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JOSEPH N. BELL

Movie Seems to Signal That Most of Us Yearn for a Chance to Dream

May 06, 1989|JOSEPH N. BELL

When we got home from a late evening out recently, we found a note in our front door and, with it, a $20 bill. It was from a neighbor friend who would be embarrassed if I used his name. That kind of generosity doesn't seek recognition.

The note said that he and his family had just seen the movie "Field of Dreams," and he wanted us to see it so badly that he would pop for the admission. "Please go," he wrote, and he signed the note, "One who still dreams."

We went on a Monday night. We had tried to go earlier but the line extended for several blocks, so we gave up. There was a line on Monday, too, but it was shorter so we stuck it out. And our friend was right.

"Field of Dreams" is about a young Iowa farmer who is frightened that he will live his life out as his father did--without dreams and, finally, without hope. So when a dream is thrust before him, he follows it, even though it seems wrong-headed and absurd to the practical people in his community.

Much has been written about the movie, and I don't intend to add to that here. What fascinated me as I came out of the theater was not so much the message of the film as the message of the people who are lining up to see it. They are saying--it seems to me--loud and clear: "We want to dream, too. And just give us half a chance, and we will."

These are people who live daily with public officials who cheat and lie, with random killings, with shrill and clamoring pressure groups, with violence to mind and body and soul, with a national pragmatism that says, "Get yours before somebody else gets you." The ultimate dream in that society, I suppose, is the $10-million lottery ticket--the only dream left to many of our poor who see no other way out of poverty and are thus eager to be exploited.

It's so easy living in the midst of this to assume that we've all been corrupted in these same ways. That even if we don't support it, we silently condone driving off our homeless, refusing care for our sick, withdrawing basic rights from fellow citizens whose color or race or life style frightens us, dealing with public issues through paranoia instead of reason, regarding kindness and selflessness as weakness instead of strength. So easy to make such assumptions.

Waiting for "Field of Dreams" to start the other night, we watched five trailers for upcoming movies based on those assumptions. Four of them were packed with violence--wall-to-wall destruction of other human beings, physically and psychically. Cynical commercial statements that this is what the American public wants to see. Without question, watching vicarious violence is one way of taking out our frustrations over the growing conviction that things are not going well and we can't do much, if anything, about it. But it isn't the only--and certainly not the best--way.

Those lines around the block to see "Field of Dreams" offer a very different option. Those lines say to me that the soul-juice hasn't yet been squeezed out of every American, and that there are a whole hell of a lot of us who still dream and will leap at every chance.

"Field of Dreams" is giving us that chance. It isn't a great movie, but the message is clear and sharp and welcome, and right now it's the only game in town. Maybe some of the people who make commercial entertainment will get the message. Maybe those who don't are incapable of making a film like this.

But I think there is a more important message to be drawn from "Field of Dreams," perhaps an extension of what the movie has to say. And that message is the real nature of dreaming--and the dreamer. We have been taught by the pragmatists in our midst that dreams are gauzy and impractical, and that dreamers are people who have abdicated the real world to hide in their own fantasies.

All of us, dreamers and non-dreamers alike, have to live in that real world and deal with it reasonably effectively to survive. But the dreamer doesn't just survive. He lives. And only in those dreams can he draw on the real and enduring strength that matters.

I have over my desk a postcard my youngest daughter sent me from a trip several years ago. It carried a casual message, and I'm sure she didn't see it as portentous when she picked it out. But I'm also sure that something stirred in her as it does in me each time I look at it. The drawing shows a man in his bathrobe sitting on the peak of the roof of his house with a cup of coffee watching a sunrise. And dreaming.

Baseball was an absolutely right symbol to convey this message in "Field of Dreams" because it combines the pragmatic and the mystical in such delicate balance. The friend who sent us to this movie understands that--and he knew we would, too. We thank him--and we thank all those other dreamers who stood in line with us.

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