Before watching the movie:
I’m not sure how this is an inspiring movie about following your dreams and not an inspiring movie about how listening to the voices in your head can work out sometimes, but when I try to anticipate what this movie will be, I think of The Astronaut Farmer with baseball instead of spaceflight. But anyway, family man tears his family apart doing crazy things and then there’s a happy ending. Apparently this time James Earl Jones is involved.
After watching the movie:
Ray Kinsella grew up resenting his father and loving the 60s, and eventually let his wife Annie talk him into farming in Iowa. Out in the cornfields one day, he begins to hear a voice whispering to him, “if you build it, he will come”. Later, a vision of a baseball diamond where his corn is growing answers the question of what “it” is, and he plows his corn under in order to build the diamond. Now in possession of a beautiful ballfield in the middle of not much farm, the family is close to bankruptcy, and then Shoeless Joe Jackson appears on his field, and later the rest of the scandal-ruined 1919 Black Sox team. The chance to play the game again is a great gift to the baseballers, but the Voice returns and tells Ray to “ease his pain”. Circumstances lead Ray to believe his new mission is to go to Boston and find the reclusive voice of a generation Terence Mann, and take him to a baseball game. Annie supports Ray in his quest, but they’ll lose the farm in a matter of days.
This is a surprisingly understated story about regret and second chances. I think if it’s inspirational, the inspiration is to not count on the second chance? It seems a better lesson than to rely on the crazy urges that don’t seem to lead anywhere. Ray isn’t putting his family’s livelihood on the line for his own dream, he’s risking it all on things that benefit others who wouldn’t be any worse off if he didn’t do anything. The benefits come back to him in the end, but it is a long, circuitous, and implausible route there.
The real baseball legends involved led me to wonder if Terence Mann was real too. And the answer is no, but yes, since the original novel used J.D. Salinger, and Salinger would have owned the studio if they’d used his name in the movie. Mann feels like a diversion from the central story, but one that would have been more forgivable if he’d been an actual historical figure like Joe Jackson. It reminds me of how after I read and watched The Seven Per Cent Solution, I realized that probably most of the reason the book/movie existed was for the “what if Sherlock Holmes met Sigmund Freud?” of it all. At least the advantage of fictionalizing the character is that I can believe Mann was the voice of the 60s, but if Salinger defined a generation, wasn’t it the generation who came home disillusioned from WWII? Mann seems much more personal for a thirty-something former flower child.
While baseball, farms, and midlife crises aren’t what speak to me, the magical realism of the second chances made the movie compelling. It’s even stranger than LA Story, but it serves a more significant role in the lives of more people. And so I can see how this film would mean a lot to many. I just can’t condone destroying a livelihood without any idea what the reward might be.