Tom Petty & The Postman

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The world is falling apart. Between all the crap happening in the U.S., there has also been mass flooding in Bangladesh, Shinzo Abe wreaking havoc on the pacifist constitution of Japan, Catalunya vs. Spain, and on and on and yadayadayada. Puerto Rico is in DIRE need of aid after Hurricane Maria (and Irma before her) wreaked total havoc on the already shaky infrastructure: standing water, which will lead to PLAGUE before long, if nothing is done. Limited drinking water. No electricity. Parasites charging $3K round trip just to get OUT of PR. But then the next BIG BAD THING happens (Hello Vegas! Need a little attention?) and our fickle collective attention span immediately turns elsewhere. (also, not saying Vegas & gun control don’t deserve attention, of course they do – but not at the expense of other, equally if not MORE dire stuff STILL GOING ON ELSEWHERE).

I haven’t written here in about 3 weeks…I mean, it’s kind of like yelling into the void anyway, I’m not sure anyone is reading. But it started out as cathartic, and has become less so, and in the last month, just not even sure what to write. It’s becoming less about pop culture and more about what is starting to feel like a slow apocalypse occurring all around us, between government coups, oceans rising up, “leaders” comparing genitalia via nuclear weapons.

Got sucked into The Postman on Friday night. It was on HBO around 11pm…yes, the 1997, Kevin Costner, 3-hour monstrosity. It was late. I wasn’t tired. Significant Other had gone to sleep. Cat was in lap. “Research for my blog”, I told myself. And I watched the whole, stinking thing. And I ended up being quite glad I did. For starters, Tom Petty‘s in it. Tom Petty 1He shows up about 2/3 of the way in, and has a really cool part as himself (though his name is never said – he is listed in the credits as the “Bridge City Mayor”, but it is made clear with subtle dialogue bits that it is Tom Petty after the apocalypse). I hadn’t thought about him in years, wasn’t a fan, but wasn’t NOT a fan…his music made up the background of my young adulthood in the 80’s and 90’s. Couldn’t stop thinking about him showing up in the movie, that was a real treat…and then he goes and DIES yesterday. The universe works in mysterious ways. Like he needed extra consciousness directed towards him in those last few days.

Tom Petty 2But I was glad I watched it not only for Tom Petty. And I will say here: it’s not an especially good film, it’s long and clunky and kind of plodding. Kevin Costner is like the male equivalent of Julia Roberts. He’s not a bad actor, he just tends to do the same thing over and over. So, you are always watching Kevin Costner in different circumstances,

reacting as Kevin Costner would react…I guess maybe not a particularly imaginative actor. It is post apocalypse 2013, and they don’t ever explicitly mention what caused the apocalypse, though you can sort of figure it out in bits here and there: there was a dictator and possibly some sort of small scale nuclear war, people moved out of the big cities and out to rural, smaller hamlets.

In the film’s present, there is a dictator – Bethlehem – who is building a giant army in the west, citing the former dictator as inspiration. He is a BAD GUY. Costner’s character is a dude who goes from town to town on his horse, performing bad Shakespeare (WITH HIS HORSE!) for food and supplies. He ends up getting “recruited” couch *captured* cough by Bethlehem to work in a mine and become a good little soldier for Bethlehem’s shitty cause. The last he sees of his horse is from afar, with the army dudes trying to “tame” the creature.

Anyway, after some bad thing happen, Costner escapes and stumbles into an abandoned jeep. There’s a skeleton inside wearing a mailman uniform, also a bag of mail. He spends the night reading the bag of mail. After this, he dons the uniform, shoulders the mail bag and stumbles onto the next town, and, hoping for some food/shelter, makes up a lie that there’s a president in Minnesota (Richard Starkey! Rock n’ roll is ALL OVER this movie, you guys) who is rebuilding the United States again, starting with postal service, and that he, the first postman, has letters! The townspeople are skeptical, and refuse to let him in. He starts going through the mail until he finds a letter that is addressed to an actual, living Pineville resident. That gets him in the gates, gets him shelter and food for the night. He even gets laid by a woman (Abby, played by Olivia Williams) who wants a baby and whose husband is infertile (with his consent! Also, shoutout to a younger Charles Esten, of current Nashville and Carl’s Jr Commercial fame, who plays the husband)!

While he is in the midst of being a self-serving shyster, a teenager in Pineville (Ford Lincoln Mercury, folks, played by Larenz Tate) is so inspired by the fake postman that he decides he wants to be a postman too, and gets Costner to swear him in! Then Bethlehem arrives and wreaks havoc on the town, killing Abby’s husband and taking her as a concubine. Postman gets away again, then ends up in another town where he finds Abby again, and frees her with her help, getting shot in the process. They find a cabin in the woods where they shack up while he heals. She tells him she’s pregnant, but that her husband is the real father – fake postman is only the “body” father.

