Field of Dreams

Field of Dreams
Phil Alden Robinson, Director & Screenwriter. Adapted from W.P. Kinsella's Shoeless Joe. Universal, 1989.

If You Build It...

By Donald Williams, Jungian Analyst (Boulder, Colorado)
Originally published by The Freelance Screenwriter's FORUM

There are two main currents in psychoanalysis, two psychological practices to treat suffering. These two practices are remembering and imagining. Freud realized that people suffer from painful or frightening memories that they repress. Roughly speaking, Freudian psychoanalysis is an art of remembering. Most "therapy films" emphasize remembering: Hitchcock's classic film, SPELLBOUND, hinges on Gregory Peck's repressed memory of his brother's accidental death just as Robert Redford's ORDINARY PEOPLE reveals the hidden connection between a young man's suicidal depression and his brother's drowning in a boating accident. There are less sophisticated popular films about psychological remembering like PRINCE OF TIDES where a wrecked man and his suicidal sister only recover when they remember their father's violence, their mother's cold narcissistic exploitation, and finally the trauma of rape and murder.

Carl Jung found that psychoanalytic remembering and understanding were not enough. He discovered that the imagination can heal psychological wounds through active creative work, symbols, dreams, and sometimes visions. FIELD OF DREAMS, an astute psychological drama that never mentions psychoanalysis, is one of the few psychological films to work its magic with imagination more than memory.

Phil Alden Robinson's film explores the psychological burden of unlived dreams and the conflicts of fathers and sons. Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) thinks of the dreams he may be sacrificing as a hard-working, bill-paying husband and father. He says about his father: "He must have had dreams but he never did anything about them.... The man never did one spontaneous thing in all the years I knew him. ...I'm afraid of that happening to me." At this point, Ray is remembering. Like Ray Kinsella, most creative individuals have had a parent with failed creative ambitions or ambitions they failed to embrace. Ray remembers his past and then begins to let his imagination live. He hears a voice when he's alone in the cornfield, a deep voice saying only "If you build it, he will come." When Ray is finally certain that he understands the voice, he acts. He plows under a corner of his cornfield and creates a baseball field. The baseball field becomes the container for his psychological imagination and for the men who symbolize his conflicts and dreams.

There are four psychological images in FIELD OF DREAMS that pull together Ray's psychological wounds, memories, and the work of the imagination. First there is the Voice; second, the Playing Field; third, the Child, and fourth, the Sacrifice.

The film opens with Ray Kinsella's monologue, his remembering, and with a quick psychological history. Ray's mother died when he was three. His father raised him alone, and as Ray tells us: "Instead of Mother Goose, I was put to bed with stories of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and the great Shoeless Jackson." Baseball was his father's finest dream. His dream failed him when his ideal, Shoeless Joe Jackson, was accused along with eight others of throwing the 1919 World Series. The scandal captured and marked a poignant sense of lost hope and wounded self-esteem that contaminated the stories Ray heard from his father. Ray's father passed on his ideals and his depression.

Now cut to Ray Kinsella standing in his cornfield at dusk. The sky is a "robin's egg blue," and there's a wind moving through the corn. It's dinner time. Annie sits on the front porch with their daughter, Karin. The cornfield, a generous earth, the farmhouse, the end of a full day, dinner time, Annie and Karin--these images work together as a metaphor for a good, easily loving mother, perhaps for the mother Ray lost when he was three. Ray seems to have everything but he's depressed. Ray looks up from the cornfield when he hears, THE VOICE: If you build it, he will come.

He calls out, "Hey, Annie, Annie, what was that?" Annie, of course, hasn't heard the Voice, and she answers, "What was what?" A moment later she says, "Hey, come on in for dinner." Ray experiences a calling and no one notices, or if they do notice, it doesn't make sense to them. As with Ray, the experience of a calling--whether a passion, a wound, or a creative vision--will mean far more to us than to anyone else. The Voice is private...and suspicious. We distrust the imagination and our own Voice. Phil Robinson raises suspicions in the background--Karin watches HARVEY on TV, a film about an invisible six foot rabbit. From the radio we hear a song from the sixties: "...or you'll be daydreaming for a thousand years." All experiences of the imagination bear this risk--daydreaming, delusional thinking, failure.

Ray takes the risk. He plows under his corn and builds the Playing Field, a place where Shoeless Joe Jackson can come back and play baseball again. The Field is a metaphor for the protected space where the imagination can come to life, where the imagination is as real as everyday life. The Field is the painter's canvas, the writer's computer screen, the blank paper, the isolated cabin, and the "fifty minute hour."

