A 1997 movie based on a book
by David Brin
, about a wanderer in post-apocalyptic Oregon who ends up disguising himself as a US Postman and weaving an intricate story about the US government being reformed in order to con people out of food and shelter. He rapidly progresses from merely pretending to deliver the mail to actually
delivering the mail, and with the help of a young man he meets early on in his travels, ends up recreating the postal service he claimed to represent. In the process he raises the ire of the Holnists
, a cult of survivalists who have recently moved in and rule the area as feudal overlords, and the Postman and his new followers quickly find himself embroiled in a war. It was not a very successful movie, tanking at the box office, derailing Kevin Costner
's career and winning several Razzie Awards
, but it has been looked on much more favorably in recent years.
Not to be title-confused
with Il Postino
(1994), another movie named "The Postman" from the 1990's.
Includes examples of the following tropes:
- 0% Approval Rating: General Bethlehem's followers apparently hate him every bit as much as the townsfolk they oppress. Not a single one of them seems unhappy to see him gone after the one racist redneck killed early on.
- Adaptational Wimp: Holnists are barely organised, but well-armed mob - nothing like ultra-survivalist Always Chaotic Evil original from books. Even their evilness is considerably toned down.
- After the End
- All Hail the Great God Mickey!: Borderline. The Holnists are a survivalist cult founded on the teachings of an author of trashy self-help books, who they worship as a near-deity.
- All There in the Manual: Even if it's a very Pragmatic Adaptation, the film is much more comprehensible after reading the book.
- As Long as There Is One Man: General Bethlehem fully realizes the beginning of his own doom.
Ford: Who are you?
Californian Carrier: Name's Clark. Postal Carrier of the restored Republic of California. Who are you?
Ford: Postmaster Ford Lincoln Mercury.
Californian Carrier (takes off his cap, shake hands): It's an honor, Sir.
Bethlehem: Wait a minute... wait a minute! You don't know each other? This will never be over. It'll go on except I'll be fighting a goddamn ghost.
- Ascended Extra: Abby in the book shows up only in the first section and even in that part her role is rather small.
- Badass Army: The Holnists are basically an evil, repressive, violent, destructive mob of bandits, but they're extremely well-organized and well-equipped, especially compared to the militias of the disorganized villages they extort. While one town in particular has 'five guns and twenty rounds of ammunition for the entire town', and this is implied to be a typical situation in Oregon, the Holnists have enough AR-15s to equip their entire army and a seemingly infinite amount of 5.56 ammo, in addition to machine guns, anti-aircraft cannons and at least one battery of howitzers.
- Badass Bookworm: General Bethlehem. He then subverts it by having the books he's done with burned.
- Beard of Evil: General Bethlehem.
- Becoming the Mask: The premise of the movie is basically "Man pretends to be a postman for the fictional Restored United States of America to con people out of food and shelter, in the process ends up accidentally creating the Restored United States of America and becoming a postman for it."
- Blatant Lies: All of Shakespeare's lies about the reformed United States government go unquestioned despite how obviously evasive and unconvincing he is.
- No one questions that the new President of the United States has the same real name as Ringo Starr.
- Also possibly justified since his real name isn't as well known in the US, and would be even less so fifteen years After the End.
- Possibly justified by the fact that it's not that he's convincing, but that people just want to believe in these things that badly. Plus he almost gets shot when he starts his lies, but by the time he gets going he's delivering mail from "the next village over", making his position much more plausible.
- Blood Knight: General Bethlehem is obsessed with being able to fight a "real war", against a general and an army worthy of his skill. When the Postal Service reorganizes itself into an army and openly opposes him, he isn't scared or angry, he's ecstatic.
Holnist Scout: Think they're surrendering, sir?
General Bethlehem: God, I hope not.
- Canon Foreigner: Ford, General Bethlehem, sheriff of Pine View... the list is quite lengthy, given the nature of the film.
- Celebrity Survivor: Tom Petty.
Shakespeare: I know you. You're... famous.
