The train stops for a while at a carnival. Simpson makes a bet with Max that Roy can strike out The Whammer on three pitches. Max assures Harriet that The Whammer is the best the game has ever seen. However, Roy strikes out The Whammer and is cheered by the crowd. We see Harriet move her gaze from The Whammer to Roy, as if adjusting the sights on her gun. In her conversation later with Roy, he is taken with her, and his move away from Iris on the train physically and spiritually causes his life to become derailed. She asks Roy if he has a girl in his life, but he ignores the question, and this denial of Iris shows his frailty and seals his fate. She makes allusions to Homer, and how if he were writing about baseball, the poet would have had a mind to write about Roy (whose first name sound like a shortened version of “royal”). But Roy’s only knowledge of Homer is in baseball when you get to run the bases to get to home plate. Homer has “home” in his name, and his character, Odysseus, also wants to get home after the Trojan War, but he must go through trials by ordeal before that happens. The same can be said of Roy, as he must go out in the world and survive before returning home. Roy tells Harriet that he will break all the records. She asks, “And then?” He says then people will say there goes Roy Hobbs, the best there ever was in the game. She asks isn’t here more than that, something greater. But Roy has the fatal flaw of Greek heroes, the one of hubris, overweening pride. Harriet then disappears in the flickering lights, like an otherworldly entity blending into the darkness (symbolic of the frightening realm in which she resides).
In Chicago, Harriet stays at Roy’s hotel and calls him to her room. She is dressed in a black negligee and pulls a veil down over her face, as if in mourning for what is to happen. Her outfit symbolically joins sexuality with tragedy. She asks him again if he will be the best in the game. When he affirms the boast, she shoots him in the left shoulder, near his pitching arm, and then we see that she no longer is in front of the window, having jumped to her death, her mission completed. She flies away, like the “Bird” her last name implies. Harriet plays the role of the “femme fatale,” or “fatal woman” who seduces the male and drains him of his power, like a vampire. This sexist archetype appears in many stories, including that of Eve and her apple, and Delilah cutting Samson’s hair in the bible. In Greek mythology, the Sirens try to destroy Odysseus with their alluring voices. Harriet is a cautionary figure who metes out punishment for those who take their gift for granted and adopt too prideful an attitude. God may giveth but he may also taketh away what he has bestowed if the recipient is undeserving.
It is after sixteen years have passed that we join up with Roy on that train platform, trying to make up for the failure of the previous trip. He has been signed to play for the New York Knights (an appropriate name given the references to the Arthurian legend) after only being with a minor league team for a couple of weeks. New York can represent the corruption that occurs in the eastern part of the United States, where moral decay has taken hold in the cities as opposed to the “New Eden” of the unspoiled American west. This theme shows up in many stories, including The Great Gatsby. The manager of the Knights, Pop Fisher (Wilford Brimley), who is another father figure, has a name which implies that he is a “fisher of men,” like St. Peter in the bible. Thus, Pop’s allegorical role is to help Roy redeem himself. However, when Roy first joins the team, Pop is dismissive of him, saying that a guy retires at his age instead of trying to make it as a rookie. Pop mirrors Roy’s journey, because he, too, was supposed to work on a farm, as his mother wanted, but went to the big city, substituting the playing field for the farm field. Later, coach Red Blow (Richard Farnsworth) tells Roy that Pop gave his heart and soul to the game, but fell on hard financial times. His nemesis is the Judge (Robert Prosky), who became the majority shareholder of the team when Pop had to sell off some of his shares to him. If Pop can win the pennant (a sort of Holy Grail quest) this year, then he can get the team back. But if he doesn’t achieve his goal, he is out and The Judge takes over. Pop depicts The Judge as a “snake,” bringing to mind Satan in the Garden of Eden.
Pop sees the quick signing of the older Hobbs as part of a conspiracy led by The Judge to undermine the team’s success. Not that the Knights need any help in losing. They look pathetic on the field, committing numerous errors. Roy’s uniform number is 9, the same as Ted Williams, arguably the greatest hitter in the history of baseball. Despite his attempt to try to recapture his dream of playing in the big leagues, Roy still has the flaw of being attracted to the femme fatale, in this case, Memo Paris (Kim Basinger), who happens to be Pop’s niece. It is especially treacherous that Pop’s own relative conspires with The Judge, Max Mercy, and the bookie, Gus Sands (Darren McGavin) to bring Pop down. Pop believes in luck and jinxes, which makes him in tune with the magical realism of the story. He warns Roy that although he loves his niece, he believes Memo brings bad luck, since he thinks her involvement with another ballplayer, Bump Bailey (Michael Madsen), turned him into an under-performer. We later find out that Bump, too, is on the take to sink the Knights, his first name implying he is a hindrance on the road to success.
