Wednesday, January 9, 2019

"The Postman" - The Pro-Government Movie That No One Wanted

*As always, I write these articles under the assumption that you've seen the movie, so...SPOILERS.

When I decided to write about The Postman, the government shutdown had not started yet (this gives you a clue as to how long I procrastinate with some of these articles). I just wanted to write about a huge commercial ($17.6 million box office on a $80 million budget) and critical (9% on Rotten Tomatoes) failure that I actually liked. I wasn’t planning on making it topical at all. So sometimes things happen for a reason. That’s right, I inadvertently willed a government shutdown into existence so my Postman article made sense. But if you’re reading this post-shutdown, then I’m just writing about a crappy movie I like.

R-rated old-timey storytelling about how the government is necessary.

The government shutdown inspired the main topic for this article because when you watch this movie with a shutdown in mind, it turns it into this pro-government manifesto. Before the shutdown, my main takeaway was about hope, especially since the movie flat out tells you that the Postman hands out hope like candy from his pocket. It still is about that, but from here on out, I can only see this movie as a testament to the power of government.

So the world is destroyed by war and whatnot, and civilization, at least in the Pacific Northwest, has devolved into a feudal-type system. Towns hide behind walls, wary of strangers, only opening their gates to provide for the local warlord that controls the area. Costner, a lone wanderer, stumbles across a postal uniform and mailbag after escaping from conscripted military service. He decides to use the mail as a way to get free food from communities. But he doesn’t realize that by restarting mail service, he would remind people what they were missing in their non-government lives. All of this leads to an armed resistance that eventually re-establishes the government everyone missed so dearly.

Perhaps this is one of the main reasons why this movie failed so momentously: people don’t like governments. I think most of us recognize the need for government, but still most people hate how it operates...or doesn’t operate. Either way, the modern movie-goer (and this goes for the audience of 1997, too) isn’t clamoring for a nearly three hour love letter (sorry) to the government. Honestly, when I look at the film in that light, I like it less. So I have to turn off my brain and just enjoy The Postman for its almost refreshing old-timeyness ("old-timeyness" may not be a word, but it still describes this movie).

The Postman is a perfect example of the type of old-fashioned American epic that Kevin Costner liked to make, and it marks the last time someone let him do it. From the music to the length to the patriotism to the good vs. evil simpleness to the inspiring speeches, this movie just feels like it was made by someone from the 1950s who was tired of all this depressing crap Hollywood keeps making! And that works for me. The film isn’t without it’s problems; in fact, there are a lot of them (check the Random Thoughts section for examples). But it is kind of nice to see a movie this straightforward and simple. It can be hard to get past that running time, though.

And that is kind of what I love the most about this movie (that, and the casting of Tom Petty as himself). The film takes its time, and (I can’t believe I’m about to write this) it could have been longer. Seriously. Some of my biggest issues this time around was the confusing passage of time. Olivia Williams is seemingly pregnant for years yet never shows. So this means the movie takes place over the course of a few months. Over those months, a dude who takes the coat off a dead postal worker inadvertently creates a rebellion, takes out the local warlord (Will Patton, who I liked in this movie but have a hard time buying as some militaristic badass), and re-established the United States Government. Just take out the pregnancy subplot, and the timing isn’t an issue. And without that example of how little actual time has passed, the film would be free to flesh out these rapid events. Instead of just having Costner saunter back to town to discover a fully functioning postal service, have a few scenes of Ford Lincoln Mercury getting it going.

So perhaps the film doesn’t need to be longer, and some of the plot needs to be rearranged. Of course, I might be crazy for even thinking this much about The Postman. I imagine a lot of people completely forgot about this movie, if they ever knew of it at all. But it has stuck with me all these years later, and it turns out a movie about the postal service re-establishing our government can be topical. Perhaps if the current shutdown included the post office, a Postman-type situation would happen. Let’s hope we never find out. God bless America!

Who would dare challenge this man?

Why do I own this?

I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but I think this might be the seventh or eighth time I’ve watched The Postman (easily putting me in the top ten list of most viewings of this movie). So it makes sense to own a movie that I’ve revisited so many times. Plus, look at that case. This DVD is a relic of the early days. But really, I do like this movie, despite the new faults I seem to find with it each time I watch it. I make fun of it quite a bit, but I truly find it to be an enjoyable, simple movie.

Random Thoughts (This is my equivalent of live-tweeting the film, so some of this won’t make much sense if you haven’t watched the movie recently.)

...and it took five seconds for me to see this film as a warning about our current political situation. Radio samples mention a rise in hate crimes and racially motivated attacks.

