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"Is this Heaven?"
"No... it's Iowa."
It is built on a unique story idea about an Iowa farmer who decides on a whim to build an expensive baseball field.
Ray Kinsella (Costner) is an honest farmer with a nice family, but explains in the prologue that he had a falling out with his father (who was a baseball fanatic) and they were unable to reconcile before his death. One day, Ray was out in his corn field when he hears a voice saying "If you build it, he will come." Surprised, he is later given a day vision that what he is supposed to build is a baseball field, and that "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Liotta) would return from the dead to play baseball. For obvious reasons, Ray is wondering how he could ever get such a bizarre idea. But after a long talk with his wife Annie (Madigan), Ray decides that he wanted to do something outrageous because it feels right and not because he was afraid of what others think.
Barely making a profit as it was, the cost of building the baseball field and the land it takes over puts them financially in trouble. But after a few months Shoeless Joe does appear, bewildered himself but with an honest desire to play some baseball. Eventually more baseball players from that time period who have died return to play another game. Unfortunately Ray and his family are the only ones who see the players, and the bank is looking down on them.
Eventually Ray receives another insight "Ease his pain" and comes to believe that this means he has to track down aging author Terence Mann (Jones) and take him to a baseball game. Even he doesn't have a clue why, but decides to continue acting on these strange impressions.
Field of Dreams has a very strange concept, but what it carries is an underlying metaphor of faith and redemption, along with the simple joy of a father and son playing catch. It is one of Costner's most well known films and also one of James Earl Jones' most famous roles outside of voicing Darth Vader.
It was nominated for several Oscars including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
This film provides examples of:
- Arc Words -- "If you build it, he will come."
- Also probably one of the biggest examples of Memetic Mutation in film, being one of the most referenced and parodied lines out there.
- Artistic License -- Ray travels to 1972 to visit Moonlight Graham; the real-life Graham died in 1965. As it turns out, this was actually a deliberate choice by the filmmakers; Francis Ford Coppola was involved in the movie and he and the director wanted to set the scene in the year "The Godfather" came out.
- Ray Liotta hits right-handed. Shoeless Joe Jackson, the famous player he portrays, hit left-handed. This was apparently a case of pragmatic filming, they felt Liotta looked awkward swinging left handed and figured it was better to show him looking comfortable rather than being accurate. Liotta was apparently not happy with the decision.
- Awkward Father-Son Bonding Activity: Baseball, for Ray and his dad.
- Beware of Hitch-Hiking Ghosts: Ray and Mann pick up the younger Moonlight Graham while driving through the Midwest and take him to the field so he finally gets a chance to play baseball.
- Brandishment Bluff: Ray, out of desperation, tries to kidnap Terence with a finger in his jacket. Terence isn't fooled for a second.
- Down to the Last Play -- averted, sort of. Moonlight Graham, in his only major league plate appearance, hit a sacrifice fly and was not charged with an at bat.
- Did Not Do the Research -- It is up for debate, but the movie (and source novel) portrays Jackson as an innocent victim in the entire Black Sox scandal, unjustly banned for life from the game of baseball. The reality of the situation was much more complicated, and at least a handful of baseball writers have analyzed the statistics from that World Series and concluded that Jackson might very well have participated in the fix.
- Game of Nerds -- Terence Mann
- Moonlight Graham also applies, he is a doctor after all.
- Film of the Book -- Based on the novel Shoeless Joe by W. P. Kinsella.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Graham steps off the field to save Karin's life, at the cost of being able to play on the field again.
- Magic Realism
- Meaningful Echo: Combined with a Meaningful Name
"Moonlight" Graham: Tell me, Ray Kinsella. Is there enough magic in the moonlight to make my wish come true?
- Melancholy Moon
- Moral Guardians: The townspeople who wish to ban the work of Terence Mann.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: The famously reclusive author Terence Mann was the famously reclusive author J. D. Salinger in the original book, but Salinger threatened to sue if he was featured in any adaptation of the novel. Also counts as a Race Lift.
- Offscreen Afterlife
- Our Ghosts Are Different
- Pragmatic Adaptation -- In the novel, Ray builds the field bit by bit (starting with the left field); in the movie, Ray builds the entire field all in one go. Plus, the movie focuses more on the magic of the field, the romanticism of baseball, and Ray's relationship with his father. It gets rid of confusing plot elements from the book such as Ray's identical twin brother Richard, and a depressing storyline with a supposedly ex-Cub named Eddie Scissons.
- They also changed J.D. Salinger to Terrence Mann when it became apparent that Salinger would sue, making the adaptation both financially and legally pragmatic.
- Put Me in Coach -- Moonlight Graham
- Scenery Porn -- The field itself was built on two separate properties to allow for uninhibited sunset shots, several scenes set during "Magic Hour" (very late twilight) were actually shot over the course of several days to preserve the lighting.
- Shout-Out -- "As a small boy, he had a bat named Rosebud."
- A shout out is given when Shoeless Joe Jackson mentions "the thrill of the grass," another book by Bill Kinsella.
- Strawman Political: The Moral Guardians.
- "Well Done, Son" Guy: Ray is seeking the approval of his father.
- You Called Me "X" - It Must Be Serious: Sort of. Doc Graham knows something is up with Ray, when he asks him if he's "Moonlight" Graham.
Doc Graham: No one's called me "Moonlight" Graham in over 40 years.