where dreams come true, but again for a soul that has already passed on. It is a place for second chances in the world beyond death. But this is where the moment is significant and why Archie Graham is so important. When we first met him back on the streets in 1975, he was an elderly man with a rich history of service to his community. He loved his wife dearly and had no regrets about his decision to leave baseball, even if the longing to be a professional player lingered. He was a lucky one who at least had one day in the majors, a taste that so few really get, and his appreciation of that is genuine. Still, he never got to the plate, never had a chance to test his meddle against the best. His recounting of that lost opportunity to Ray is magical, the details he remembers and the vision he keeps of how he would face down his opponents are moving and we feel the ache he harbors despite the joy of his realized life. When he is seen again as a young man hitchhiking on the outskirts of town, we understand immediately what the field has in store for Archie. What we don’t expect is that once he is there, he must make a choice again.
The next morning after his big hit, Moonlight and the others are practicing on the field. Terrance is at the bottom of the wooden bleachers, taking notes and reading a baseball encyclopedia. Ray, Annie and their daughter Karin are behind him, with Karin all the way at the top. With them is Annie’s brother, desperately trying to convince his sister and her husband to sell the property. They are going into foreclosure and he can save them. The thing is, he can’t see the ball players. He can’t see the value. He represents those with no dreams, no fondness for the past, and a closed mind. As he argues with Ray and Annie, Karin remarks that there is no need to sell. She believes that people will come. They will just drive to Iowa and pay to see the field. They won’t know why but they will journey to the farm and find their dreams are waiting. Terrance echoes her appeal.
That’s when trouble starts. Flustered and frustrated, the adults get into a light scuffle and poor Karin is knocked off the bleachers, falling backwards to the ground. Worse, she was eating a hotdog as she fell and now it’s stuck in her throat. She can’t breathe. Annie darts to the house to call for help, but Ray stops her. There’s already a doctor nearby.
Archie steps from the pack and rushes to the edge of the field, stopping short just where the dirt turns to gravel because we all know, though it’s never been said, that crossing this line means the dream must end. But there’s a child in danger and Archie doesn’t hesitate. He drops his glove and walks across, transforming from the boy baseball player to the seasoned doctor. He kneels and with a gentle hand that healed countless before, brings Karin back.
So why is it important? It’s a one word answer: Sacrifice. The field to this point has been about the player, the man whose dreams were either shattered or left unfulfilled. “Shoeless” Joe and the others are getting a chance to relive their pasts, maybe make amends in their own way for whatever wrongs they’ve committed. The field is about penance, as Terrance believes, and a place to forgive. And now it’s about sacrifice. About learning that the dreams you cling to may not be as true to your heart as the path you ultimately took. Moonlight got a chance to live his dream, to realize all the hopes and expectations he had harbored his whole life. The field gave him that, and then it asked him to choose. Maybe there was no right or wrong for Archie, but he chose the life he had already lived, to be the doctor. As he explains to Ray, the tragedy isn’t that he was never a ballplayer, it’s what if he had been. The field gave him a look at what his life could have been, and he learned that what was really inside him was not an athlete but a healer. He could have been great as Moonlight Graham on the diamond, all the guys tell him so, but he was greater still as Doc Graham, and that is what he chooses to be remembered by.