Friday, May 27, 2005

Annie Kinsella

Ran across a blog today that was new to me, Sheila O'Malley's Sheila Variations. She's written a thoroughly delightful post on one of my all-time favorite movie characters, Field of Dreams's Annie. At enthusiastic length, she glories in how much Annie stands out above most movie wives, and baby, she was preaching to the choir as far as I was concerned. I found myself posting a long comment, which I figure I might as well cannibalize as The Peril...

Amy Madigan's character has always been what sets that movie apart in my mind. It's not just that she's twice the character any of the other characters are in that particular film; she's one of the great characters in any film, period.

I love the fact that they make her so strong and so supportive and yet so real and flawed -- the scene where she and Beulah are going after each other and obviously they have BOTH gone temporarily insane is wonderful precisely because the scriptwriters have the guts to let Annie lose it and make an ass of herself, even though clearly the scriptwriters love Annie like their own daughter. (Nobody can understand a person as well as the scriptwriters understand Annie unless they love them.) And the side of her that causes her to go bonkers over Beulah's bovine stupidity -- and therefore to do put on a first-rate unconscious Beulah impersonation but from a stupid Sixties child angle rather than a stupid fundamentalist angle -- is precisely the same go-for-it-and-deal-with-the-consequences-later attitude that makes it possible for her to support Ray...perfect, just perfect.

Dorothy Sayers talked once about how a great character can come alive and take control of a novel away from the novelist -- a truly realized character becomes real enough to have free will and to stop cooperating, sometimes, with what the author had intended to do in the book. The character just refuses: for the sake of the plot, you need for the character to do something, but you realize there's no way she ever's just not her, and she refuses to put up with it, and you have to go change all kinds of other stuff in the book just to get her to relent and agree to go along with it. I have no doubt that Annie came alive in the scriptwriters hands more than did any other character in the story, and I'll bet she caused them more trouble and forced more rewriting of script and incident and tone than any other three characters in the story -- she's not just a strong-willed and feisty woman-in-the-story, she's real enough to have been a strong-willed and feisty character with the authors. In great stories, you have to make the great characters happy -- by which I mean not that you have to have a happy ending, but that the characters have to be willing to play the role you want them to play. In that sense, Annie is one of the most satisfied characters in the last twenty years of Hollywood, IMHO: she, more than all but a very few Hollywood characters (certainly female characters) was allowed to become gloriously and individually herself. Orson Scott Card has said of the last three Star Wars films that, thanks to heroic exertion by talented actors, you can almost believe that human beings might actually have talked like the characters in the film. Somewhere. Maybe. But with Annie, not only can you believe that a woman could live and talk and love and flounce and dig in like that...not only that. No, even though you would never have thought Annie up on your own, now that you've seen her, your heart knows not just that such a woman could have lived, but that such a woman DID live -- because your heart knows that Annie is alive, whatever your head may say. Few characters ever reach that level of incarnation.

I grew up playing uncounted hours of catch with my dearly beloved dad and I cried when Ray and his father started that game of catch. But the moment that has always stayed with me from the film is not that game of catch. It's the secret smile on Annie's face as she looks out at the boys playing catch and turns on the park lights. To me, that moment is the essence of the movie.

Go read Sheila's post.



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