It’s not for nothing that Steven Spielberg has been recognized as an all time paragon of the cinematic medium. I personally reckon him to be a truly universal filmmaker, capable of going from the fantastical to the comic, from depths of dramatic representation to a fact based beat with equal alacrity and a signature hold over every member of his audience. Now, I do not claim to have seen all of his gems from a diverse array of blockbusters but with THE POST forming a modern exemplar of his eye for seeking the truth by recreating stirring images of wit and agency, I hark back to the ones I have watched . From the lifescripts of African American women in his adaptation of THE COLOUR PURPLE, one of my favourite books of all time, the scientific/moral sprawl and popular culture phenomenon that was JURASSIC PARK, the heartwarming tale at the center of E. T, to the horror and silently roiling iconography of SCHINDLER’S LIST along with the emotional void highlighted amid an other worldly invasion in WAR OF THE WORLDS and larger conundrums pitted against the acme of human integrity in LINCOLN.
INDIANA JONES AND THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL too joins this pantheon. You see, there is a zest for safeguarding the child in all of us, a generation bursting at its seams irrespective of the era or setting and an unraveling of fear for our kindred and the society at large. Courting innocence and purity of thought is the corollary to that universal worldview hence .
THE POST seems to subsume all of those validations of his craft and styles to focus on our current crises at home (and abroad) and seek a shared global plane of universality on all that is threatened. FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION being the first casualty in the larger scheme of things, it finds echoes of courage by bringing The Washington Post’s exemplary success story from the 1970s to reflect on all that we need to preserve as individuals, as institutions, as nations and as the sum of our collective consciousness. Since I have given a fair background of the story based on real facts in the previous post, I write this ‘post’ to briefly shed light on some other salient aspects about the film.
**the real life Katharine Graham and Benjamin Bradlee.
THE POST seeks the same degree of truth and concerted efforts to quell irrational fear within an unpredictable ecosystem that stifles individuality at every second juncture,an all too potent reality given the spate of cartoonish governments everywhere. More so in the USA.
Spielberg unspools the mystery of exposing state secrets and setting a publishing benchmark with a slow boil approach perfectly suited to the scripting as it was for agents at the thick of it in real life. The ensemble of enterprise that constituted the staff of the daily possessed no dearth of journalistic integrity as they put facts and figures together over days on end and sleepless nights, collating data from reliable, sometimes furtive sources and setting the bulk of unarranged records in place for the final exposes, compiled over various daily installments of the newspaper. It was a great publishing feat and more than that a triumph of the human spirit, as these journalists did not chase a one- sided ambitious silver lining to further their respective careers but the fundamental truth invested in the papers that could bring about closure long overdue to hundreds of citizens wronged by a hush hush administrative apparatus. Spielberg is able to convey that adrenaline rush side by side with the reckoning of this timely breakthrough. It wasn’t an ultimate or logical conclusion for them as responsible citizens, as demonstrated by the legal wrangles they were faced with; this is where Jesse Plemons steps in as a legal representative advising them on the pros and cons of the larger ideological battle ahead as they wrestle with the wrath of a disputed polity that jabs the press.
The fear of the unknown has stakes for everyone, be it the fearless editor Benjamin Bradlee ( Tom Hanks) or the two reporters who have ambiguities thrust upon them ( played by Matthew Rhys and Bob Odenkirk), on screen iterations of the real life veterans Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein who oversaw many factual transitions to print in their heydays. The threat of being shamed, losing credibility and employment and imprisoned for going against a secretive government are all there . So there is a looming tower that has tilted over them and that is the government headed by Nixon, who, by the way, is shown in a back profile within the White House in one shot.
Carrie Coon, Sarah Paulson, Tracy Letts, Michael Stuhlbarg, Bradley Whitford all come into the picture as individuals affected one way or the other; so while Coon is part of the journalistic A team, Paulson is Mrs. Bradlee who has to manage the homefront and marvel at the courage of another woman at the head of The Post. Bradley, Tracy and Michael play power brokers trying to evaluate their roles and put together disjointed pieces of the puzzle, as businessmen and figures who have a say within the newspaper’s machinery.
For the newspaper was, in essence, a business and here comes the central power of Meryl Streep’s performance as Katharine Graham. She is the one Mrs. Bradlee appreciates when she decides to publish the papers as The Post’s long standing owner and publishing voice, no immune to sexism and doubts as the widow of the man who had been running his marital family’s business. As seen in the scenes with her daughter ( a winsome Alison Brie who has luminous eyes), she wants to take a stand for herself and for those who dare to tread on the path not taken. Streep lends a welcome glint of bravery coinciding with looks of vulnerability. She is a social presence of merit within Washington and knows every powerful member of her sphere yet the truth is dear to her and must be never compromised, even if it means distancing from a long time friend in Bob McNamara , a powerful U. S Secretary of Defense who oversaw many administrative highpoints and was now opposed to the way the US had made a monumental mess regarding Vietnam and so naturally was in the eye of the storm. The real ‘ to be or not to be’ dilemma is hers.
There is really a three way structure to THE POST: first aligned with Bob McNamara, then with the Washington Post’s status as a family owned company and then after the New York Times’ expose of the secret files and subsequent indictment, the sudden shift in the Post team’s moral weightlifting. Graham and Bradlee make a formidable duo, friends and collaborators who put the truth first. The grace and level headedness of Mrs. Graham was ultimately what made everyone translate their uncertainties to triumph. The idea was to keep heads over water as controversies come and go but the weight of one’s decisions lingers.
Spielberg makes this one about what it means to be in the public eye. So when responsibility of such a magnitude is thrust upon us and we have willingly undertaken choices then reality is much more pronounced by way of our collective actions. He captures popular pulse of the audience too, like in the scene with the assistant of a solicitor general and Katharine and another heart to heart between Katharine and her daughter. The Vietnam War affected millions and integrity was the only cardinal rule that the team had to follow to answer buried questions. The screenplay here maintains a pragmatic view of people in throes of life altering revelations, concluding at the precipice of the Watergate phenomenon.
THE POST comes at a time when the publication of a book HICKY’S BENGAL GAZETTE : THE UNTOLD STORY OF INDIA’S FIRST NEWSPAPER by Andrew Otis has made huge impact. It reminds me of the abiding principle of the Indian way : SATYAMEVE JAYETE. HAIL THE TRUTH. A concept more in word than in actual deeds. This film salutes every one who is in favour of constructive actions over words.