Creativity is integral to good psychotherapy and to our attempts to heal old wounds. We cannot be creative, however, without feeling safe. The therapeutic relationship, like the Playing Field, safeguards definite boundaries within which we are free to remember, imagine, feel, and think absolutely anything. These boundaries are essential.

There's a moment when Shoeless Joe comes to meet Annie and Karin. Annie asks him, "Would you like to come inside?" Shoeless Joe says, "Uh, thanks, I don't think I can," and he looks down at the white baseline marking the Playing Field. Without explanation we know that he can't cross the line, nor can anyone but Ray enter the Field. A necessary boundary focuses our creative attention and protects both the imagination and everyday life from harmful incursions. Everything occurring within the Field deserves our respect. Without this respect, the imagination is not safe; with it, the imagination comes forward. The appearance of Shoeless Joe is only the beginning of the creative, psychological journey. Shoeless Joe says, "There are others you know. There were eight of us. It would really mean a lot to them." Ray says, as he must: "They're all welcome here." Ray's respect is unconditional.

Psychotherapy aims for those moments of focused high tension that stimulate creativity and insight. If we are fortunate, the moment of greatest tension will produce something new, an inspired idea, a sudden intuition, a dream, or a spontaneous impulse that changes everything. The inspired idea often appears with the voice of a child. C.G. Jung called this phenomenon the archetype of the Divine Child. Children are curious, always learning, and unlike adults, children will imagine and say anything--including the saving thought that's just outside our adult routines. This new idea can be extraordinarily powerful--hence "Divine."

Ray is torn between financial responsibilities and his vision--the farm or the baseball field. As the tension mounts, he struggles with Annie: "So, what are you saying? We can't keep the field?" And the child, Karin, calls quietly, "Daddy." Annie answers Ray: "It makes it real hard to keep the farm." Again, "Daddy." And Ray snaps, "In a minute Karin." Finally, Karin says, "There's a man out there on the lawn." Of course, it's Shoeless Joe. The child sees the unexpected figure who resolves for now the impossible conflict. Later Karin helps Ray make the same impossible choice again when she is the one to say, "People will come..."

In the final act the bank wants to foreclose on the farm. Annie's brother, Mark, wants to buy the land. The day has come--Ray is going to lose the farm. Mark shouts, "Ray you have no money! ...You will lose everything! You will be evicted." Then there's Ray's decision: "I'm not signing." This is the Sacrifice--Ray will lose everything, the Field and the farm, but he won't abandon his dream. He sacrifices the farm and his family's security. This is the first Sacrifice.

Then , simultaneously, comes the second and opposite Sacrifice. In the struggle between Mark and Ray, Karin falls from the makeshift bleachers. She stops breathing, and no one knows what to do. A young player--Moonlight Graham--runs up, stops at the white baseline, then crosses over. As he crosses the line, he turns from a young man full of dreams into old Doc Graham, the man who "came this close to his dreams" and gave them up to become a doctor. Moonlight Graham sacrifices his dream and becomes Doc Graham. He raises Karin up, slaps her on the back as he says, "This child's choking to death. Hot dog..., stuck in her throat. She'll be turning hand springs before you know it." Ray realizes Doc Graham's sacrifice: "Oh my God, you can't go back." Doc Graham's sacrifice is as real as Ray's.

There are two simultaneous sacrifices: Ray sacrifices security and Moonlight Graham sacrifices the dream. One sacrifice without the other would not make sense. Dreams and everyday life belong together, connected but not confused. Our ethical ideals, creative visions, and artistic dreams belong with our intimate partners, children, friends, and our everyday responsibilities. The film's vision holds the two sacrifices together. Ray sacrifices the farm for his dream, and Moonlight Graham sacrifices his dream for Karin. Their sacrifices affirm the sanctity of everyday life and dreams, of intimate bonds and private visions.

Ray's dream originally threatened his family and their security. In the final moments of the film, however, the dream redeems Ray's father, Ray's past, and the man and father Ray has become. On the Playing Field Ray faces his father as a young man. Before talking with father, he pauses to look back to Annie and Karin on the porch swing--just where we saw them when the film opened and Ray first heard the Voice. Ray realizes that this is "where dreams come true," with the people he loves who love him.

Lest there be any doubts about this being a psychological film about parents and children, notice the very last words on the screen after the credits: "...For Our Parents."

© 1995 Donald Williams. All rights reserved.