: I was once... sorta. Kinda. Not anymore.
- One of his subsequent lines imply that Costner's unnamed character, known only as Shakespeare, is Costner himself.
- The birth-death dates on the Postman's monument shown at the end (1976-2049) don't match up though.
- Character Name Alias: President "Richard Starkey."
- Chekhov's Gun: The brand that recruits into Bethlehem's army are given including Shakespeare.
- Chekhov's Gunman: Colonel Getty.
- Also inverted: We know from early in the film that Ford has personally recruited many, if not all, of the mail couriers in Oregon. Near the end of the film, he is stood up next to another mail carrier who he's never seen before in his life. The other mail carrier is from the Restored Republic of California, and this serves as The Reveal that Bethleham's army isn't advancing into Oregon, it's retreating from California.
- Child Soldiers: Most of the Postman's courier-crew-turned-militia is pretty young. Justified in that life expectancy in a Post Apocalyptic world would be comparable to Real Life pre-Industrial eras, so relative age categories are adjusted accordingly ("late teens" becomes "young adult fit to fight").
- Compressed Adaptation: The movie left out quite a bit of the plot of the book, particularly the augments and pretty much the entire conflict between the towns loyal to the Reunited States of America and the Holnists.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: It also left out things like Reunited-aligned soldiers secretly raping the corpses of their own female soldiers to further demonize the Holnists when the bodies were discovered.
- Crazy Survivalist: The Holnists appear to be this in the movie.
- Cruel Mercy: General Bethlehem gets this at one point. Almost.
- Death by Adaptation: Poor Michael. In the book he was very much alive and well by the end. Of course, he only appeared in the book briefly-as did Abby.
- Developing Doomed Characters: The first hour involves a group of characters conscripted to join the Holinists, most of which are dead by one hour in and long forgotten by the end of the film. There isn't even a "Postman" until after this - a full hour in.
- "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Kevin Costner himself sings the song on the credits.
- Evil Army: Averted. The Holnists are probably the least enthusiastic gang of plunderers and murderers in history.
- Fake Ultimate Hero: Kevin Costner's Postman, at first.
- A Father to His Men: General Bethlehem thinks he's one of these. Amusingly, it's fairly clear almost every one of his men hates him to the core but none of them want to stand up to him (assuming the other people in the army are loyal Holnists). He was just savvy enough to scare everyone into strict submission during their "conscription".
- We're shown that many are forcibly conscripted (including the Postman) so it's not that surprising if most aren't there by choice and hate Bethlehem. Also probably explains their poor Evil Army showing above.
- From Nobody to Nightmare: General Bethlehem mentions that before the war, he was a copier salesman.
- Genre Savvy:
- General Bethlehem is interrogating the sheriff of Pineview to learn where Shakespeare went; the sheriff tells him he went East (which is a lie), after which the general sends a search party east...and then sends three more west, north, and south, just in case the sheriff is lying.
"They better find him east."
- The sheriff himself. He instantly deduced that Shakespeare is a fraud who is using an old uniform to pose as a postman. He is also savvy enough to keep it to himself, so his community's morale won't fall.
- Hell-Bent for Leather: The Holnists.
- Hidden Depths: The Holnist troops would rather watch an old musical film than a gung-ho action one. It also hints at their lack of enthusiasm for Bethlehem's acts.
- Hypercompetent Sidekick: Ford is the real brains behind the postal service. After leaving Pineview, he sets up an extensive network between towns.
- I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: As punishment for housing the Postman, General Bethlehem lays waste to an entire town with his oversized artillery.
General Bethlehem: These people made it through the bugs and the riots and the three-year winter. But they're not going to survive you.
- Informed Ability: We are told that Bethlehem utterly destroyed his last challenger in five seconds of hand-to-hand combat. Bethlehem's actual unarmed fighting skills, shown at the end of the movie, are about as good as your average second-grader's. Possibly an intentional trope, as the five-second story may have been mere propaganda all along.
