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Postman, The

Entry updated 9 January 2019. Tagged: Film.

Film (1997). Warner Bros presents a Tig production. Directed by Kevin Costner. Written by Brian Helgeland and Eric Roth, based on the novel The Postman (fixup 1985) by David Brin. Cast includes Scott Bairstow, Daniel von Bergen, Kevin Costner, Roberta Maxwell, Ron McLarty, Will Patton, Tom Petty, Giovanni Ribisi, James Russo, Joe Santos, Larenz Tate, Olivia Williams and Brian Anthony Wilson. Colour. 170 minutes.

The Optimism of a small-town, Ruined Earth America is restored by a Mysterious Stranger's efforts at reinstating postal Communications following a brief Nuclear Winter.

"It is 2013," runs The Postman's promotional tagline. "War has crippled the Earth. Technology has been erased. Our only hope is an unlikely Hero." Kevin Costner's third outing as actor-director so obviously seeks to marry the Pastoral-Unionism of the hugely-successful Western Dances with Wolves (1990) to the eco-survivalism of the Post-Holocaust action thriller Waterworld (1995) that it is difficult to interpret the result as much more than a reprise of what Brian W Aldiss referred to as the phenomenon of the Cosy Catastrophe in science fiction: the Costner-character here (unwittingly) begins to rebuild civilization on the basis of a lie improvised from a costume-change, is asked to impregnate the beautiful Abby (Williams) on his arrival in the village of Pineview and ends the film by besting the neo-fascist General Bethlehem (Patton) in single combat. "You're a godsend, a saviour," says Pineview resident Irene March (Maxwell) to the uniformed Costner (the character was named Gordon Kranz in the novel from which The Postman is adapted) as he hands her a letter from her sister in Denver, posted fifteen years previously. "I'm just the Postman," he replies, before going on to concoct fictional president "Richard Starkey, from Maine," along with the slogan, "Things are getting better," as a means of securing access to food and shelter. "Parties are over with," he tells the assembled residents of Pineview of the Politics of the (entirely imaginary) "Restored United States of America" based in Minneapolis: "It's the individual that counts."

The arguments for a community-spirited liberal hegemony as the basis of Western civilization in David Brin's novel are somewhat more developed than those presented here. The novel's second part focuses on a group of Scientists masquerading as the mouthpieces of an (in fact defunct) sentient AI, "Cyclops", and their makeshift alliance with ranchers and Native Americans from Oregon's Umpqua Valley region, an affiliation which opposes the hyper-survivalist "Holnist" militia responsible for quashing any nascent inclination for the scattered communities of the Oregon flatlands to return to the cohesive infrastructure of their forebears. "Talking Computers and 'augments' worked fine in the book but they would have made things too complicated for a film," Brin said of screenwriter Brian Helgeland's decision to concentrate on the first third of his novel, "[...] I was already on record predicting that ... the right wing would hate [Costner] for slapping down the militia-solipsist movement, while leftists would despise him for depicting dignity and tolerance under the American flag." It is, however, the confusion of hope and wish-fulfilment, that makes The Postman seem more absurd than it should. "You have a gift, Postman," says Abby, eyes gleaming in gratitude. "I saw it back in Pineview ... you give out hope like it was candy in your pocket." Costner shows a good deal more creative judgement for frontier imagery and for dropping quotations from the monarchist propaganda plays of William Shakespeare into his own character's speechifying – Henry V's oration before the Siege of Harfleur is just one example – and there is Humour amongst the mawkish sentimentality, such as when the soldiers of the Holnist militia barrack the projectionist of a rudimentary Cinema to replace a showing of the Dolph Lundgren action thriller Universal Soldier (1992) – the violence of which is far too close to their everyday reality – with that of The Sound of Music (1965). The Postman is goodly-hearted but it is, in the end, the depiction of its titular character as a Messiah-like figure that impairs Brin's forewarning about how easily a small group of white supremacists might subvert the governmental mechanisms of a Near Future North America. [MD]


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