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Film / The Postman

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A 1997 movie based on a novel by David Brin, about a wanderer in post-apocalyptic Oregon who disguises himself as a U.S. Postman and weaves an intricate story about the government being reformed to get food and shelter from people. He rapidly progresses from pretending to deliver the mail to delivering the mail in earnest, and with the help of a young man he meets early 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, failing at the box office, derailing Kevin Costner's directing career and winning several Razzie Awards, but its reception has become more positive since its original release.

Not to be confused with Il Postino (1994), another movie named "The Postman" from the 1990s.

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. None of them seems unhappy to see him gone after the one racist redneck killed early on. Then again, several of them (like Shakespeare) are shown to be conscripts recruited at gunpoint who only stay because Bethlehem makes sure they have nowhere else to go, so it makes sense.
  • 20 Minutes into the Future: A caption at the opening of this movie states that it begins in 2013. The movie was made and released in 1997.
  • Adaptation Decay: Played for Laughs. While in the book, Nathan Holn was a far-right revisionist historian and a Straw Nihilist who eventually got lynched for starting the Holnist movement, in the movie he's merely a writer of a really lowbrow self-help book. That doesn't stop Bethlehem from running his army efficiently based on that book, but casts the affair in a completely different light.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Holnists are highly organised and well-armed, but still not nearly so effective as the ultra-survivalist Always Chaotic Evil original from books, who even included Super-Soldiers. Even their evilness has been considerably toned down.
  • After the End: The story is set in a post-apocalyptic world where civilization starts to rekindle after the hero delivers their old mail.
  • All Crimes Are Equal: The last of the Holnists' eight laws stipulates "There is only one penalty: death", even for such "crimes" as failing to sit down when ordered to because there weren't enough chairs. We see this demonstrated when General Bethlehem kills the poor fool who failed to. Killing potentially or proven useful men may seem short-sighted, but it does instill some obedience through fear.
  • 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 whom 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 if you've read the book.
  • Alternate History: The film begins in 2013, and it's said the Postman survived "the war" with the last great cities destroyed when he was a child. Because at the end he is revealed to have been born in 1973, plus the other references to what occurred which fits with a nuclear war, there was probably one during the early 1980s. The novel was published in 1985, so it fits with the prospect then. (In view of that, the Postman really ought not to recognize Tom Petty on sight as an erstwhile celebrity.)
  • America Saves the Day: In a sense, much like the book. The Restored United States of America starts as a lie and becomes very real by the end of the film.
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: The collapse of America didn't happen overnight. Rather, it was the result of not only "the war" but also the chaos that followed it, culminating in the burning of the White House.
  • Apocalypse How: It seems to be a class 2, since the townspeople ask whether Europe survived, but things are vague.
  • Arc Number: Eight. The Holnists have eight harsh laws they abide by, and every member is branded with the number on his arm. In the finale, it becomes a plot point when Shakespeare shows he was also forcibly inducted this way, with the right as a result to challenge Bethlehem for the leadership under those laws.
  • Armor-Piercing Question:
    • During his first visit to Pineview, Shakespeare is trying to find ways to discourage Ford from trying to be a postal carrier, as it's all a lie he made up for food and shelter. Ford instead asks him a question that makes Shakespeare make a double take and ultimately swear him in, thinking it will just make a kid happy.
      Postman: The organization's kind of shaky right now, you know. It might not last.
      Ford: What does?
    • Much later on, when the Holnists are hunting down the postal carriers — who are almost entirely teens, the Postman has the ever-heavier burden on his conscience. Eventually, he decides to disband the Restored Postal Service, and when Ford tries to call him out on this, the Postman gives him a rebuttal that instantly shuts him down.
      Postman: Tell me something, Ford. How much mail can a dead postman deliver?
  • Ascended Extra: Abby shows up only in the first section in the book, and even then, her role is rather small.
  • As Long as There Is One Man: General Bethlehem fully realizes the beginning of his own doom towards the end.
    Ford: Who are you?
    Carrier from California: Name's Clark. Postal Carrier of the restored Republic of California. Who are you?
    Ford: Postmaster Ford Lincoln Mercury.
