Roy Hobbs, the thirty-something baseball superstar in The Natural, played by a forty-something Robert Redford has a belief that he could have been the best ever baseball player. He could have broken all the records. Then the kids in the street could look at him walk down it and say, “there goes Roy Hobbs, the greatest ever baseball player.” “Then what ?” he is asked. His blank face is the answer. Well nothing else. That’s it.
I have just finished re-reading Steve Biddulph’s Raising Boys that talks a lot about positive male role models in children’s lives, and in particular, boys. A positive male role model can assist boys in growing up to become caring, strong, confident and gracious men. These sorts of men don’t just want to become the greatest baseball player ever and then stop. They want to live life, be involved in their families, be active members of their community.
Did young Roy’s father pass on nothing else before dying of a heart attack ? Evidently not. The scripting in this film reminds me of something that Daffy Duck might write : “the best of the best of the best.” Even Porky Pig had a better sense of self
We know too in modern life that the cult of celebrity is nothing more than a fantastic dream. Stalking, harassment and pressure lead celebrities to adopt lifestyle choices that are isolating.
The Natural is a fantasy sports film in the same way that Pretty Woman is a fantasy rom.com. (you know, hooker with a heart of gold wins the heart of a lonely billionaire and they drive around in expensive cars for ever more), only its nowhere near as believable. The fantasy is that there is this guy who can bat, pitch and field with power and grace, who can smack a baseball through the very window where his enemy sits up in the press room, and out of the ground every other time. The baddies are real bad and the women too.
Why did the woman in black, Barbara Hershey, pull a gun and shoot him (but not kill him, go back to that image of the Hulk from two weeks ago) ? I don’t know. The script never mentioned it.
Does Glenn Close have magical powers that can transform a player from bad to sublime ? The film never told me that either although the sunlit halo suggested it. And when did she get knocked up ? Are we ever told who the father is or do we just suppose it was you know who ?
The cartoon pretensions don’t end with here. There’s the one-eyed mystic, the albino Judge, the hapless old timer coach, Michael Madsen’s untimely outfield demise by running through the fence that rings the ground (just like many a Bugs Bunny episode where you see the outline of the critter who has gone through the door while it’s still closed).
Its hard to believe that a professional sports team, especially viewed through modern eyes, plays more akin to a Keystone Cops slapstick routine during the “hapless” sequence (until our boy turns up that is and they instantly become competent professionals again). And doesn’t the crusty old coach who has been there for 57 years know a thing or two about coaching ? Even Jock McHale at Collingwood had to win the occasional premiership just to stay employed.
And finally, just before the sparks from the light tower that rains glory on the victors and ignominy on the defeated, where did the blood come from ? Is it a stigmata ? Is Roy Hobbs really a deity who cannot die and perform miracles on earth ? He doesn’t die, he does hit the ball and he does retire with the magic woman and the boy and they do live happily ever after. So, what was the point of the blood ? Did he never play again because NappySan hasn’t been invented yet and “you’ll never get that stain out” ? This, like the film itself, is baffling at best. Comical more like.