Let It Go

A League of Their Own is not a sports movie. Much like its misunderstood predecessor, Rocky, it is a magic trick. We are lured into thinking that the Women's World Series and the championship bout against Apollo Creed are important. They are not. They are magnifying glasses to the soul. They reveal us, our choices, and our time. For Rocky, proving his worth isn't a matter of winning or losing, but a tenacity of spirit. For Dottie Hinson, it is a tug-of-war of values. With her husband fighting in the second world war, she must decide the kind of woman she is. A League of Their Own is about choice and being rooted in historicity. Family and competition. Personhood and duty. The film is an attempt to answer these incommensurable dichotomies. 

The film begins with the dead ringer for older Geena Davis giving her grandsons advice. Using her actual voice in the uncanny valley of ADR, a wise Dottie Hinson presents the thematic overture: warning the older boy it is his responsibility to give his brother a chance, while imploring the younger boy to, "Kill him." It distills Dottie's wisdom into a single innocuous scene. This moment is a microcosm of the dramatic question posed by the film: Did Dottie drop the ball on purpose?

Dottie is a sports goddess. Her athletic prowess is never at issue. She is the best player. Her journey isn't about athleticism. She easily impresses the scout, barehands Doris' sassy pitch ("Some of them are going home"), and can drop into the splits to catch a pop fly when the league needs a little boost. Rather, her dramatic struggle is rooted in her relationship to her kid sister, Kit, and her husband fighting in World War II. So when Kit charges home plate in the Women's World Series, with only Dottie standing in her way, are we to believe Dottie was overwhelmed by her kid sister? The answer is a resounding, infuriating, and painful no. 

The film goes out of its way to present us with evidence to the contrary. At the midpoint of the film, Dottie is charged by an opposing player. When the dust settles, Dottie emerges ball in hand for the game-winning tag out. We are shown that Dottie can handle the battle for home plate. In the post World Series reunion scene, the ladies do not talk about Kit's ascension to baseball greatness. Building upon her victory at home plate, Kit didn't go on to be the best player in the league. No. The ladies marvel at Dottie, hailing her as the GOAT despite only playing one season. This is because Kit should have been thrown out at home. Kit was thrown out at home. 

Kit's entry into the league is predicated on the scout's gambit to recruit Dottie, whose declared value is that she only cares about her husband, but her actions show otherwise. Jimmy, her coach, notes she plays like she loves it. But Dottie insists it's a trifle. It's not clear Dottie has even admitted to herself how badly she wants to win. To have an identity of her own. To not be a soldier's wife. To not be shackled to her place in time. Her very existence as the taller, more beautiful, married, and talented sister is a constant source of pain to her kid sister. 

Dottie reveals her character in her actions. During the big game, Dottie and Kit square off in the penultimate inning. Dottie crushes a line drive at Kit's head driving in the go ahead run. This devastates Kit, who implodes in the dugout from the shame. Dottie's motivations are blurred between her desire for baseball glory and her duty as a big sister. From the scout's first look at our heroes, we see Dottie imploring Kit to "lay off the high ones." Kit patently rejects Dottie's advice, protesting, "I like the high ones." She strikes out and the scout rightly overlooks her. At the start of the final inning, Dottie remains faithful to baseball, though her fidelity is waning. She instructs her pitcher to hurl high fast balls at Kit. 

Can't hit 'em. Can't lay off 'em. Dottie is willing to let Kit make her own bed. If she's incapable of taking advice or playing smarter, she deserves to be struck out.

Miraculously, Kit grabs a hold of one. It's a deep three-bagger to the wall. The Peaches hit the cut-off woman in great position to defend home plate. But despite the protestations of her coach a petulant child decides to make the game about her need for identity. Her move isn't bold. It isn't heroic. It's stupid and should have cost her the game. Kit has learned nothing. She hasn't become a stellar player. She barrels right toward the best player in the league: Dottie Hinson, who took a hit from a player twice her size just 30 movie-minutes ago. 

Dottie Hinson, who Kit perpetually accuses of holding her back, is faced with a choice. She can square her shoulders, defend home plate, and destroy her sister. She's already witnessed Kit's total meltdown in the previous inning. She knows Kit can't handle it. She knows her desire for baseball and her desire to protect her sister are at odds. And when faced with a heartbreaking choice to kill her (and the Peaches') dream for glory, or her sister's well-being, Dottie chooses her sister. She lets it go.   

Kit is a royal pain in the ass. She is a bratty, annoying, and reckless little sister. She is a sapling who rages at the imposing shadow cast by the tree that is her older sister. Her entire identity is a reaction to her older sister. She fears (rightly) she'll never be as pretty, as beloved, or as talented as her big sister. She is starved from living in the shadow and it has rotted her roots. But she is family. And in her time, individualism isn't a well worn path. The pull of duty wins the tug-of-war with her self-actualization. 

And if you are still unconvinced, look at the smile on Dottie's face while Kit celebrates. Jimmy looks at his ballplayer and knows. He can see it on her face. He knows she can handle that hit but she has chosen family. She can barely look at him. When he confronts Dottie about her decision to quit, Jimmy argues "Baseball is what gets inside you, what lights you up." To which Dottie replies, "It just got too hard."

Dottie loves baseball. She is a ball player. She wants to win. After quitting to be with her husband, she doubled back for the seventh game. It's in her heart. But for a woman in the 40s, a woman was to consider family and duty rather than her dreams. And while the infuriating end of this film is a heart-breaking tragedy for Dottie, she lets it go so the next generation of women can hold tightly to their dreams and break their kid sisters' hearts. 

Did Dottie drop the ball? 

It depends on whether you ask a big sister or a kid sister. As an only-child, I find this movie to be one of the most infuriatingly satisfying endings in cinema. As I'm not a big sister, I doubt I'll ever fully understand. 

No comments :

Post a Comment