Pop finally gives Roy a shot at batting practice, and Roy hits the ball out of the park a number of times. We can see Pop is starting to warm up to him when he starts calling Roy by his first name. Pop takes Bump out of a game when the right fielder misses a fly ball on purpose. Bump says he lost it in the sun on this cloudy day, prompting Pop to look up at the sky and say, “blinding.” Pop sends Roy to bat, and tells him, in exaggerated baseball lingo, to “knock the cover off of the ball.” The gods speak in the form of lightning in the sky again, and Roy literally does knock the cover off of the baseball. Gus is in the stands with Memo when it starts to storm, the downpour implying that Roy’s heroics will be raining on Gus’ parade. The amazing hit puts Roy on the major league baseball map. Max Mercy approaches him. Roy remembers Max from the Whammer episode, but Max can’t place Roy after all of these years. Roy is secretive about his past because he doesn’t want the incident with Harriet brought up as a scandal. In his column, though, since Max is in league with The Judge, he accuses Roy of using a “loaded” bat. Wonderboy passes the size and weight test, though.
Pop threatens Bump with replacing him with Roy, so Bump starts to field and hit better. In what is a bit of exaggerated contrivance, Bump gets eliminated because in an overzealous attempt at trying to catch a ball, he busts through an outfield fence and dies from the injury. Roy is now the right fielder and he goes on an amazing hitting streak. He shows up now on baseball cards and magazines. Iris now lives in Chicago, although she never gave up her farm, which shows she is still connected to her upstanding roots. She has had no contact with Roy after all of these years and she is surprised to hear talk of Wonderboy and Hobbs at the cafe she frequents. One of the players likes the lightning bolt on Wonderboy, and wears a patch with the image on the arm of his uniform. He starts to hit better at practice, and someone says it’s like “Samson with the hair,” another reference to divine intervention. Eventually all of the players wear the lightning bolt insignia, which indicates how Roy’s heroics inspire the actions of others. The bat boy, Bobby Savoy (George Wilkosz), admires Wonderboy, and Roy promises to help the youngster make a bat of his own. In this way, Roy rediscovers the idealism of his youth, but also now acts as a father figure himself, playing the role of his dad forward. We see Roy in newsreels talking to young boys and a girl, as he appears as a positive role model. Levinson uses black and white footage in the newsreels to lend authenticity to the time period of the film. But they also make the audience buy into the almost miraculous accomplishments of Roy because the rest of the story is grounded in reality.
The Judge summons Roy for a meeting. His office is very dark and Roy says it could use some light. The Judge says that as a boy he was afraid of the dark and now has taught himself to actually prefer darkness. The absence of light associated with The Judge here becomes a metaphor for his acceptance of treachery. He is so used to being deceptive that he knows different words for a lie such as “canard” and “prevarication.” His employment of unfamiliar words is devious in itself. He says to Roy that he can see The Judge in the dark, to which Roy replies, “Maybe I do, and maybe I don’t.” With these words Roy shows that he understands that there can be false appearances hiding evil below. He learned this lesson with Harriet Bird, but is still susceptible to the pretty exterior of Memo. In this meeting, however, he stands his moral ground, and refuses to be bought by The Judge to undermine Pop and the team. (The Judge could remind one of the Wall Street men who made money by betting against their own organizations to prosper, bringing on the recession in 2008). When Roy leaves the office he turns on the lights, symbolically revealing the true unsavory nature of The Judge. The Judge says “Turn off that infernal light!” “Infernal” is the adjective for “inferno” which stands for “hell.” For a fallen soul such as The Judge, heavenly light is an enemy, as sunlight is to a vampire. Gus now appears out of the darkness of the room, like a demon, saying they will have to get Roy to comply with their demands through other methods than greed. That means using Memo.
Iris has followed Roy’s failing performance and goes to a game when the Knights come to Chicago. She wears white and stands up as Roy is about to strike out. The sun illuminates her hat, and it looks like a halo. Her guardian angel influence (she too exerts magic) brings the light of benevolence back to Roy, who feels it as he holds and looks at Wonderboy. It’s as if the bat is a lightning rod conducting heavenly power. He hits a ball so hard on the next pitch that it shatters the scoreboard clock. He has stopped the current downward timeline on which he has traveled and now can start a fresh, uplifting one. He gets a note from Iris to meet her at the soda shop. Their reunion is awkward. Roy says he hasn’t married, and Iris says, innocently, “How did the girls miss you.” Harriet didn’t “miss” with her gunshot, a demonic version of Cupid’s arrow. Roy doesn’t want to reveal what happened to him out of shame. He does convince Iris to attend the next game, where he hits four consecutive home runs. They walk after the game and he tells her the whole story about Harriet. He was in the hospital for two years, lost his confidence, and did various jobs before trying baseball again. They go to her apartment where Roy sees a boy’s baseball glove on the sofa. Iris says it belongs to her son. Roy at first is taken aback, but smiles when she says what a great kid he is. She says his father lives in New York, and unless you are dense, which apparently Roy is when it comes to women, you realize that it is his child. Iris says maybe her son needs his father now. Roy says, “Sure. A father makes all the difference,” as it did in his life. Iris realizes that Roy would leave the game to be with his son, so she says he has to leave to catch his train for the next game.