Behind the Curve: The Postman

A month or so ago the United States Postal Service announced that it would be eliminating its Saturday delivery service as a cost-saving measure.  Yesterday I received a notice that I have a letter waiting for me at a Georgian post office.  Let me talk about that second bit for a moment here.

Georgia barely has a functioning postal system.  The most reliable way of shipping things to Georgia is to use the service USA2Georgia.  The most reliable way of shipping things across Georgia is to hand it to the driver of a cross-country marshrutka and tell him “Give this to Zura in Zugdidi.”  Zura will then meet the marshrutka when it arrives and tell the driver, “I am Zura.”  Thus, your package will be delivered!

For letters and postcards a different kind of nightmare awaits.  Nana and some friends have managed to send me letters over the years.  Usually I find that using my work address is far more successful than using my home address.  I don’t have a mailbox and my house isn’t marked.  So, when Nana writes me at school, I can manage to get the letter after a few weeks!  When Nick wrote me at home it arrived only two months later!

My good friend Renata can attest to the ridiculousness of the postal system her as well.  For both of us now the mailman has come and delivered a notice saying “You’ve got mail!”  Yes.  Instead of just leaving the letter, they took the time to create and fill out a notice, bring it to my house, and tape it to my window.  I realize it would’ve been vastly more difficult to just do the same thing with the actual letter or postcard.

Renata told me just the other day that when she went to redeem her notice she was asked, “Is it a letter or a postcard?”  Not having yet received it, she had no way of knowing.  They helped her out, but this was only after she had jumped through the hoops of having a previous letter lost and then found again.  Frankly, it’s all a bit ridiculous.

Enter Kevin Costner.

It’s 2013 and the entire world has been reduced to a barren, depopulated collection of towns and encampments suffering from the lasting effects of nuclear radiation, plague, and internecine conflict.  Wait a second, that’s not true!  That’s just the premise for the incredible 1997 Kevin Costner film The Postman!  I watched this movie on Saturday night and man, oh man was it awesome!

He puts the “Post” in “Post-Apocalyptic Wasteland”!                                                                           And yes, I thought of that myself.

I enjoyed almost the entire movie, though at 3 hours it felt a little long and yet, in spite of its length, the ending came rather abruptly.  It probably would have made a better TV show?  Nonetheless, it was a really fun movie!

When the movie opens, Kevin Costner is wandering northern Utah with his faithful mule Bill when he gets shanghaied into joining a fascist militia led by one General Bethlehem.  Bethlehem leads the Holnists who follow a strict Code of 8 laws that govern the clan.  The movie really doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to brutal post-apocalyptic life.  Within the first 40 minutes of the movie almost every character we’ve met so far has been killed except for Kevin Costner and the main villain.  Loads of other characters are around, but the ones who had any screen time all bit the dust, courtesy of knives, bullets, swords, and lions.  Yes, lions.

When Kevin Costner escapes, discovers an old crashed mail truck and dons the dead postman’s uniform, though, that’s when things really start to pick up.

Bluffing his way into a hot meal, Costner continues to spin a wild and completely fictitious tale of a Reformed United States based in Minneapolis.  Some of the highlights of the RUSA that caught my attention are that the new president is from Maine (Go Maine!) and is named Richard Starkey!  (For those of you unfamiliar with the name, that’s Ringo from the Beatles’ real name.)

President Starkey of Maine as depicted in the Portland Press Herald in 2012–one year before the events depicted in the film.

While staying in the little walled town of Pineview, Oregon, Costner does a few things that set larger events in motion, though he doesn’t quite intend that.  Firstly, he agrees to deliver letters on his way West to St. Rose, OR.  Secondly he inducts a young African American boy named Ford Lincoln Mercury into the RUSPS after making it clear that “Only another postman can make you a postman.”  “Kinda like vampires, right?”  “Yeah.  Something like that.”

Yeah…Something like that….

The strangest thing he does though, but one that makes sense in a darkly, post-nuclear sort of way, is that he agrees to be the “body-father” for a couple who can’t get pregnant.  The husband had been afflicted with the “dirty lumps” and can’t conceive, so Costner reluctantly agrees to sleep with his wife and get her pregnant.  The best part of this whole exchange is the super awkward make-me-pregnant flirting that the woman, Abby, does with him at the town dance.  (Where, by the way, the band plays fairly modern songs in sort of a Little House on the Prairie style with fiddles and acoustic guitars.)

