Tuesday, July 8, 2014
(May 1984, U.S.)
Before Kevin Costner developed a solid reputation as the "Mr. Baseball of the movies" with BULL DURHAM (1988), FIELD OF DREAMS (1989) and FOR LOVE OF THE GAME (1999), it's pretty safe to say that a guy like Robert Redford was about as American as you could get in any simple story of this country's greatest national pass time. THE NATURAL is director Barry Levinson's second film after DINER (1982) and is about as innocent as you can get in terms of its simplicity toward the history of a sport that's come to define America; innocent, despite the fact that Redford's character of Roy Hobbs is shot by a crazed woman early in the film. Redford, in his unique soft-spoken manner, seems perfectly fit for a man searching to find himself within the great game that he loves so dearly.
Interestingly, though, this is a particular film that I hadn't watched in so many years before writing this blog and I'd forgotten many of its points of details and could only recall its very basic clichés of baseball during an era long since vanished. This is a true baseball story with the classic elements of the underdogs, the rise of those underdogs and the corruption that seeks to destroy the underdogs. But in careful study of the film, one find themselves constantly asking the mysterious question of, "Just who is Roy Hobbs?" By all accounts, he's a man who grew up a common farm boy with a natural talent for pitching and hitting. Reaching manhood, he (naturally) seeks the dream of playing in the big leagues and being the best there is at the game. Along the way, however, and as previously mentioned, he's shot by an alluring woman (played by Barbara Hershey) and isn't seen nor heard from again for sixteen years when he decides to try and get back into the game. There's virtually no explanation of who this woman is and why she would just up and shoot this poor man for no real reason other than she apparently has some sort of sick history in shooting athletes. This shooting, in my opinion, serves no real purpose in the film other than to establish Roy Hobbs' inevitable obstacle that will bring him back from the brink of his own extinction and propel against all odds him into baseball stardom.
Or does it...?
From the time that Roy Hobbs is re-introduced into the world sixteen years after the shooting, we know little-to-nothing about him. He won't say where he's from and there appears to be no real record of his life. Even would-be harassing reporters are stumped. If thought about long enough, one can't help but wonder if the character of Roy Hobbs is not real at all, but rather an elaborate fantasy, or perhaps dare I go so far as to suggest an angel of sorts? One need only recall Will Smith's character in THE LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE (a 2000 film directed by Robert Redford) to understand what I'm suggesting. Is it possible that Roy Hobbs was actually killed when he was shot down and has somehow returned to Earth to fulfill the dream of baseball that was unexpectedly cut down by the force of a bullet? Want some evidence of that possibility? Look carefully at the attached movie poster images and tell me that Robert Redford doesn't appear to be a somewhat faded image in the background. If that doesn't suggest the possibility of something spiritual and not-quite-of-this-world, then I don't know what does! And there's the baseball bat he calls "Wonder Boy" that seems to have some form of magic of its own. Again, very little is offered by way of explaining this bat other than it was carved from a tree that had been struck by lighting when Roy was a boy. The bat, though, serves its purposes in that victorious-make-the-audience-feel-good-sort-of-way in cinema when it hits miraculous home runs on more than one occasion.
Therefore, what am I really suggesting here? Is Roy Hobbs real? Is he a fantasy? Is he an angel? Is he a spirit of the dead? Or is the entire premise of THE NATURAL just a wonderful dream in the mind of Roy Hobbs where the good man gets to triumph against all odds of physical obstacles and human blockades? Frankly, I don't believe any viewer or professional film journalist has ever raised such outrageous questions about this film, so perhaps I'm in a minor league (no pun intended) of my own. Oh, but consider the possibility that I could be right...just for a moment!
Favorite line or dialogue:
Iris Gaines: "You know, I believe we have two lives."
Roy Hobbs: "How? What do you mean?"
Iris: "The life we learn with and the life we live with after that."