MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Photo: 20th Century Fox
Directed by Steven Spielberg. Starring Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks.
If The Post had been made about twenty years ago (still many years after 1971 when the events depicted first took place), its story would still pack a punch. The film does an excellent job recounting a landmark case that was the talk of the nation at the time but is rarely discussed in the classroom.
Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) was a special assistant to the Department of Defense during the Vietnam War. As Ellsberg became disillusioned with the war effort, he became aware of a government-mandated history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, depicted in classified documents that implied that Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon had been less than forthcoming about the rationale for a war that was costing many American lives (and thousands of Vietnamese civilians’ lives, as well). These documents were photocopied and delivered to the New York Times. After some initial articles, The White House used the courts to stop the paper from publishing any more of the documents, which became known as The Pentagon Papers.
Washington Post reporter Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) was able to acquire a second copy of most of the documentation (depicted in a suspenseful and entertaining fashion). Editor Ben Bradlee (Hanks) is eager to publish, but this decision could come at a great cost to the Post. The newspaper has just made an initial public offering on the stock market in order to gain some financial security. Owner Kay Graham (Streep) is aware that controversy may not only alienate potential investors, but that the government could very well shut down the paper for good.
The Post recalls a more innocent time when people were shocked at the idea of government deception and when journalists were doggedly committed to uncovering the truth. These days truth seems to be whatever folks want the truth to be. But back in 1971, these lyrics to Jesus Christ Superstar were still fresh: “But what is truth? Is truth a changing law? We both have truths. Are mine the same as yours?”
Especially relevant to 2018, a year in which women are rightly demanding to be respected and treated with equality, the depiction of Graham being dismissed and diminished by the men around her (although she holds power over them) is depicted in a way that respects the audience’s ability to ponder the sins of the past.
The Post offers up a tale of civil disobedience for the sake of doing what is right. At its best, the church is an institution that claims to seek the will of God and proclaim the Good News of the gospel for all people. But the church needs reformation and reproof from prophetic voices to keep it honest before God and the world. I believe that the United Methodist Church is designed to facilitate such conversation, but we must be willing to boldly speak the truth in love. This film is a refresher course in ethical integrity. Let’s pay attention and take that way forward.
Four halos: Freedom of the press is challenged and fought for in this entertaining historical drama.
Two pitchforks:Occasional mild swearing throughout; an opening scene of war violence; sexism appropriate to the era.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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