Post-Apocalyptic Movie Roundup: The Postman

June 9, 2015

Film Facts:

The Postman was released in 1997 and is based on the 1985 novel of the same name. Starring and directed by Kevin Costner.

Plot synopsis: In the year 2013, America’s soil has healed from an apocalyptic war but society has not. Reverting to the Wild West lifestyle, American towns are isolated and oppressed by General Bethlehem (Will Patton), a self imposed feudal lord and leader of the hyper-survivalist group called “the Holnists”. When a drifter (Kevin Costner) discovers a US Postman uniform and begins delivering mail under the ruse that the United States has rebuilt, he restores hope and inspires revolution.

The Apocalypse Scenario:

The Postman occurs 16 years after an unspecified war which used weapons of mass destruction (according to the book: nukes, EMPs, and bio-engineered plagues were all released on US soil). The land is lush and green once again but civilization hangs by a thread. Isolated towns are able to farm by hand but most supplies are confiscated by the hyper-survivalist militia. Americans cling to remnants of culture; we witness traveling actors performing Shakespeare and a folk version of “Come and get your Love.”

The Year:

2013. The apocalyptic war ended 16 years earlier (1997).

What They’ve Run Out Of:

Mailmen. (ha).
Okay, to be serious, it’s “Hope.”
Apparently EMPs have wiped out pretty much everything electric; so horses, carts, livestock, and hand-planted crops are all they’ve got. The setting is a remarkably interesting return to the Wild West in both technology and political structure. The Holnist militia that once helped them survive the wasteland has now become their greatest obstacle. So when a lone postman arrives talking about a “restored United States” and delivering long-lost mail from their loved ones, they have reason to hope for a better life once again. This tale is less about struggling to survive in adverse conditions and more about a fractured nation finding hope amidst the oppression of an evil ruler.

What this Film Adds to the Post-Apocalyptic Genre:

“You have a gift, Postman… You’ve given us all back what we’d forgotten. You made Mrs. March feel like she could see again. You made Ford feel like he was part of the world. You give out Hope like it was candy in your pocket.”

Despite its flaws, The Postman has one of the more interesting and unique premises in the genre. Its a return to the Wild West, where being a decent person can actually impact society. Most films in the post-apocalyptic genre focus on the hopelessness of survival (The Road), preserving a remnant of civilization (Book of Eli), or escaping to a ‘safe-haven’ outside the wasteland (Waterworld). But The Postman’s setting is unique; there’s no wasteland, no nuclear fallout, nothing to escape from… except the hyper-survivalist leader General Bethlehem. Reconstruction is possible, it just has to be wanted badly enough by decent human beings. The Postman becomes a symbol of what the United States once stood for and could be again: freedom from tyranny, protecting the innocent, and hope for the future. His code of honor is the Postman’s creed: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night…” It’s a bit silly that a post-apocalyptic Pony Express is foundational in restoring the United States, but The Postman reminds us of what an important thing hope is.

Isaac’s  Rating:

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3 Zipped Lips. – What is lacks in polish, it (almost) makes up for in heart.
Starring and directing in a 3-hour epic, this is basically Kevin Costner’s attempt at copying Braveheart. The result is a good-hearted but goofy fable. Costner’s final climax is predictable, with too many cheesy, contrived, slow-motion scenes screaming “I just want to be as epic as Braveheart!” (Considering how Waterworld is basically “Mad Max on water,” Kevin Costner must have a serious man-crush on Mel Gibson.)
Anyone who watches this must ask themselves questions about the nature and importance of hope, and its ability to inspire people to rally together. The ruffle in this story, however, is that the truth behind that hope is apparently of secondary consequence.

The book does a better job of showing how if it wasn’t for the Holnists, America would have returned to its unified state and the Postman’s fabrications gave isolated towns the hope they needed to do that. “It was not the electronics-destroying EMPs, the destruction of major cities, nor the release of various bio-engineered plagues that actually destroyed society: rather, it was the hyper-survivalists themselves, those who maintained stockpiles of weapons and ammunition and who preyed on humanitarian workers and other forces of order.”
I was initially put off by how slow and saccharine The Postman is. After doing some reading on the novel and giving it a second watch, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Its inspiring, hopeful, and features a wonderfully patriotic score by James Newton Howard. I recommend giving The Postman a chance because even though its goofy, it has the heart of an epic.

Don’t forget to check out our other movies in the Post-Apocalyptic Roundup!

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