    Carrier from California: [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.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: The Holnists base their leadership on this. Their seventh law does allow any member to challenge for leadership of the clan. The last man who challenged Bethlehem got both his tongue and balls cut off. However, the Postman exploits it at the end.
  • Badass Army: The Holnists are basically an evil, repressive, violent, destructive group 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", which 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. Their base seems to be well-equipped too, enough so it's possible they manufacture new ammunition.
  • 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 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. It's also possibly justified since his real name isn't as well known in the US, and would be even less so 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's nearly shot the first time he tells these stories, 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.
  • Bluff Worked Too Well: Unlike his book counterpart, the Postman didn't really intend to restart the US Postal Service, but the lie proves to be so powerful and inspiring, others pick it up and make it real. And he is forced to play the heroic courier he presented himself as.
  • Book Burning: Bethlehem orders Shakespeare's copy of William Shakespeare's works burnt while trying to recruit Shakespeare to be an officer in his army.
  • Burning the Flag: Bethlehem orders the flag of the restored Pineview post office to be burnt when he sees it.
    Bethlehem: The United States of America doesn't exist! That flag is an abomination.
  • But What About the Astronauts?: It's mentioned explicitly by the former designer of the Galileo space station: "twelve skeletons orbiting the Earth all grinnin' at each other."
  • Canon Foreigner: Ford, General Bethlehem, the sheriff of Pineview ... the list is quite lengthy, given the nature of the film.
  • Celebrity Survivor: Tom Petty.
    Shakespeare: I know you. You're ... famous.
    Tom Petty: I was, once ... sorta. Kinda. Not anymore.
    • One of his subsequent lines implies 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 (1973–2043) don't match up, though.
  • Challenging the Chief: Law Seven explicitly allows any Holnist to challenge Bethlehem for the leadership of the clan - but the general first made sure nobody would even dare.
  • Character Name Alias: President "Richard Starkey." Richard Starkey, the drummer? Then who's Vice President? Reginald Dwight?
  • 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 whom 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 the movement has spread significantly.
  • 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").
  • Chosen Conception Partner: Abby and her husband Michael approach the Postman with the proposal that he father a child with her, since Michael is infertile. He rejects the idea at first, but agrees after she enters his room and strips in front of him. At first she treats him as merely "the body father" upon conceiving, viewing the baby as her husband's (who has died by the time she finds out). Later, however, they fall in love for real and end up raising their daughter together.
  • Classical Antihero: The Postman starts out as an opportunistic coward and a cheat, with the first 90 minutes emphasizing his character to the audience. His arc is growing into a brave hero who is virtually the opposite from how he starts off.
  • *Click* Hello: The Postman is preparing to get on a horseback, having just dismissed the Postal Service to prevent the death of all the kids working as couriers. As he sulks with his head pressed to the saddle, he hears the metallic click and slowly turns to face his assassin, finally realising where exactly he saw one of the new couriers.
  • Combat by Champion: How the Postman tries to prevent a bloodbath between his Restored United States and the Holnists by challenging Bethlehem to a duel for leadership, by virtue of still technically being a Holnist himself.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The movie omitted a good deal of the novel's plot, especially the augments and practically the entire conflict between the towns loyal to the Reunited States of America and the Holnists. It also omitted things like Reunited-aligned soldiers secretly raping the corpses of their own female soldiers to demonize the Holnists further when the bodies were discovered.
  • Concealment Equals Cover:
    • When, during the Holnists' attack on Benning Abby attempts to shoot Bethlehem, he ducks behind an empty oil drum. It somehow manages to protect him and he comes out unscratched, while seven rounds pierce through the thin metal.
    • In the climax, Colonel Getty shoots Bethlehem In the Back and you can see a squib exploding on his chest, meaning the bullet went clean through — while Ford is standing right there. Neither he, nor anyone in the crowd behind him, gets hit.
  • Conscription: This appears to be how the Holnists get most of their soldiers, as seen at the beginning (it contrasts with the book). It also neatly explains why they happily join the Postman at the end.
