It’s not very common to write a movie review 23 years after its release, but The Postman is not a common movie. When the film was released in 1997 it was a box office failure. Filmed on a 80 million dollar budget, it flopped, garnering only 20 million in return. It was wholly mocked by critics. All of the top critics of the time lauded it as “goofy” and The New York Times criticized the movie for its "bogus sentimentality.” As Wikipedia states: The Postman received heavily negative reviews from critics. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 8%. The site's consensus states: "A massive miscalculation in self-mythologizing by director and star Kevin Costner, The Postman would make for a goofy good time if it weren't so fatally self-serious.”
But in 1997 we could not have seen the need for a dystopian dictatorship falling at the hands of the United States Postal Service.
I had never seen the film until this week. I found it by accident while looking for pictures for another post honoring the Postal Carriers. An image of Kevin Costner, in an aged US Postal Service uniform, American flag flying in the background, stood out amongst the rest. I couldn’t help but be drawn to its post-apocalyptic imagery.
The film is set in 2013 (I never said it was perfect) in a post-American settlement that has fallen after a charismatic leader named Nathan Holn rose to power with his book, “Seizing the Way to Win” becomes a type of bible for his nationalistic followers. He preaches a violent and misogynist populist message. This leads to a group of militiamen to form an army called The Holness. They espouse a racist agenda that leads to riots in the streets. A plague and climate change ravishes the major metropolitan areas, causing folks to hide within their homes, and the militia ultimately overthrow the United States Government and burn down the White House.
We pickup the story some fifteen years later with a middle aged loner who performs Shakespeare for meals. One freezing night, he stumbles across a broken down mail carrier vehicle and steals the jacket and hat off the skeletal remains of a long forgotten American institution. He drops Shakespeare in exchange long-lost mail for meals. He claims that that a group of patriots have formed the Restored United States of America.
This spark of hope causes a group of young people to take up an oath, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”. They take up sewing their own uniforms modeled after that of The Postman and begin delivering the mail. All of them far too young to remember the America that once stood.
What was once heralded is goofy and bogus sentimentality now seems chillingly prophetic, making the once panned Postman film as one of the eeriest Dystopian films ever made.
Over its three hour journey, we are taken into the depth of what it means to have hope, to survive, and what truly makes us American. Within this desperate and violent world that has been created out of the destruction of our Republic, we see a glimmer of hope that is the bedrock of freedom: the ability to communicate with one another.
As letters begin to flow freely across the newly appointed postal routes, people learn of loved ones who survived, babies that were born, those who were lost, and a hope for a brighter tomorrow.
The Postman arrives at one of the last American cities. He is greeted at the gate by the mayor, who is none other than Tom “I won’t back down” Petty, who plays himself in the film. This film is so red, white and blue it could be an actual apple pie.
As one child sees Kevin Costner arrive in the town they ask, “What is a postman?”
The Postman replies with a truly chilling response, “There used to be postmen on every street in America. They wore uniforms and hats, just like this one. Getting a letter made you part of something bigger than yourself. I don’t think we ever really understood what they meant to us until they were gone.”
The United States Postal Service is under siege. We have a duty and a responsibility to make sure that the preservation of the constitutionally protected bedrock of our Republic continues to stand. Without it, we lose one of the most fundamental elements of our society: the ability to tell our stores, our hopes, and our dreams in a way that can never be censored, controlled, deleted, or adjusted according to some algorithm.
The United States Postal service is as American as Freedom of Speech and the Second Amendment. Without it, we begin to unravel a foundational institution preserved within our constitution. The President of the United States was tasked with securing and ensuring the continued success of the Postal Service. We must all do our part to secure its uninfringed continuation.
And if that is too bogusly sentimental, well, I’ll take that over ignoring science and reason, lest we turn Waterworld into a prophetic movie too.