I once saw a quote on a movie poster for this film that I think sums it up quite nicely. It said, “All his life, Ray Kinsella was searching for his dreams. Then one day, his dreams came searching for him.”
Field of Dreams is not so much a sports movie as it is an inspirational drama about believing in something greater than oneself and reaching out to others regardless of the cost. Does it help to have some knowledge about White Sox outfielder Joe Jackson and the 1919 World Series? The answer is yes, but one does not have to be a baseball fan to embrace the magic surrounding the character played by Kevin Costner. One’s imagination would be peaked regardless as the farmer, Kinsella, hears a mysterious voice tell him, “If you build it, he will come.” What really make this moment stand out are the sounds that give the scene an aura that establishes the setting as something more than the middle of a corn field in Iowa. This is a theme that will be consistently repeated throughout the film, in which this world and the next collide from Iowa to Massachusetts and from the present day to a bygone era.
A simple whisper in the night with almost no sound accompanying it is how the film gets under way after the setting is established via a montage of photos. Kinsella looks around in confusion as he hears it while walking through his field. This was meant to be awkward to the audience, as strange as it seems to the protagonist himself. We heard a cue prior to it, a slightly jarring screech that only the audience hears, a sign that something is amiss and giving the following voice an initial ominous feel. Other than that, silence is golden. Then something changes, and a light-hearted air of chiming bells precede the voice as Kinsella hears them over and over as he attempts to understand them. Then he finally sees a vision that shows him that he must build a baseball diamond, and another thing changes. The stunned silence that follows is replaced by a few soft notes of piano music that eventually increase into a full melody that represents the reflection and subsequent understanding by Kinsella. The Iowa farmer hears the voice again and again throughout the movie, and from here on in, the sequence of sounds surrounding the voice will remain the same. Composer Clint Mansell mentioned such a repetitious soundtrack in one of his movies in the article “Music and Mood”. He claimed not to be discouraged by having such repetition, as his synthetic accompaniments helped create the overall feel for the film that was desired by producer and audience alike (Kroll 1). The same thing seems to apply here, as they overlying music maintains the aura of magic and the otherworldly feel that give Field of Dreams its identity. The songs that take up whole sections of films might leave a temporary impression, but perhaps it’s the single notes that give the movie a truly lasting one.
After a while, the sequence of sounds surrounding the voice does more than just evoke emotion in the audience; it creates a sense of logic through its repetition. We know that something very important is going to happen simply because we hear the bells start ever so slightly while all other sounds gradually fade away. For example, Kinsella is sitting in the stands at Fenway Park in Boston when he sees a message on the scoreboard that he thinks might be a clue. We pay attention to everything that stirs our senses in any way at that moment, and, through logos, when we hear the chime of a bell, we know the voice is about to speak. And sure enough, the atmosphere of the ballgame fades away, and Kinsella hears, “go the distance”. Arguably the best moment for logos is late in the movie, when Kinsella has somehow gone back in time to meet a ballplayer from half a century ago and picks up a random hitchhiker who turns out to be exactly who he’s looking for. We do not know initially who the hitchhiker is, but when Kinsella asks him what he does and the man replies, “I play baseball,” we hear three piano keys, as if being told to focus on this man and take a guess as to who he is. Sure enough, Kinsella asks him what his name is and he replies, “Archie Graham,” the name of the ballplayer Kinsella had been searching for. We knew what was coming, if only for a split second, as the music told us what to listen for. We inadvertently use logic every day, and in movies, our ears are as powerful a tool as our eyes in regards to learning about the plot and figuring out what will come next.
The movie soundtrack is comprised mainly of background music and individual notes designed to add drama, but there are a few exceptions, most notably when time and space are being crossed. Upon hearing the voice tell him to “ease his pain” Kinsella embarks on a long-distance drive to Massachusetts, which is accompanied by some fast-paced rock music by the Doobie Brothers. This does something more for me than just give us something fast-paced to match the images we are seeing. This is a break from the drama, a relief from this cross between reality and assumption. Shakespeare used buffoonery in the midst of his tragedies to take the edge off his audiences, and that’s what this does. We get a break from thinking and are treated to rock music and a few laughs as Kinsella stumbles over what he plans to say when he meets the author whose pain he was told to ease. The movie came back down to earth in many ways. We no longer feel isolated from a main character who seems to be “above us”, and we are more readily in tune with what will come next, undoubtedly something important. I think that this scene fits in with the section on pathos in Everything’s an Argument by Andrea A. Lunsford. One’s audience needs to identify with them if an argument is to be made or if such a character is to keep his audience behind him (Lunsford 34). This music is mainstream; the audience has heard it before, just as many of its members have also probably driven long distances. This connects them in an additional way with Kinsella. We would never leave his side throughout the film, but now we have one less reason to anyway. Music is often pure emotion made tangible through words, and I would say that this change-of-pace scene does wonders for the well-being of the audience in this very emotionally-charged film.
You do not need to be a sports fan to love this movie and appreciate the fine sounds associated with it. I will give Field of Dreams three tickets in a heartbeat. Just remember that, sometimes, those voices we think aren’t real just might be more so than we can ever imagine. And also that, when we least expect it, they will come.