Costner leaves the town behind and as the townsfolk send him off with a spontaneous rendition of God Bless America, the skeptical street-wise sheriff demands, “Hey! Are you really who you say you are?”  Costner cheekily replies, “If I come back with some mail you’ll know.”  At which the sheriff curses, “God dammit!” and rides up to hand Costner a letter that even the cold-hearted, skeptical Sheriff wants mailed.

Later, when the fascist bandits burn the town’s new post office, Ford Lincoln Mercury (ne Johnny) rescues a bunch of mail from the burning building.  The sheriff confronts the recently-appointed postman and initiates the following exchange:

“Take off the damn [postman’s uniform], Johnny!”

“I managed to save these [letters from the fire.]”

“Do you want to die?!?”

“I’m heading south (dramatic pause) with the mail!”

This is the fairly indicative of the hagiographic treatment that the postal service gets throughout the film.  It continues with bits of dialogue like when Costner runs into a young postwoman who asks him, “Haven’t you ever heard of the Postman? … He’s only the greatest man who ever lived!” and when Abbey, the good-semen recipient from Pineview lauds Costner’s actions: “You have a gift, Postman.  I saw it back in Pineview.  You made Mrs. March feel like she could see again.  You made Ford feel like he belonged to something.  You give out hope like it was candy in your pocket.”  I think deep down every postman wishes to hear such compliments from a pretty lady.  I think that’s why this movie was made!

Here is the statue unveiled in the film’s epilogue that commemorates a ridiculously cinematic scene earlier when The Postman gets a letter from a kid. Pictured here in some dude’s garage.                                    Also, hilariously, this film was widely panned and Siskel and Ebert called it “Dances with myself,” making fun of Costner apparently slumming it.

This movie also dealt with a lot of really dark post-apocalyptic themes.  As I mentioned above, there was the whole bit about radiation sickness (dirty lumps) and infertility that results in a sort of breeding program as people seek out mates based, essentially, on their genetic/radioactive health.  There’s a heavy dose of fatalism in a lot of characters, plus a fairly matter-of-fact treatment of one character’s kidnapping, attempted rape, and beating.

Kevin Costner begins the movie in the companionship of his servant and acting partner Bill the mule.  Within 30 minutes Bill has been slaughtered and turned into some sort of mush to feed the fascist militia.  Costner doesn’t eat Bill, but everyone else does.  Keep in mind, this is an adorable mule that Costner talked to and traveled with, wowing a small town with their two-man performance of Macbeth’s climax.  Seriously.  Turned to mush.

One minute, poster-worthy co-star; the next, dinner.

When the conflict between the Postmen and the Fascists escalates, they take turns committing atrocities and reprisals against each other.  Five captured postmen are executed and then hung upside down as a warning to the other children of the fate that awaits them.  Five children are executed and put on display.  In retaliation, Ford Lincoln Mercury crashes a flaming truck filled with the bodies of a dozen fascist militiamen into their camp.  That’s right.  The children can give as good as they get.  But nonetheless, atrocities and reprisals aren’t exactly popcorn fare.

Some other notable bits are that Kevin Costner spends most of the movie cracking jokes that only he laughs at.  Literally.  I don’t mean the audience doesn’t find them funny, I mean the people he’s telling them to don’t find them funny.

“While I’m here I ask that you leash any dogs.  Heh heh!” – Kevin Costner

*Crickets* – Townspeople

Tom Petty also has a cameo as himself.  Or rather, as someone who “used to be” famous.  He turns the tables upon recognizing the Postman and says, “Man, you’re famous!”  Again, we’re talking about a humongous mailman fantasy here.

No, man. YOU are!

Also, there’s a brief reference to an event called “The Battle of Georgetown” where General Bethlehem saw the White House burn with his own eyes.  That was either a sprawling, wide-ranging battle, or the White House really went up in flames.  Nonetheless, Georgetown, Maine, Ringo, the USPS, this movie really has it all!

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One thought on “Behind the Curve: The Postman

  1. I saw this one in the theater. I’m a little foggy on the details, but didn’t The Postman keep uttering that the new American government reconstituted itself in the “Hubert Humphrey Metrodome”?

    Not nearly as good “Waterworld” – a movie that went millions over budget because Costner objected to how his thinning hair looked when, you guessed it, wet.

    “The Postman” is actually based on a book: http://www.amazon.com/Postman-David-Brin/dp/0553278746

    That’s supposed to be pretty good. But after seeing the movie, why bother reading it?

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