They decide to go back to Pineville, and on the way, they bump into a young woman on a horse, who says she’s mail carrier number (I’ve forgotten what number) something, and they discover that Ford Lincoln Mercury has been building a cadre of postal carriers while they’ve been hiding out. The fake postman ends up getting inspired by all these real, earnest young postal carriers and starts doing it in earnest, but still won’t divulge his lie, though he starts to take over their routes because Bethlehem has now found out about this postal group and has started seeking them out and killing them (Bethlehem is REALLY not into reestablishing America), so the fake (but now real) postman doesn’t want any more blood on his hands because of this lie. Meanwhile, the legend of The Postman has started gathering steam in all the small hamlets as well as amongst Bethlehem’s ginormous army. There ends up being a standoff at the end, where The Postman uses Bethlehem’s own rules against him, defeats him one on one, mano a mano, takes control of his army, and changes all the rules. And he and Abby apparently live happily ever after, because the epilogue is of their daughter dedicating a statue to him in 2043.

 

Anyway, I think the film bombed when it came out in ’97, and though it’s still a bit of a clunker, I saw more relevance to it than maybe there was back then. The idea of the United States falling apart seemed absurd in 1997 – I mean, this is the world’s oldest “democracy” after all! But in 2017? The idea of a country brought to nuclear conflict and by a dictator and falling apart into tiny hamlets doesn’t seem so farfetched. The idea of “rebuilding America” actually sounds a little bittersweet and naive, much like Ford Lincoln Mercury, who probably didn’t remember much about electricity or the mail system. So, though it’s not a perfectly well-made film by any means, it kept my interest (for THREE HOURS), and felt kind of relevant in today’s climate. I kinda wish he’d reunited with his supercool horse, though. I kept on waiting for that, especially when he and Bethlehem dueled at the end, but I was sadly disappointed.

The film has been stirring around my brain the last couple days, along with the latest episode of Fear The Walking Dead (which I won’t recap, because I think it’s available to watch, so go watch it! It has picked up CONSIDERABLE steam since the beginning, and I’d hesitantly say it’s better than the original right now), and both have been manifesting in some really dark, weird dreams lately. THE WORLD IS CHANGING. Is it a lost cause to hope the apocalypse stays in pop culture? Probably.

New Paradigm Ahead

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6 thoughts on “Tom Petty & The Postman

    1. Ha ha, yes. INDEED. I’d actually be curious to see Waterworld again and see if it’s more relevant now (rising coastlines, anyone?) and less of a joke. I never thought it was SO SO HORRIBLE, just kind of long and clunky, like The Postman….and of course, it was ridiculously expensive and hemorrhaged dollars, that is always UNFORGIVABLE in our land of toxic capitalism.

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  1. I definitely need to see The Postman now. I think the length & Kevin Costner were what kept me from watching it years ago (I’m pretty sure my dad had a copy, actually).

    And it’s really interesting that you watched this right before Tom Petty ‘s passing. Knowing he was in a film like this, & thinking back on some of his lyrics (like “I won’t back down”) make me sad, because I miss the days when rock stars stood for something…I just don’t think a lot of the newer ones measure up in that regard. That’s why I’m glad the TV shows & movies we’re into keep asking questions that need to be asked, as difficult as it may be for the actors (like, I can’t even imagine what Alycia Debnam-Carey went through preparing for the most recent FEAR episode!).

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  2. Well, admittedly, the Costner thing is NOT SMALL. Also, rock stars nowadays…I think we were extremely lucky to have come of age in the 80’s/90’s – best music era ever! I feel bad for kids today and what they have, but at least they’re also heirs to a wonderful archive from the past. As for Alycia Debnam-Carey – she was on The 100 before this, and was pretty kickass as the leader of all the grounder clans – she’s had some good training for the post apocalypse! I’m loving her character arc in FEAR. Weirdly enough, TWD has never been that outright creepy to me. I mean, it’s had its moments, but by and large, I have enjoyed it more for the epic world building (and NR’s EPIC BICEPS ;-)) than anything else. FEAR, on the other hand, has been creepy since the beginning. One of the creepiest moments to me, from Sunday’s episode was when Alicia was passing out from lack of oxygen and you could see, blurry and in the background, the other folks starting to stand up as newly undead. Shudder. And, as a longtime fan of the horror genre, I am not easily creeped out anymore – I’m forever “chasing that first high” in terms of being creeped out. So, kudos to FTWD.

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    1. I dunno…my friend and I wrote a post-apocalyptic play that is pretty epic and only about an hour long. I think the trick, for feature films, is to be really specific, or do it as a trilogy. Tv series can more easily create big, multiple-character arcs and far-reaching stories…in that regard, I feel like we’re in a golden age for speculative TV fiction! That said, long movies don’t bother me if there’s a point to their length. I didn’t mind The Postman, and am curious to see Waterworld again… I have a sneaking suspicion it might be more timely now than it was in the 90’s.

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