  • Cowardly Lion: Unlike Gordon in the book, who's more a Pragmatic Hero, Shakespeare is simply put a weakling coward... until push comes to shove. It is most notable where he saves Abby — he has nothing to gain from it and could just bail easily in the resulting confusion.
  • Counting to Three: When the Postman arrives at the gates of Pineview, Sheriff Briscoe tells him he will shoot him on the count of three. Persisting, the Postman starts to look for mail addressed to Pineview, and to the confusion of everyone around, he spills the bag full of mail — Briscoe doesn't even start his countdown, too perplexed by the drifter's behaviour. When the Sheriff reaches "three", the Postman conveniently finds a letter addressed to Irene March, one of the people still living in the town.
    Postman: Did you... did you say "one"?
    Briscoe: One!
  • Crazy Survivalist: The Holnists appear to be this in the movie, even if this is significantly toned down from the source material.
  • Cruel Mercy: General Bethlehem gets this at one point. Almost.
  • Cult Defector: After the End, the eponymous protagonist is Press-Ganged into the Holnists, a cross between a Cult of Personality and a Right-Wing Militia Fanatic group. They attempt to use brainwashing and intimidation to make him a loyal soldier, but he deserts the first chance he gets. Later, in the climax, the cult's second in command turns on their leader, who castrated him and cut out his tongue in the past.
  • Damsel out of Distress: Abby saves herself from the Holnists' captivity — while taking potshots at Bethlehem.
  • Death by Adaptation: Poor Michael. In the book he was much alive and well by the end. Of course, both he and Abby only appeared in the book briefly.
  • Death Glare: In their parley in the finale, the Postman gives one to Bethlehem when suddenly challenging him for a duel after showing his Holnist brand.
    Bethlehem: What?
    Postman: [Points directly at Bethlehem] I challenge you!
  • Defiant to the End: Sheriff Briscoe, letter carrier Clark, and Woody.
    Briscoe: Ride, Postman! Ride!
  • Delayed Narrator Introduction: The narrator who speaks at the beginning is finally shown in the ending as The Postman's grown daughter Rose. It became more obvious over time since she calls him "My father" and then how he conceived a baby with Abby was shown.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: The first hour involves a group of characters conscripted to join the Holnists, most of whom are dead within an hour and long forgotten by the end of the film. There isn't even a "Postman" until after this — a full hour in. For contrast, the book almost opened with Gordon getting the postman uniform.
  • Did You Just Flip Off Cthulhu?: Combined with Description Cut. A couple of the gatemen at Benning, the second town the Postman visits, do this to Bethlehem when they think that the Postman's presence means order has been restored.
    Holnist: They won't open the gates. They say they got a representative of the Restored United States in there. They say this army is illegal and they say—
    Benning gatekeepers: [From distance] DROP DEAD, AND GO TO HELL!
    Holnist: ...That's what they say.
  • Dies Differently in Adaptation: Nathan Holn is said to have died of skin cancer a few years ago, instead of being lynched by an angry mob shortly after his teachings began to inspire real crazies. While the Postman might have been lying (given how many other whoppers he tells in that scene), he likely could have learned this given his time as a Holnist conscript. There is also his sudden confidence and having detailed, specific information, rather than pausing and then blubbering something randomly, indicating at least this part of his story is real.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Kevin Costner himself sings the song on the credits.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock:
    • Sheriff Briscoe does this intentionally with a shotgun, simply to scare away the Postman when he arrives for the first time in Pineview.
    • The Postman himself, when preparing to face an unknown, mounted stranger, readies his AR-15, including pulling the charging handle right before the rider closes in.
    • Luke does it in *Click* Hello style, preparing to shoot the Postman at the end of act two. He can't bring himself to shoot him In the Back, and ultimately, he can't shoot him at all.
  • Droit du Seigneur: General Bethlehem tries to pull this with Abby, and kills Michael after he protests it.
    Bethlehem: Do you know what system of government we have here, son? [Michael shrugs] We have what's known as a feudal system, like in the Middle Ages. That's lords and vassals. That's you and me. Now those lords, they had some ideas. They believed that if a vassal got married, it was the lord's right, his right, to sleep with the bride on the wedding night.
    Michael: Me and Abby have been married for three years.
