The Natural: The Best Baseball Movie as well as a revisitation of Augustine's Confessions
I know that if I want to write about a baseball movie right now, I should be writing about Money Ball and maybe I will, after I've seen. But a baseball movie I have seen and which I definitely think is worth writing about is The Natural (1984), starring Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs, a boy from the midwest who claims that all he wants is "to be the best there ever was." Just modest desires. Really. And it turns out, he probably is, at least in terms of baseball. He can pitch. He can hit. He can pitch and hit the cover right off the ball.
Augustine tells us in the Confessions that he is in love with love. But looking for it in all the wrong places. And not very good it. The women he loves, and we're to understand that he was a randy young man, although he goes on to be celibately saintly, he doesn't really love. He ditches his long-term lover, a woman he's had a son with, for a thirteen year old because it will be politically advantageous. This woman is never named. She doesn't get a name because Augustine never treats her like a person.
In The Natural, Hobbs leaves his high school sweetheart, Iris, to look for fame and fortune. His first stop? A hotel room with Harriet. Harriet, turns out to be a little zany. She shoots him and then jumps to her own death. Harriet wants to be known for killing "the best there ever was." She'd kill Being itself if it would present itself. She literally chooses non-being and self-destructs. And that's it for Hobbs. He's injured before he even started, both physically, mentally and spiritually. Turns out it's a lot harder to be "the best there ever was" than he had thought.
What does it mean to use other people rather than to show them love? Presumably it means to love ourselves more than anyone else. Everything else becomes just grist for our mill. Ironically, though it means not to love ourselves at all. Because we can't do it alone and using people incessantly means that you will be alone. You think you are making yourself happy, but in the end you are alone and desperately unhappy. You've chosen you're own non-being. Augustine does this with his school friends, his lovers and even his mother Monica, who he lies to time and time again as she follows him sort of creepily from Africa to Europe and back. He even uses God, praying, "Make me celibate. But not yet." His prayer is built on a timeline that he determines. All things will bend to his will.
Hobbs gets a second chance. He's now in his mid-30's and still a rookie. And only a last place team with management actually bets on their losing will take him. But it's a chance. And you now what? He screws it up. At least initially. Again he falls for the evil eye candy, Memo. Yes. That is her name. And she poisons him with a laced eclair (which is really disturbing because as much as I love Wonder Bars, I love eclairs more). And this even though Iris has reappeared and wants to reconnect. Hobbs has had this chance before. And he blows it again. He eats the eye candy (mind out of the gutter now--I'm talking about the eclair). His previous injury is reawakened and he's back in the hospital. And, we learn, that he may never play again.
Except! (Cue dramatic music here). That he is in the nativity ward at the hospital. So there is rebirth potential. (Cheesy in writing, much subtler in the film). And Iris visits him. And we all know that Iris is the messenger god; she mediates between the human and the divine. So hobbs tells her about Harriet. He confesses that he wanted to be "the best there ever was." And she sboslves him, "You're still really good."
In Augustine's Confessions there's a pivotal moment, when Augustine thinks he hears some children playing and they chant, "Pick up and read. Pick up and read." He takes this to be a message from God and so he picks up the Bible and miraculously turns to exactly that passage that he needs to gain the strength to give up pride. Hobbs is given a similar moment. In a pivotal moment of what will be his final baseball game, he gets a message from Iris. "Pick up and read." And he learns that he has a son.
So it is that He won't be swayed by Memo and all she has to offer (money, power, celebrity). Because he actually does love. He loves baseball. He loves Iris. And (spoiler alert), he loves the son he never knew they had. All of a sudden these things are more important than being "the best there ever was." They are so important, in fact, that he will risk never playing baseball again, for their sake.
With that one choice, he gets it all. The game, the girl, the son and even the title. With love, real love, he is able to be "the best there ever was," as long as he doesn't mind sharing the title. With God.
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