The Spring of '84: The Natural -

The Spring of '84

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  • Starring: Robert Redford, Glenn Close, Wilford Brimley, Robert Duvall, Kim Basinger, Barbara Hershey and Robert Prosky
  • Written by: Roger Towne and Phil Dusenberry
  • Directed by: Barry Levinson
  • Studio: TriStar Pictures
  • Rating: PG
  • Run Time: 138 minutes
  • Series:

The Spring of '84: The Natural

"The only thing I know about the dark is you can't see in it."

By Rob Vaux     May 12, 2014

The Natural (1984)
© Sony Pictures
 The Natural exists first and foremost as a great baseball movie, arriving at a time when sports films were out of vogue and simultaneously creating a mini-Renaissance in the genre. Director Barry Levinson took a troubling novel about the failure of idealism in the face of corruption, and reinvented it for the Regan era: leaving the darkness intact but vanquishing it more forcefully with a little help from perennial golden boy Robert Redford.
Redford plays Roy Hobbs, a baseball prodigy cut down in his prime by a crazed fan, only to emerge years later to take a single, shining shot at redemption. The actor fit the part like a glove: his handsome face worn by the first few care lines, and carrying shades of the seedy side of life thanks to 70s classics like Three Days of the Condor. Here, he perfectly embodies a wounded hero determined to make right. So much of Hobbs's potential has been snatched away, but there's still a few threads of it left and maybe... just maybe... it can give him that perfect moment that has eluded him for so long.
You won't find many notions as in touch with the zeitgeist of the time as that one. In 1984, we collectively felt like we were emerging from years of stagnation and decay: moving forward with renewed purpose towards something brighter and better. It was a myth, of course -- the corruption had merely been repackaged -- but as an embodiment of that optimism, The Natural was spot-on.
And therein lies the film's second purpose, and one I daresay means even more than reinvigorating baseball on the silver screen. Words like "hero," "myth" and "redemption" come very easily with this film, which exists as a unique and fascinating take on the Hero's Journey. There are no dragons to slay or princesses to rescue, at least not literally, but those tropes lie very close to the surface as Hobbs embarks on a long-shot quest for salvation. It's no mistake that his team is named the Knights – fictional creations in a film that otherwise sticks to real life MLB teams – or that their perennial sad sack status is in dire need of a Campbellian rescue. Levinson coats Hobbs' single-season comeback story in the sheen of fairy dust, both with Hobbs himself and with his various nemeses. Critics scoffed as such trappings at the time -- the sinister gambler (Darren McGavin) and his evil glass eye, the bewitching siren (Kim Basinger) who tempts Hobbs from his course, the recurring bolt of lightning that reminds us the gods are watching -- but in retrospect they're absolutely invaluable. A stellar supporting cast helps out, marked by Glenn Close's inspirational muse, but also by Richard Farnsworth and Wilford Brimley as Hobb's slightly disbelieving coaches.
The point, I think, was to make us look as baseball with purer eyes, to see why it becomes more than just a game for so many of us. Hated rivals really do feel evil sometimes, and redemptive missions take on the air of larger-than-life fantasies in the heat of the pennant race. The Natural simply crystalizes those feelings into an amplified form, keeping them just grounded enough in reality to make it plausible before taking them to heroic heights. Fallen players on the take echo the infamous Black Sox scandal, as do the owners and administrators who see the game only as a means of profit. On the other side, we get Hobbs literally knocking the cover off the ball in an homage to Babe Ruth's famous called shot. 


They're just inside the realm of reality, but echo the emotional investment fans and players alike place in the game. And while we rarely see the real life stories quite so inflated, we can certainly catch moments of the same magic on the field if we look hard enough. Ask the '69 Mets or the '04 Red Sox. (Or dare I say my beloved '02 Angels, who started the season 6-14 before overcoming 40 years of frustration in one unbelievable stroke.) Ask any Cubs fan, who will look you in the eye and tell you they're going all the way even as their boys drop the 90th loss of the year. The Natural represents the marvelous potential of the sport: everything we hope it could be, and everything we fear it might become if the forces of darkness have their way. It's a great baseball story yes, but its real brilliance lies in connecting baseball to something greater: something that helps game and movie alike stand the test of time. 


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goirish83 5/12/2014 5:29:50 AM

My second favorite baseball movie of all time after "61*".

JTime 5/12/2014 5:55:16 AM

 This is a really cool movie.

monkeyfoot 5/12/2014 6:51:35 AM

Love this movie. I also think its a great play on the Hero's Journey.  It shows a man blessed by the gods with extraordinary power shown by the lightning bolt from Heaven. What the gods deemed worthy of him was his goodness and purity which translates here into early 20th Century America values and decency. But when he strays from the True Path and is tempted by wickedness he loses his power just as Samson loses his superhuman strength when he is tempted by Delilah and has his hair cut. He is crippled until he returns to the pure and true path when he returns to his sweet lady love. 

After seeing this as a kid I thought this was the perfect way to do Captain America as a movie.

DarthBob 5/12/2014 10:48:13 AM

I'm an extra in this movie since some of baseball stadium scenes were shot close to where I grew up.  My friends and I had so much fun as extras when they made this movie.  I have a baseball signed by almost everyone in the cast.  The only signatures I couldn't get were Kim Basinger and Robert Prosky.  Wilford Brimley was one of the coolest guys on the set; he would talk to you all day long if he could.  This was a great experience and an awesome movie.

IRONMANIAC 5/12/2014 5:29:46 PM

The guy who wrote the screenplay is named Phil Dusenberry, who was a legend in the advertsising business. I remember meeting him once when we were pitching the Texaco business at BBDO in NY. He looked at my campaign and then looked up and said, "This is good. Who did this?" And the creative director pointed his finger at me and Phil gave me an approving nod. One of the highlights of my career in advertising.

blankczech 5/12/2014 7:58:25 PM

 I'm a big sports fan. I usually don't like sports movies because they rarely capture the excitement of the real thing but I  liked The Natural a lot.  

I never compare theatrical releases to HBO original programs like "61." If I did I'd pick 61 as my favorite too.  I lived through that 1961 season (attending several games at Yankee Stadium that year and it seemed like either Mantle or Maris hit at least one homer in each of them)...that was a magical year and watching "61" brings back all those memories.



Redshirt1 5/16/2014 11:52:11 AM

Not a big sports fan myself, but I do like sports movies, and this is a favorite.



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