Friday, October 28, 2011

The Good, the Bad, and The Postman

The Postman
Last night I watched a bit of The Postman before I could stop myself. The Postman, you’ll remember, was one of a few clear indications that the brilliance of Dances With Wolves was only an accident. As if Water World hadn’t convinced everybody that Kevin Costner shouldn’t be entrusted with money beyond the price of a Big Mac, a few die-hards foolishly funded Costner’s next attempt to a post-apocalyptic masterpiece, and this while the genre in its broadest sense should have been abandoned after Mad Max anyway. Perhaps we would have been saved from the Left Behind series. You can’t plant a tree if you don’t have a compost layer, after all.

The Postman tells of a world in which no formal government exists, and people live huddled together in make-shift villages, hiding from each other and especially from the movie’s primary bad-guy: General Bethlehem (whose provocative name doesn’t provoke because it’s marvelously unclear what the deal is). Enter the postman (Kevin Costner), who became the postman because he found a dead real postman and helped himself to his outfit. But the outfit made the man, and the man fell neatly in a kind of messianic role, namely that of restoring communication between the various settlements.

Enter the General, who wants to maintain chaos in which to play war, and who subsequently takes a decisive dislike to the postman, who wants to create a natural kind of order. All this is an obvious instance of the tried good-and-evil dialogue, and a clever contribution to the debate on whether Jesus of Nazareth was indeed God’s son or only some passerby who was involuntarily adopted by the architects of the Messianic legend. But alas, the movie’s daft execution and primary themes make it virtually impossible to render it any respect in aforementioned matters. So you figure that the Biblical Jesus is an elaborate hoax based on some historic hick named Jesus of Nazareth? Whose legend rose to prominence by the warring efforts of insurrectionists, whose own compass inflated in the false vacuum created by the collapsing Roman Empire? Well, hurray, that’s very deep.
Kev and the General slug it out

The Postman’s world consists of clearly distinguished good-guys (peace-loving victims who want to reestablish Pax Americana) and bad guys (war loving hoodlums who probably destroyed the US in the first place). When the bad guys kill a good guy, the rush of cello’s swells and audiences are guided into heart-felt gasps, as our hero staggers and crushes in slow motion to the earth, and dust rises like a freed soul from where the body falls. When the good guys kill a bad guy, however, none of them shows any awareness of how very awful it is to kill another human being, even if the good guys are obviously forced to do such a horrible thing because the bad guys were going to do it to them.

Even in our own present day and age, the archetype of good guys versus bad guys has been long found blasé. We now like to believe that there’s a bit of the good guy and the bad guy in all of us, and which one of the two guys wins depends on which guy you feed.

But that too is blasé. Jesus (that is: Jesus the Biblical literary character) teaches that only God is good, and since we’re not God, none of us deserves the predicate good-guy. We’re all bad-guys, so that moves things right along.

We bad guys have no clear fix on what is good, so we have no idea what to shoot for. And that brings about the strenuous notion that we shouldn’t shoot at all. Mankind is lead to wherever it must and will go, and in the mean time, we are told to love our enemies and our neighbors like ourselves, take care of the world and worship God alone.

But, you may ask, what if a guy like General Bethlehem shows up? And that’s the point we’re trying to make: it’s highly likely that a man like Bethlehem will show up and that he will gather a following. But when he does, he can only be successfully “dealt with” by non-violent opposition. Bethlehem too must and will go to where God will lead him. There’s not a single instance in world-history where a society takes up arms against tyranny, whether domestic or foreign, and not only deposes the original tyrant but frees itself from tyranny all together. Even the US today still suffers greatly from the burden of the right to bear arms in order to form a coalition against any invading force, not because there are no forces that would love to invade the US but because of the many Bethlehems that can’t wait to shoot a fellow Postman.

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