I love that Nathan Holn is referred to as a motivational speaker. That's who brought about the apocalypse?! Fucking Tony Robbins?

He's shown as a little delusional at first (talking to the donkey, seeing a glimpse of the past in the mirror, hearing actual TV shows on the destroyed TV), but that's never really explored. He's just presented as an excellent bullshitter and actor who ends up growing into the character he inadvertently created.

Reciting Macbeth leads to some foreshadowing I didn't pick up on previously. (Bethlehem being an unworthy leader.) Probably because this is the first time I've seen this since I've read Macbeth.

The guy giving Costner shit for his bad acting seems like a meta moment since Costner has faced criticism for his performances in the past.

They take men between “15 and 50” to serve in the Holnist Army. Now I get that this range will make it clear who is eligible, but this being post apocalypse, it would be very easy for young looking teenagers to claim to be under 15 and middle aged men to claim to be over 50. Why not just say all men “in fighting shape” or something?

I've hated Giovanni Ribisi ever since this movie. This is a compliment to his performance as an annoying, sniveling suck-ass.

“Men, strong men, have been denied their destiny.” This definitely sounds like some shit I’ve heard in the last couple of years as men have felt threatened by women.

His job system is really flawed. So if you dig holes, now you fill them? And if you were a doctor do you now kill people? I would claim I used to be a cook, so then my job would just be to eat.

That's a brutal training regimen they have. Twenty miles a day with no food for three days?

Choke on that mule, Ribisi!

I don't care if the world ends, I'll still prefer Universal Soldier over The Sound of Music. But I get the point.

It seems like more people would challenge for leadership. No offense to Will Patton, but I don't think of him as some bad ass. I know we get the story about Getty challenging him, but why did the fight only last six seconds? At the end of the movie the fight between Costner and Patton is just them rolling around on the ground. They couldn't do this two and a half hours earlier?

So if Bethlehem used to sell copiers, then by his own logic shouldn't he now be buying them?

I like the transition from the movie screen to the next scene. I wish this movie had more interesting little moments like this.

Ribisi, you tattle-tale motherfucker!

That shot of Costner swimming in the foreground while the two men jump from the bridge in the background is pretty great.

My God, you earned that stabbing, Ribisi.

The uniform on that skeleton being intact is one thing, but a zippo still lighting after years is ludicrous. I used to use a zippo, and if I let that thing sit for a month without use it would dry out.

Why did the kid send his tooth to his grandpa? Leave that shit for the Tooth Fairy, dummy!

Holn is referred to as a farmer in the letter he delivers. So he was a motivational speaker/farmer? I'm not saying you can't be both, but that's very unlikely. How could he tend to his crops if he was out giving speeches? Or did people come to his farm to listen to him speak? That seems...odd.

Good to know that the apocalypse at least ended the two party system. Long live President Starkey!

I always thought it was odd how the music swelled when Olivia Williams was riding him in the overly long, unnecessary sex scene. Sure, they eventually fall in love, but the sex was purely for procreation. Just an overall uncomfortable moment.

He's going to do a “figure eight” in a world where 8 is a symbol for evil? That's like restarting the postal route in Germany circa 1946 in the shape of a swastika.

The little girl singing “America, the Beautiful” as he leaves is a bit much. How does she even know that song? The United States was abolished before she was born.

I have got to hear the rest of Bethlehem's story about the goat. What an odd, random bit of dialogue.

Bethlehem is going to make America strong again.

Costner shaves his beard and now Bethlehem doesn't recognize a former prisoner he spoke to individually and that eventually escaped?

Shouldn't they say, “You misspelled ‘tyranny'” instead of “You spelled ‘tyranny’ wrong”?

Who is that little kid sending a letter to anyway?

How did Elvis not have a name before the Postman named it? Who the fuck just lives in a place but doesn't call it something? I've got a name for them: Dumbfuckville.

In defense of the people who hated this movie, it wasn't the best idea to make a movie that glamorized a militarized postal service during a time when disgruntled postal workers was a thing.

I love that Tom Petty plays himself, even though he should be 16 years older. It's just a smart way to deal with a distracting casting choice. There’s no one who saw him and thought, “Gee, what nuanced character is Tom Petty playing?” They just thought, “Look, it’s Tom Petty!” And they were right.

“You give out hope like it was candy in your pocket.” What an awful line. I really do like this movie, but moments like that make it very hard.

He never went to Saint Rose? He couldn't take a day off? How much was there for him to do after the Holnists were done?

The special features are odd. Most of them are text-based, which used to be a thing. The only featurette is about the cable car sequence. It's pretty lame. But special features were in their infancy when this came out.