- Klingon Promotion: Members of Bethelehem's army are allowed to challenge him in one-on-one combat for his position (the last man who did got his tongue and balls cut off). This becomes important later on.
- Known Only by Their Nickname: Along with Everyone Calls Him Barkeep. The main character is called "Shakespeare" when anyone wants to call him by a particular name, because he made a living traveling from place to place performing the works of William Shakespeare (more or less) until the events at the beginning of the movie. For most of the rest of the movie, he is addressed simply as The Postman.
- Honor Before Reason: A Defied Trope. Shakespeare goes out of his way to impress upon his postmen that he does not want them giving their lives to protect the mail.
Tell me something: how much mail can a dead Postman deliver?
- Noodle Incident: The story has a noodley background.
- The events which brought the world to this are varied and unexplained, with events like "the war", "the rains" and "the bad mumps".note
- General Bethlehem claims to have been there at "the Battle of Georgetown" and saw the White House burn.
- In the opening sequence, the old news reports playing in the background have what is clearly missiles going off. A nuclear exchange can therefore be inferred to have happened, which explains the "three-year (i.e. nuclear) winter" and why no one goes near major cities (likely destroyed and irradiated).
- Our Founder: Costner's bronze statute in the epilogue. Gene Siskel snarkily dubbed the film Dances With Himself.
- Paranoia Gambit: In a stare-down with Bethlehem, the Postman claims the U.S. Government has moved into the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and has sent reinforcements.
- Plot Armor: The Postman and Ford have a peculiar immunity to the Holnists' bullets.
- In case of the Postman, it's played with-when he saves Abby, he takes a bullet in the process. For the next half a year he stays with her in cabin, recovering from his wound, marking the point when Romantic Plot Tumor becomes a real issue.
- Politically Incorrect Villain: The Holnists, being built on a rather reactionary foundation, refuse to conscript people with African or Asian ancestry (one mixed race man gets through, but is recognized as such by a jerkass racist, who makes life hell for him).
- Pragmatic Adaptation: There really wasn't any way that a movie made in The Nineties was going to do a very good job trying to deal with everything that happens in the book, so the movie took the core concept of the story and ran with it. For what it is worth, David Brin liked the movie.
- Pragmatic Villainy: After The Reveal, Bethleham realizes that nothing will be gained from Ford's execution, and calls it off.
- Reality Ensues: The Postman survives being shot in the torso by a Holnist with an AR-15...and, without access to modern medicine, spends five months recovering from the bullet wound.
- The Reveal: The Postman's army isn't the only one fighting against Bethlehem.
- Oh, Crap: Bethlehem's reaction on learning this.
Bethlehem: Wait a minute...you two don't know each other?!
- Separated by a Common Language: Sort of-while the term "postman" is sometimes used in the United States, the more common word is "mailman". But "The Mailman" sounds dopey as the title to a dramatic film.
- Take That, Critics!: After his performance, "Shakespeare" is mocked by an amateur critic who, of course, turns out to be both an idiot and a failed artist, and is told that he doesn't have the right to say anything bad anyway since he didn't pay to see Costner perform.
- Token Minority: Ford.
- Trailers Always Spoil: Not only does it drag on for almost 4 minutes, but gives away every single plot element.
- Twenty Minutes into the Future: The opening of this movie states on the caption that it takes place in 2013. The movie was made in 1997.
- Unstoppable Mailman: What the protagonist becomes, and what his apprentices vow to be. Considering they deliver mail in a Post Apocalyptic world, there's not much arguing with this one.
- Vehicular Theme Naming: Ford Lincoln Mercury.
- Wham Line: When Ford and another captured mail carrier are about to be executed:
Ford: Who are you?
Carrier: Name's Clark. Postal Carrier of the restored Republic of California. Who are you?
- You Have Failed Me: General Bethlehem does it to one member of a conscript batch, to scare the rest into total, strict obedience. It's lampshaded to be his standard procedure, as there is always one chair less than men to sit on them, so there will be always one man to be executed for not following order to sit.
- You Make Me Sic: "You spelled 'tyranny' wrong."