    Bethlehem: Sorry, but I wasn't invited to the wedding.
  • Evil Army: Averted. The Holnists could well be the least enthusiastic gang of plunderers and murderers in history.
  • Evil Is Sterile: A throwaway line implies that for all his Testosterone Poisoning posturing, Bethlehem is impotent.
  • Expy: The Postman starts off as one to Max Rockatansky before Character Development sets in. Several critics noted that he and Costner's Mariner in Waterworld are Max's copycat descendants.
  • Failed a Spot Check: General Bethlehem accepts Woody, who's clearly mixed-race, as a conscript into the racist Holnist army, somehow not noticing this (which his minion Idaho later gripes about).
  • 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 wants to stand up to him (assuming the other people in the army are loyal Holnists). He was just smart enough to scare the others into strict submission during their period of "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. It also probably explains their poor Evil Army showing above.
  • Feudal Future: The Holnists have set up this arrangement with the towns they extort into giving them goods and conscripts, as Bethlehem explains when invoking his "right" to sleep with Abby.
  • Forced into Evil: The grand majority of Holnists were conscripted at gunpoint and are following orders solely because the alternative is being swiftly executed for disobedience, with numerous instances of that happening on-screen. They also have nowhere to run due to the prominent brand on their shoulders, since people would eagerly kill them out of hatred or even rat them out to Bethlehem, so in the end, they stick with the Evil Army they've been pressed into.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare:
    • General Bethlehem mentions that before the war, he was a copier salesman.
    • Shakespeare was just a random vagrant who ends up as de facto leader of the Restored Postal Service and one of the biggest players in the northwestern USA. He manages to muster an army just by his sheer charisma.
  • Frontline General: Bethlehem and later Shakespeare.
  • Grammar Correction Gag: "You spelled 'tyranny' wrong." The Postman told the young people printing the leaflets the same thing earlier.
  • Hannibal Lecture: During their duel in the climax, Bethlehem gives one to the Postman, strangling him to death while reaching for a nearby sword to kill him off.
    Bethlehem: I studied people. I know your problem. Do you know... why you can't fight? Because you have nothing to fight for. You don't care about anything. You don't value anything. You don't believe in anything! And that's what makes me better.
    [Postman makes a last desperate attempt to get free from the hold]
    Postman: I believe... in the United States.note 
  • Hell-Bent for Leather: Bethlehem wears a custom uniform that's made entirely out of leather.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Idaho orders Woody at gunpoint to kill Shakespeare with a knife. He takes some swings at him, then turns and throws it into Idaho's shoulder, then lunges for him. Idaho instantly shoots him dead, but this distracts him long enough to help Shakespeare escape.
  • Heroic Second Wind: After being pummeled silly in their fight, the Postman only starts gaining upper hand over Bethlehem once the general starts to mock his lack of convictions or a case to fight for.
  • 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.
  • Honor Before Reason: Defied. Shakespeare goes out of his way to impress upon his protégés that he does not want them to give their lives to protect the mail.
    "Tell me something: how much mail can a dead Postman deliver?"
  • Hyper-Competent Sidekick: Ford is the real brains behind the new postal service. After leaving Pineview, he sets up an extensive network between towns.
  • I Ate WHAT?!: More of “I’ve Just Been Served What?!” as during his first night with the Holnists, Shakespeare is told with glee by the servers that the grey slop they’re eating is his mule, Bill.
  • 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.
  • Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy:
    • Arguably, the scene with the Postman swimming away downriver. Yes, it's hard to hit a target moving independently and with the current just about randomly, but they fired a lot of shots.
    • The Postman rides toward one of the Holnists, closing in on a straight path. The Postman comes within ten meters of the Holnist and the Holnist can't hit him, despite eventually having to reload. Or so it seems: not only did the Postman get shot, but once the adrenaline rush is over, he goes comatose.
