The Post (2017) directed by Steven Spielberg
“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.”
These where the words of George Augustine Washington, a president so beloved that after his second term, the crowds supplicated for a third. He was succeeded 36 terms later by a man whose words where ‘When the president does it, it means that it is not illegal‘. Richard Milhous Nixon was a weed in the garden of democracy, and The Post is about those who decided it was about time to uproot him from there.
Unlike All The President’s Men by Alan Pakula (a masterpiece with which unfair comparisons are bound to crop up, thematically and artistically), Spielberg’s vision doesn’t scrutinize the method of the investigation. There is no cross checking of directories or following up on those allocation of funds (which always seem to end up in shell companies by the way) or anything remotely of that sort. What it does is play itself out like a morality play, from which we learn how journalists should behave.
The plot seemingly runs on two parallels for most of the run time, resulting both in the jarring effect the first half exudes and the power the second half emanates. One of them circles around Ben Bradlee, the executive editor of Washington Post whose journalistic sagacity and an anomalous active interest in the affairs of other newspapers has lead him to cognize that something extremely pivotal is set to materialize in the political scenario, something that may just be the turnaround for the shabby state of Washington Post at that time if they happen to get their hands on it. The second plot thread follows Kay Graham, the owner of Washington Post who has enough troubles on her mind even without the Pentagon papers, since the company is going public and the shareholders seem to have a wavered confidence in her capabilities to lead it. Making the affairs further complex is that Kay has personal relations with the parties whose lives and careers will be rocked beyond repairs if the papers go into print. And in the midst of all this bedlam, the truth awaits patiently to be shone light upon.
The quandaries I had with the movie are quite sparse, yet it would be helpful to jot them right here, considering my inherent vice to dabble in the concluding paragraphs to exhibit my own personal views and in the way forgetting to play the role of a ‘critic’. The very first of them (and seemingly, the last of them) is a non harmonious flow of affairs that commences with the two story lines running on different platitudes, with almost nothing expect the similar crop of faces creating a link between the two. Does it accentuate the the climax you may ask, and yes will I say, but in my book, the ends do not justify the means when it comes to movies at least and a natural proclivity for the Pentagon papers rather than the stockholders’ meetings renders the Graham thread insipid in some parts.
What it does right is that it establishes character. We are acclimatized to their demeanor and their fears so succinctly, that we chalk up our own character arcs in our minds on how they will respond to a certain situation. And herein Spielberg plays a masterstroke :- he lets us believe we are right about them. Streep, giving one of her greatest performances on film, seems suffocated by her societal shackles which delude her from working for the interests of her enterprise, and Hanks’ plays the newspaper man with such finesse that it is hard to suspect whether all he cares about is something that sells or the hard hitting truth. We know who these people are, and that is where in the final 30 minutes when things start going haywire, we realize we couldn’t have known less about them.
What it does right is that it establishes the stage perfectly for what facet of the story it wanted to explore. By maintaining a duly curb on the investigation process, the wayward shift from the newsroom to the nation wide debate that ensues about freedom of press seems like a naturalistic transition rather than capitalizing on the present skewed political scenario from where it gleans its relevance from.
Dear reader, truth does set us free, but first it pisses us off. The Post is about a select few who were pissed, and wanted others to be as well. The scenes where the journalists huddle in silence, or when the printing machines hum to life to prepare the ‘first rough drafts of history’ as the movie puts it or where the Watergate fiasco comes to life happen to be the most powerful. It is because what we are seeing is the truth coming to life, and as human beings, it resonates with the conscience of one and all. From the facade of lies that liars like Nixon weave to delude is, it is these journalists who save us from time to time, not so much by the rectitude of Grahams as by the dogged curiosity of Bens. Those who view The Post just as a statement on the current shabby affairs of politics is missing the cohesive whole. Sure, it asks us, have all the men who succeeded George Washington to that chair been half-worthy of it? But it also subtly asks, would you be so invigorated if the film playing was a feed from any newsroom of today?
written by Anand Nair