Our man movie series will largely follow the list posted over at Art of Manliness, 100 Must See Movies: The Essential Men’s Movie Library. It is our goal to showcase the value of cinema as a platform for letting story teach us about our world. Culture shapes and molds much of how we view the definition of masculinity. Movies serve as a platform upon which a cast and crew can convey their worldview and message. Movie goers are subjected to these viewpoints, whether cognizant of that fact or not. Our purpose in reviewing the films in this series is to highlight the good and bad of the movie, cross-examining it with what the Bible has to say about manliness.
These posts are in conjunction with the Men’s Roundtable Ministry of Grace Church in South Carolina. For more information on Grace Church and MRT, go here: Grace Church Men’s Ministry
Today's post is written by my friend Adam Morrell.
What is it about Field of Dreams that makes so many grown men cry? I've asked myself this question for years, and no matter how many times I re-watch this film (I would estimate that I've seen it at least 20 times), I find myself tearing up at the end.
The film is set in the corn fields of Iowa circa 1989, starring Kevin Costner as a farmer named Ray Kinsella. Ray is married with a young daughter, and it is implied that this young family is struggling financially. It is also revealed that Ray had a bad relationship with his father who died prior to meeting his son's wife and daughter.
One evening as Ray was checking on his corn he began to hear a voice repeatedly say “if you build it, he will come,” and then he had a vision of a lighted baseball field where much of his corn and livelihood was growing. Ray's interpretation of the voice and vision was that he was to build a baseball field, and Ray's estranged father's hero, Shoeless Joe Jackson, would appear.
After talking with the locals and nearly convinced he was crazy, Ray decided, with the blessing of his wife, to plow under an area of his corn big enough for a full size baseball field in an effort to somehow appease the dysfunctional relationship with his father. This indeed confirmed to the locals who watched and mocked that Ray was crazy and that he would lose his farm as he had just destroyed a significant amount of his crops that would be used to pay the note.
After Ray completed the baseball field nothing happened for several weeks, and he and his wife began to worry that they would need to replant the corn so as to not lose the farm. That night a ball player appears. It is the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson with whom Ray begins to practice. Jackson brings back all of the eight Chicago “Black Sox” who were banned from baseball along with Joe for allegedly throwing the 1919 World Series. These players in turn invite other deceased players from that era, and daily old school baseball ensues. Ray's money grubbing brother-in-law warns him that he will lose the farm unless he replants the corn or sells the note to him and his business associates. At this time Ray hears another voice say “ease his pain”. Ray interpreted this voice as a cue to travel to Boston in a VW bus to find one of his most influential authors, Terrance Mann, and take him to a baseball game. At the game Ray heard another voice saying “go the distance” with a flash of a stat on the scoreboard for a player named Moonlight Graham from Minnesota who only had one half inning of play and no at-bats. The two get in the bus and head to Minnesota to find Moonlight Graham.
They arrive in Minnesota only to find that Graham had died 16 years earlier. Frustrated, Ray goes on a walk and finds himself transported to the year 1972 where he runs into Dr. Archie “Moonlight” Graham, an old time doctor. Ray asks Graham to go back with him to the field so that he could live his dreams and play baseball again. Graham declines saying it would have been a shame to have missed being a doctor and changing so many lives just to have lived his dreams playing baseball. This screams to me that just because we may not be “living our dreams” doesn't mean that we aren't doing what we are called to do.
As Ray and Mann go back to Iowa, they pick up a hitchhiker who happens to be none-other than a young Moonlight Graham who later gets his dream of a professional at-bat at the Field of Dreams and then saves Ray's daughter at cost of his own ability to play baseball. As young Graham sleeps in the bus, Ray confides to Mann that at age 14 he stopped playing catch with his dad due to a book written by Mann, and that age 17 he raged against his father and called his father's hero Shoeless Joe a criminal, left and never saw his father alive again.
The players finish playing and begin to walk back into the corn. Shoeless Joe asks Terrance to come and he accepts, an invitation Ray did not get. Ray becomes angry and wants to know what all this was for if he can't go into the corn. Joe asks him if he did all this for some reward and then reminds him of his responsibilities to his family. Joe then points to home plate and the catcher who was taking off his gear pulls off his mask and turns around. It is Ray's father, a young professional baseball player named John Kinsella. At first they act as if they don't know each other and Ray introduces John to his wife and daughter. After some small talk and a sordid goodbye, tension mounting, Ray turns around saying to himself “ease his pain” and asks his dad if he wants to have a catch. This is where I lose it every time. Cars begin pouring into this haunted ball field and people do indeed come as prophesied by Terrance Mann
There are two reasons this movie is a great “man movie”. First, it inspires one to go all-in for the sake of a calling. In men's roundtable language, Ray works hard and expects reward. For the record, I don't like how erratic Ray behaves during the whole escapade, and I do believe that plowing under one's corn to make a baseball field is foolish and a bit reckless with a young family. However, the resultant shaping of God's creation of a corn field into a ball field is absolutely genius and beautiful in a strange way. Further, I believe Ray makes up for this seeming foolishness through acting on his calling. As Terrance says “I wish I had your passion, Ray... misdirected though it might be, it is still a passion”.
Ray had passion, and he acted on it on faith. He was willing to do something that he felt was a calling even if it cost him and even if his family and his neighbors thought he was crazy.
I admire this courage and passion and hope to exercise these attributes as I answer God's call on me. I hope more and more men step up to the plate so that when God's calling becomes evident, there is a network of people willing to help plow under the corn instead of standing on the sidelines watching and mocking.
The second reason Field of Dreams is a great man-movie is it makes us confront our core tendencies toward passivity and the wounds dealt us with relationship with our fathers. Going through the men's roundtable curriculum, it is evident that every man has some type of father wound (no matter the quality of the relationship), mainly because our earthly father's cannot be our heavenly father, and when dad's don't live up to that, it hurts the child who is on the perceiving or receiving end. John Kinsella was passive as a father because he was not able to connect with Ray through any other medium other than baseball. Ray was passive in that he refused to throw with his father anymore or try to understand his father, and he decided to just leave. This resulted in a broken relationship that plagued Ray throughout his life and plagued John to his death.
I know now the reason I cry at this movie every time is because of the powerful picture of forgiveness and redemption it paints. The son, angered by his father's absence or misunderstanding, forgives and asks his father to play catch with him one more time. I'd give nearly anything to go back and throw ball with my dad again. I'd do nearly anything to go back in time to do some things differently. I'm sure my father would say the same thing.
This movie makes me realize how important it is to unpack wounds dealt me by my relationship with my father and to not only forgive them but to allow forgiveness to redeem them.
At the same time, the ending of this movie makes a man realize that even if the relationship with his father was broken there are usually some redeeming qualities on which to remember and to focus. This in turn gives us the ability to stand on the shoulders of our fathers, break generational sin patterns and passivity, and raise up the next generation, hopefully equipping them to serve even better.
- Adam Morrell