  • In Name Only: Compared with the novel, the movie is barely recognizable. The scene where the main character discovers the postman's uniform is the only scene from the book to make it into the movie. Otherwise the main character and his motivation is completely different (in the book he's much less of an obvious white-hat), the Love Interest is completely different, the villain is completely different (in the book being a genetically enhanced warrior, in the movie just a weird guy with a Beard of Evil), there is a second 'hero' who was Adapted Out, and an interesting subplot about a super-powerful AI that is guiding a remote village of survivors back to civilization goes likewise unmentioned in the film. The author is well aware that a movie adaptation necessitated changes and has always rather liked the result.
  • In the Back:
    • During one of the Time-Passes Montages, a postal carrier is shot like that by Holnists, throwing his arms on his sides and dying in a Crucified Hero Shot.
    • How General Bethlehem meets his end, being shot by Colonel Getty out of all people.
  • Informed Ability: We are told that Bethlehem 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. Of course the man who had challenged him was quite a bit older and seems less fit, so it's not impossible.
  • Internal Reveal: The audience knows beforehand that Shakespeare was branded with the "Mark of Eight". He keeps it hidden whenever facing people, but Abby finds out on her own when tending to him while he's wounded. And come the final confrontation, when Shakespeare performs a dramatic rip of his own sleeve to present the mark to the entire Holnist army and challenge Bethlehem for its leadership, his own postal carriers are more shocked than anyone else, Ford in particular.
  • Ironic Name: The Big Bad is a warlord who shares his name with Bethlehem, the town where Jesus, one of the most famous pacifists ever to live, was born.
  • It Has Been an Honor: Ford and his fellow captive shake hands and invoke this trope as they face Bethlehem's firing squad, even though this is the first time the two of them have met.
  • It's Not About the Request: Early in the film, when the Postman tries to desert the Holnists, he is cornered by Woody, another man press-ganged along with Shakespeare, and sergeant Idaho of the Holnist army. Woody, who is a mixed-race man, is reluctantly resigned to killing the Postman to keep from being killed himself, but the sergeant's racist abuse makes him change his mind and he attacks the sergeant instead.
  • Just Following Orders: Enforced by Bethlehem himself, who makes time and again a show of imposing the Laws of Eight. This makes all the Holnists follow his commands out of fear of facing punishment, rather than anything else, while he expects from his troops an automated response devoid of any passion or hesitation, no matter what inhuman things they are asked to do:
    Law One: You will obey orders without question.
    Law Two: Punishment shall be swift.
    Law Eight: There's only one penalty. Death.
  • Klingon Promotion: Members of Bethlehem's army may challenge him in one-on-one combat for his position (the last man who did got his tongue and testicles cut off). This becomes important later.
  • Know-Nothing Know-It-All: Bethlehem, to an extent. The most obvious example is his "invocation" of the jus primae noctis which (mostly) never existed.
  • Last-Name Basis: General Bethlehem and Colonel Getty are only ever referred to by their last names.
  • Leave No Survivors: During the first battle against the Holnists, the Postman orders his followers to let the last one go, as he's unarmed and defenseless. Others shoot him dead anyway, no doubt wanting revenge after they've suffered so much from the Holnists.
  • Mauve Shirt: The three letter carriers who follow the Postman to Bridge City. Unusually for this trope, they all survive.
  • Meaningful Name: Abby and Shakespeare's daughter is named Hope. It is not very subtle.
  • Men of Sherwood:
    • The Restored Postal Service, despite being mostly manned by adolescent teens and (very) young adults, works as an effective and efficient mail delivery, completely outside Shakespeare's influence (or control, for that matter) despite how dangerous the roads are, although many of them are tragically ambushed and killed.
    • Most factions who help the Postman take heavy losses, but the people of Bridge City field a fighting force that force a standoff with the Holnist soldiers, leading to a Let's You and Him Fight conclusion.
  • The Mole: Luke, the young recruit send by Bethlehem to infiltrate the Postal Service. Notably, his job isn't much about spying, but to locate and kill the Postman himself. Not only can't he bring himself to carry out the order, but in the end, he switches sides and deserts from Holnist ranks.
