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Literature / At Play in the Fields of the Lord

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At Play in the Fields of the Lord is a 1965 novel by Peter Matthiessen. In 1991, Brazilian director Hector Babenco filmed an adaptation with a cast including Tom Berenger, John Lithgow, Daryl Hannah, Kathy Bates, Aidan Quinn, and Tom Waits.

Missionaries try to save the Indians/Native Americans, while mercenaries try to wipe them out.

This work provides us examples of:

  • The Amazon
  • Ax-Crazy: Randy's wife ends up this way, although there's clear evidence earlier in the film that her sanity isn't long for the world. Guess who they got to play her? Kathy Bates, of course, who'd just done an Oscar-winning star turn as Annie Wilkes in Misery.
  • Badass Native: Moon
  • Defector from Decadence: Moon
  • Downer Ending
  • Fanservice: Daryl Hannah has a nude scene.
  • Fan Disservice: So does Kathy Bates.
  • Gag Penis: When Randy asks Andie how she knew Moon wanted her, she says "Don't be such a child."
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  • A God Am I: Moon takes on the identity of Kisu.
  • Hope Spot: Randy gives the antibiotics to Moon.
  • Ill Girl: A gender inversion, with Billy dying from complications of malaria. If the shooting script were kid lit, it would be guaranteed Death by Newbery Medal material.
  • Just for Pun: Nowhere/Now Here
  • Loincloth: In the film version. The Niaruna wear "bellybands" in the novel. When Moon gets an erection, the bellyband hurts.
    • An explanation might be required for the bellybands: In the Amazon, men bind their foreskins and tie the binding material around their waists.
  • Lost Tribe: Theorized to be a lost tribe of Sioux or a lost tribe of Jews.
  • Love Dodecahedron: Moon likes Andie. Randy likes Andie. Randy is married. So is Andie.
  • Mighty Whitey: Deconstructed, since Moon is a halfbreed Cheyenne. Further deconstructed since he accidentally starts an epidemic of the common cold, killing them all.
  • Mushroom Samba: Moon gets a lot of tropes.
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  • Naked on Arrival: Moon, to the Niaruna.
  • National Geographic Nudity
  • Native American Mythology and all associated (or at least Sioux and Cheyenne) tropes.
  • A Nice Jewish Boy: Averted by Wolf, who is anything but nice.
  • No-One Could Have Survived That: Moon
  • Nude Nature Dance: Played with, though the film version is definitely not fanservice, since it's Kathy Bates and her character's basically gone nuts.
  • Potty Failure: Billy wets his bed at one point in the film, but in this case it's meant as an ominous sign that his illness is worsening. Specifically, his malaria is progressing to blackwater fever and his kidneys are failing.
  • Rape as Drama: Moon sees Andie naked. But he can't have her since she's married, so he goes home and rapes his wife, Pindi.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: Moon wants to help the Niaruna, but in the end, he gives them the flu, which kills them.
  • Shout-Out: The Sepultura album Roots was inspired by the film adaptation.
  • Title Drop: "I'm at play in the fields of the Lord."
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: Billy.
  • Values Dissonance: An in-universe example. Young Billy is having a wonderful time with the Indian kids his age, running around as stark-naked as they are and making friends of sorts despite the language barrier; but when his mother finds him, he and his companions are watching a pair of adults frolicking in a hammock, and he's still completely undressed. This ends about as well as you'd expect given that his mother is a sexually puritanical fundamentalist Christian with severe underlying issues of her own, and Randy has to physically intervene when she starts beating up the Indians immediately afterwards. Afterwards he tears a strip off her for this, stressing the dangers implicit in her use of violence and her failure to understand that the Indians don't share the missionaries' sense of morals (yet). Furthermore he tells her she risks giving her son a distorted and harmful view of human sexuality. When Randy's wife says "What if one of those things lays a hand on Billy?", Randy simply replies "He might like it."

Alternative Title(s): At Play In The Fields Of The Lord


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