“The Natural” Goes Deep to Clean the Slate

“The Natural” is one of my go-to movies when I’m “stuck inside” for a spell. So much going on in that screen story, so many great characters, so beautiful to look at, and so many wonderful lines.

This Robert Redford movie (directed by Barry Levinson) captures much of the novel’s depth and mythology, though it did totally deviate from the book in one key area: the ending. Schmaltzy? Dude hits a pennant winning home run that smashes the lights in the stadium to bits, sending a shower of celebratory sparks raining down upon the giddy Knights. It’s the happiest of happy endings. Schmaltz? Frank Capra would be proud.

But it always feels like there’s more going on in this movie (besides Randy Newman’s memorable and beautiful score).

Of course, if the movie had been made in the 1970s, it probably would have kept the book’s original depressing ending, with Roy striking out (even though he was really trying), after having been paid off by the evil Judge, and our hero weeping many regretful, bitter tears, his fictional fate reflecting the tragedy and sorrow of a Shoeless Joe Jackson, with nothing but an imaginary, dark and endless void ahead. Amen.

But this movie was made in the 80s, a different time, and a different mindset, and the filmmakers gave it an opposite ending. Roy hits the home run and the Knights win and our hero retires to his “after life,” a rural heaven where fathers and sons play catch in a field and Ma looks on approvingly. It’s a lovely scene to close the movie on. Roy smiling, his lesson learned, his big mistake (or mistakes) a thing (or things) of the past.

Roy Hobbs (as played by Robert Redford) in his baseball after life

That’s kind of what I think when looking at this photo, the final scene in the movie – it’s Roy’s big sigh of relief; his, “whew … now I can move on with the next part of existence” moment. His smile says comfort and family and home to me.

There is a line that Roy says, late in the film, when he’s recuperating in the maternity hospital, before he decides to go ahead and risk his life and play the game. It is one of my favorite lines in the movie, and one of the truest lines ever spoken by a fictional character. He says, “I guess some mistakes you never stop paying for.”

Roy guesses correctly. There really are some mistakes that we never stop paying for. We’ve all felt this. It’s a very human condition, and it sheds symbolic light on the stuff that we choose to cling to, or let go of; on our capacity – or ability – to forgive others and ourselves.

It comes to Roy as he lays there in the maternity hospital bed, perhaps the lowest moment of his life, when he decides at this point that it sure can’t get any worse. He’s paid for his mistakes, with interest, for years, if that isn’t enough for the universe then fuck it – there’s nothing left to do any more but play ball and swing away.

And he does. And he connects. And the Knights win. And Roy washes the slate clean. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s a movie for goodness sakes … and It’s nice to indulge in a harmless little fantasy now and then.

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