  • Motivated by Fear: Bethlehem might be a Know-Nothing Know-It-All, self-declared military genius, and a terrible painter, but he uses this trope to excellent and devastating effect. Unlike their counterparts in the novel, nearly all Holnist troopers are forcibly conscripted and kept under harsh treatment that instill fear of punishment right from the start. And this army has only one punishment: death. In addition, General Bethlehem always makes a full show of the power of his army when sniffing even the weakest whiff of resistance in the settlements he's touring, making sure everyone else is too afraid to consider opposing his rule in the aftermath of the resulting slaughter. This goes so far that even his potential deserters have nowhere to run, because everyone hates Holnists, while all of them have the brand on their forearm.
  • Mysterious Past: We never learn anything about Shakespeare's aside from his birth date at the end and how he was a child when the war happened, even his real name. The memorial to him just says "The Postman."
  • Mythology Gag:
    • The original novel ends in 2012, being the only time when the year is specified. The film opens in 2013.
    • The novel focuses on developments inside the Willamette Valley and uses its geography for various plot points. The film, while having location shots all over Oregon, explicitly stays away from the Valley and all the "plains" were filmed on the eastern side of the Cascades.
    • When about to face an unknown rider (revealed to be a young girl working as a postal carrier), the Postman complains about how awkward it is to meet strangers nowadays, as you can't tell if they are there to say hi or to rob you. The lines he drops are a paraphrase of Gordon's Inner Monologue from the first chapter of the book, right after a group of strangers has robbed him.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The Holnists. Social Darwinism? Check. Militarism? Check. Racial purity? Check. Being total dicks generally? Check.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Unlike the book, which mixed real and made-up locations, the film uses exclusively fictional places.
  • No Full Name Given: Most of the characters (including the titular Postman) are referred to by just one name (first, last or nicknames).
  • No Good Deed Goes Unpunished:
    • Shakespeare gives some of his food to another conscript, who repays him by telling the officers about his escape plan and trying to capture Shakespeare when he makes a break for it. Somewhat forgivable since he was obviously mentally challenged, thus likely trying to do what (apparently) was the right thing (i.e., help the authorities).
    • Also, his efforts in simply delivering mail causes several towns to be attacked, with many people dying in the process and then another being executed for supporting the Postal Service.
  • No New Fashions in the Future: The far future of 2043 has distinctively mid-90s fashion, hairstyles included. Apparently, rebuilding civilisation doesn't come with new designs for clothes.
  • Nominal Importance: The first characters to die are left unnamed, or only get named in the credits. And that only if they are lucky — Giovanni Ribisi plays otherwise nameless "Bandit #20", despite almost opening the end titles.
  • Oh, Crap!: "...You two don't know each other?!"
  • Only Known 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 (after a fashion) until the events at the beginning of the movie. For most of the rest of the movie, he is addressed simply as The Postman. He doesn't even get a birth name on his memorial unveiled near the end.
  • Our Founder: Costner's bronze statute in the epilogue. Gene Siskel sarcastically dubbed the film Dances with Myself.
  • Paranoia Gambit: In a stare-down with Bethlehem, the Postman claims the U.S. government has moved into the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis and has sent reinforcements.
  • Patriotic Fervor: Trying to implement the book's message about the universal values of the Type 1 Eagleland, the film instead heavily indulges in flag-waving patriotism. It can be really hard to take at times, particularly to non-American audiences.
  • Plot Armor: The Postman and Ford have a peculiar immunity to the Holnists' bullets. In the case of the Postman, it's played with — when he saves Abby, he takes a bullet in the process. For the next half-year he stays with her in a cabin, recovering from his wound, marking the point when the romance plot begins to take over.
  • Plot Hole: The main character was in his childhood "when the last of the great cities died" plus at the end he was revealed to be born ca. 1973. This would imply that the war took place in the late 1970s or early '80s, and fits with a scenario where the Cold War went hot, to cause World War III. However, the Holnists own a copy of the film Universal Soldier, which came out in 1992, when he would have been 18 or 19, hardly a child. Of course, it's Hope the Postman's daughter relating this, and he had probably just told her the story, so it could well have been garbled (he could have said he'd been "just a kid" at the time for instance, which she took literally).
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: The Holnists, being built on a rather reactionary foundation, refuse to conscript people with African or Asian ancestry. However, a mixed-race man is also conscripted, which only one Holnist notices (while calling the man a slur), claiming General Bethlehem didn't recognize his African ancestry. This is further notable, because while being more evil in just about every possible way and measure, the Holnists in the book follow Equal-Opportunity Evil as one of their core rules.
