a review by Ari Armstrong
*The Postman*, a 1997 film from Kevin Costner (not to be confused with the lousy Italian Film *Il Postino*), is the story of a war-torn future of isolation and a man (Costner) who accidentally becomes the sole Postman who reunites people and encourages them to fight a tyrannical, roving military leader.
*The Postman* was harshly maligned in the press, and largely ignored by the public, to my mind wrongly. While by no means a great movie, The Postman delivers reasonably strong performances and a mildly compelling story.
That said, many of the story elements are ludicrous. We are to believe that war can destroy all advanced technology and leave the people formerly of the United States to live in isolated, self-sufficient, mostly primitive communities, all in the span of 16 years (by 2013). There is no short-wave, no radio-connected computer links, no form of communication between communities whatsoever. This is completely unrealistic. Further, in ways unexplained in the film, the environment has somehow collapsed (from nuclear war?) and is just starting to normalize.
However, if the viewer is able to imagine the plot in some plausible social structure, such as an early America gone awry, the film becomes palatable. We must merely accept a world in which no advanced technology exists and in which people are kept isolated by fear of the military gang.
But on to the more interesting social implications of the film. *The Postman* is a warning against anarchy and an apology of the United States government. In the film, a white-supremacist, anti-government farmer leads a revolt against Washington and burns the city to the ground, destroying the U.S. government. One of this farmer's followers becomes the leader of the roving military force, which extorts wealth and conscripts from the various surviving communities.
Costner plays a loner who lifts a uniform and a bag of mail from a dead postal carrier and uses the pretext of being an agent of "The Restored United States" to get food and shelter. Though his story starts as a lie, it raises a passion in the people for a restored civilization and a will to defeat the military overlord. Soon, postal carriers are riding (by horse) over extensive routes.
My libertarian critique of the film is two-fold. First, the film wrongly associates a feeling of "belonging" and "being a part of the world" with being a part of the United States government. It is the free-market which has connected people and given rise to civilization, not the State. Second, the postal service in Costner's world is decidedly NON-Statist, so any comparison of that postal system with the present one is false. Costner's postal service does not out-law competition, as does today's postal code. Further, the isolated villages in *The Postman* actually serve as examples that lawful society can exist without a centralized State, and that a volunteer army can defeat rogues.
So, then, the viewer must not only place the film in a social context which renders it even remotely plausible, but he or she must draw a theme from the film which is at odds with the one explicitly stated. That is, the details of the movie do not bear out the theme, "We need the United States for civilization to thrive," but rather the theme, "Voluntaristic associations can render a peaceful and prosperous society."
The film presents a "false-dichotomy" between the State and Hobbesian-Anarchy; we are led to believe that we must have one or the other. This presentation totally ignores those of us who believe a civilized, prosperous society can arise from free-market institutions.
Thus, the movie is largely a failure, but it does have some redeeming qualities, and it certainly does not deserve much of the bad rap it got upon its release.