Top critical review
OF BOOKS AND MOVIES
on October 25, 2014
It’s not unusual for a popular book to be made into a movie. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. We all understand that, because of time constraints, a two-hour film can’t do justice to all the plot complexities and peripheral characters found in a novel. Those who started by reading the book may find the movie disappointing for that reason.
In the present case, I think the 1989 motion picture, Field of Dreams, is superior to the book, Shoeless Joe, on which it is based. The plotting is tighter, the acting is first rate, and the necessary omission of many details, and even of some characters, highlights the main theme far better.
Though it may be considered a baseball story, this is more precisely a fantasy about dreams, and how they affect our lives, for better or worse. It’s also about regrets and redemption, and the evolution of a father-son relationship. As to the latter, the youthful attitude of Ray toward his father, and how this is transformed later, is more clearly and touchingly resolved in the film.
The book is barely okay–but that’s as high a praise as I can give it. Possibly if I’d read it before seeing the movie I’d feel differently, but I don’t believe so. There are a couple of things about W. P. Kinsella’s writing that I found quite annoying.
One was his overabundant use of similes and metaphors. The words “like” and “as” are so densely scattered through the book I began to wonder if there was anything that was actually as it is, and not just “like” something else. A few examples.
¤ “His duffel bag upright beside him like a dun-colored torso”
¤ “Disappointment creeping across Salinger’s face slow as a crawling insect”
¤ “The question is heavy as a paperweight”
¤ “The staples crying like shot animals as they are wrenched from the wood”
¤ “Our little quarter-section [of farmland] is like a fly back-stroking in their crab bisque”
¤ “She...absorbs whatever is said around her, like a velvet dress collecting lint”
A few of these, carefully chosen and cleverly crafted, can help us feel what is happening (as good poetry does). But when they come by the dozen, it’s a different story. More is definitely not better!
The other concern I have is with the intrusion of W. P. Kinsella’s own religious views. He must have had a hurtful experience in the past with a church, or with an individual. Every “Christian” in the book is harsh, hypocritical, arrogant, and judgmental. One uses foul language, another collects pornography. As a Christian, I was saddened by this slanted portrayal. Are there professing Christians who fail miserably to live up to the name? Sure. But many more are warm, and caring individuals, honest and honourable in their dealings with others.
The capstone of this anti-religious bigotry comes when an old-timer named Eddie Scissons gives a long rant about baseball. What the author has done is pull phrase after phrase from the Bible, words are often from or about the Lord Himself, and apply them to the game. A small sampling.
“The word of salvation is baseball...the words that I speak are spirit, and are baseball....Praise the name of baseball. The word will set the captives free. The word will open the eyes of the blind. The word will raise the dead. Have you the word of baseball living inside you? Has the word of baseball become part of you?...Walk into the world and speak of baseball. Let the word flow through you like water, so that it may quicken the thirst of your fellow man.”
This is not only ridiculous. To one who seeks to honour Christ as I do, it is irreverent sacrilege. I’m convinced the instances of anti-Christian sentiment scattered through the book are unnecessary to the plot. In my opinion they are simply a product of the author’s bitterness, rising from some unfortunate experience earlier in his life. The only hint of this to be found in the movie is Annie’s criticism at a parent-teacher meeting of those who would ban books. Otherwise, the producers were wise enough to omit this biased theme. Forget the book. Watch the movie.