  • Population: X, and Counting: The Pineview town sign has a population number that has been repeatedly crossed out and re-written, going from 267 to 132 even before the town came to the attention of the Holnists.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Dog: Bill the mule fulfills the same function for "Shakespeare" in the opening.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: There was no realistic way that a movie made in The '90s could deal with everything that happens in the novel very well, so the movie took the core concept of the story and ran with it.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: After The Reveal, Bethlehem realizes that he would gain nothing from Ford's execution and calls it off.
  • Prayer of Malice: As the Holnists cry "God rest his soul!" after General Bethlehem for Nathan Holn, whom they view as their founder, Shakespeare mutters instead, "May he burn in Hell."
  • Precocious Crush: Carrier 18 on the Postman himself, who doesn't even notice the girl or the longing gazes she gives him. He's 41 when they meet for the first time. She's barely teen-aged.
  • Precision F-Strike: When his would-be assassin starts to praise General Bethlehem, Shakespeare drops one. Notably, this is the only "fuck" in the entire film, as it was filmed with a PG-13 rating by the MPAAnote  in mind, and it was reserved for that moment specifically.
    Luke: The general is a great man!
    Postman: [Walking straight into the barrel of the gun, more pissed than scared] The general is a fucking lunatic.
  • The Promised Land: St. Rose, Oregon.note  Supposedly it's a nice and peaceful seaside location that Shakespeare wants to get to from the very start of the movie. He never does, but the statue to his memory is being revealed in the final scene by his now adult daughter, Hope. Ironically, in act three, he finds himself a different place to stay in to fulfill the role of the safe haven he wanted to reach so badly, in the form of the Bridge City.
  • Race Lift:
    • In the book, Abby was mixed-race, with Asian ancestry. Here she's White.
    • Ford says his name used to be John Stevens (he's also called "Johnny"), and he's Black. The "Johnny" Stevens in the book is White.
  • Reduced to Ratburgers: Over winter, Abby and the Postman eat the horse they used to escape Benning.
  • Refusal of the Call: For about three-quarters of the film, Shakespeare is visibly uncomfortable about being treated like a hero, actively trying to discourage the various mail-carriers' "do or die" attitude. He's absolutely horrified by Ford's statement that he (Ford) "would die to get a letter through," especially since Shakespeare knows he was the inspiration for it all. It's only near the end that he accepts his role, raising an army to fight the Holnists directly.
  • Resignations Not Accepted: When the Postman tries to escape, the rest of the army tries to kill him. But this trope is important later.
  • The Reveal: The mail-carriers inspired by the Postman aren't the only ones who took up the cause.
    Bethlehem: Wait a minute ... you two don't know each other?!
  • Right-Wing Militia Fanatic: The Holnists appear to have started as a group of these, before the war or during its aftermath. A radio broadcast that plays over the opening scenes blames them for a past rise in hate crimes. Now, with no government left, they have taken over at least part of Oregon.
  • Secret Stab Wound: After riding away from Benning's massacre, the Postman starts to slow down their horse. Abby, sitting behind him, pleads for him to continue, or else the chase party will get to them. Instead, he slumps over the horse's neck, and Abby realises he got shot while saving her.
  • Self-Deprecation: After Shakespeare's first performance of, well, a Shakespeare play (Macbeth, incidentally), a local woman tells him, "The children have never seen Shakespeare before." He chuckles and says, "They still haven't." In the same scene, he acknowledges that he was a terrible actor when he first tried acting.
  • 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 silly as the title to a dramatic film.
  • Sex Starts, Story Stops: Abby enters the Postman's room and asks him if he's decided on the request to father a child with her yet (her husband is infertile). He hesitates, so she instantly undresses to convince him. Not only did they have sex right off the bat, but from this point on, the movie introduces the ever-bloating romance subplot, which constantly stops the actual plot, being one of the bigger deviations from the original book (where Abby is barely mentioned after the main character leaves Pineview). There, the actual sex was also never shown, with the scene ending just before, while here it's explicit and at significant length.
  • Shout-Out: To another Costner movie. At one point, Shakespeare jokingly threatens Abby with a spoon, as if it were a lethal weapon.
  • The Social Darwinist: The racist Holnists set up a feudal system and base their leadership on who's strongest at any given time.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: Abby insists that the baby she's carrying — fathered by the Postman — is Michael's, in large part as a reminder of her late husband. Unlike the novel, where Gordon actively distanced himself from the baby precisely to avoid any kind of tension, he eventually has an argument with Abby about his parenthood and wanting to protect his own child.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • 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.
    • In a broader sense, like the source material, the movie tries to portray the post-apocalypse in a more grounded fashion. It takes care to show the types of people that would come to power in a vacuum left behind, why laws and the ability to enforce them are generally good things, why communication is vital in maintaining civilization, and in general treats the post-apocalypse like an actual place rather than just a sandbox for a protagonist to be badass in. And the Postman himself mostly just survives with copious amounts of dumb luck.
  • 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 actor, and someone tells the other man that he doesn't have the right to say anything bad anyway since he didn't pay to see Shakespeare perform.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Abby's and the Postman's relationship is turbulent, to say it lightly. It almost entirely runs on the fact they end up keep saving each other, until they get over their personal resentments.
  • Time-Passage Beard: The time in the cabin during the winter is a series of compressed scenes, with enough time passing first for Shakespeare to grow a beard and then for it to become shaggy.
  • Time Skip: The ending which involves the unveiling of the Postman's statue, takes place decades later, with the Restored United States being not only real but also having restored order.
  • Token Minority: Woody, Ford, and Clark are the only people of color with speaking parts in the film (only a few others are even shown). All of them are Black.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: Not only does it drag on for almost four minutes, it gives away every single plot element.
  • Unspecified Apocalypse: There are some hints of what happened, but it is never made clear exactly what.
    • General Bethlehem claims to have been at "the Battle of Georgetown" and seen the White House burn to the ground.
    • In the opening sequence, the old news reports playing in the background have what are 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).
    • The old letter that Shakespeare delivers talks about strange weather, food shortages and a soldier returning home because the war was already over by the time he got there.
    • The events which brought the world to this are varied and unexplained, with events like "the war", "the rains" and "the bad mumps".note 
  • Unstoppable Mailman: What the protagonist becomes, and what his protégés 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.
  • The Vietnam Vet: The Postman runs into a man who's an old Vietnam veteran and operates a radio he tries reaching out to people with (he's had no luck so far, but still keeps trying). Realizing he has valuable combat experience and training, the Postman enlists him to teach his followers. The guy later joins them in an ambush on a Holnist patrol.
  • Virtue Is Weakness: The Holnists' third law says "Mercy is for the weak", followed by sixth "Justice can be dictated", and, boy, does General Bethlehem live it out. He doesn't expect mercy himself at the end as a result, but then the Postman spares him. Then he tries to shoot the Postman after this, but is shot himself. This is all part of the Holnists' cruel Social Darwinist ideology.
  • Wasteland Elder: Decades after World War III and the rise of a powerful racist militia, several towns are still eking out a living. The Sheriff of Pineview (a tough, cagey man), the mayor of Benning (who is eager to seize signs of a better future), and the bedraggled mayor of Bridge City (an implied Celebrity Survivor) are all middle-aged leaders who get along decently with The Postman and work hard for the sake of their communities.
  • Wasteland Warlord: General Bethlehem is an interesting example, since he establishes a functional, well-equipped and fiercely disciplined army... all to oppress Oregon and surrounding areas. He meets every sign of disobedience, be it from his own troops or the settlements within his "fief", with Disproportionate Retribution, and he can be incredibly petty, too. This becomes a plot point in the end: without him in command of the Holnist Clan, not only is Oregon out from under his boot, but there is the industrial base of said army and hundreds of soldiers that were either Minions with an F in Evil or Punch-Clock Villains to defend the place and help establish order.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: "Law Seven: Any clansman may challenge for leadership of the clan." This allows the Postman to take over the entire Holnist army after a single fistfight. