In the final minutes of 1989’s baseball-drama Field Of Dreams, Terence Mann, the brilliant, curmudgeonly author played definitively by James Earl Jones, counsels Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella on the benefits of keeping the baseball field he’s built over his crops. Ray is threatened with foreclosure and loss of his sprawling property and house in rural Iowa, but Terence persists; people will pay to come see the magical ballpark, he reasons, “for it is money they have, and peace they lack.”
This is the quiet, unremarkable moment that hinges the entire film: no matter the cost, and regardless of whether or not they admit it, people will go to great lengths to find peace. One evening, out in the thick of his cornfield, Ray hears an omniscient, disembodied voice prodding: “If you build it, he will come.” A vision comes to Ray: a baseball diamond, built right where his thriving cash crops are. A ball diamond is a relatively useless thing to have on one’s property, its frivolousness doubled by the fact that its presence would decimate Ray’s only income: his crops. But Ray builds it all the same, driven by the omnipotent ‘voice,’ pleading further with Ray: “Ease his pain,” it urges. “Go the distance,” it instructs later. Ray stumbles through a web of people he assumes the directives are aimed at: first, a ghostly Shoeless Joe Jackson (played sparingly by Ray Liotta), then Mann, then an elderly doctor, Archibald “Moonlight” Graham, who almost made it to the pros. Each time, Ray thinks he’s placated the voice, only to be stumped again.
Only in the film’s last moments is it revealed that the voice is talking about Ray and his late father, John Kinsella. Ray’s cross-country journey is a search for closeness with his father, a relatable, unspoken desire filtered through the great American pastime, baseball. “Baseball has marked the time,” Terence smiles warmly. “This field, this game: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good, and could be again.” But it was never about baseball; it was merely an excuse for a father and son to spend time together. Each link scattered across the film ties back to this.
Spurred by The Voice, Ray chases loose ends, seeking peace of his own. He sinks his money into building the iconic ball field, obliterating his crops and thereby devaluing his property, blowing cash to travel from Iowa to Massachusetts to Minnesota and back. Money is an expendable resource for Ray, of little value compared to peace and resolution, two things it’s clear he did not achieve with his father. At various points in the movie, Ray recalls his tenuous relationship with his father, a man embittered and hardened by years of hard labour; from cheering for different ball clubs, to refusing to play catch with his dad, to moving across the country to distance himself from home, Ray details a strained connection to his father, one he regrets not being able to remedy before his father’s death 15 years earlier. This pain is accentuated when Ray and Terence visit Minnesota to meet “Moonlight” Graham. The kind, wizened doctor shares, “We just don’t recognize life’s most significant moments while they’re happening. Back then I thought, ‘Well, there’ll be other days.’ I didn’t realize that that was the only day.”
When Terence delivers his iconic speech at the end of the movie, it resonates beyond its face value: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball,” he says proudly. In Field Of Dreams, baseball isn’t just a monolithic pastime; it’s a conduit for emotion and connection between a father and son who never quite learned how to express their love for one another. Playing catch is a vehicle for affection, masquerading as a sporting activity. The one mutual affinity Ray shared with his father was baseball, a place they could feel connected. The lumbering pressures of hypermasculinity discourage expression and emotion between men, and in Field Of Dreams, baseball is an object loaded with that subtext. Ray’s scatterbrained campaign is driven by an implicit desire to redeem and revive, to feel his father again. He built a ball diamond on his farm not because he loved the game, but because he loved his dad.
Under a waning midwest sunset, the ghost of John Kinsella, still a young man and full of life, appears on Ray’s field, and suddenly, The Voice’s commands whip into focus: “If you build it, he will come.” “Ease his pain.” “Go the distance.” They were all about Ray’s father. The two men exchange words; Ray sheepishly compliments his father’s catching. “Is this heaven?” John inquires earnestly. Ray, overwhelmed with disbelief, sputters, “It’s Iowa.” Father and son shake hands ceremoniously, and gruffly bid each other good night by their first names: “Good night, Ray.” “Good night, John.” As John strides away, Ray turns and calls out, his voice shaky.
“Hey, dad? You wanna have a catch?”
His father stops and turns.
“I’d like that,” he says gently.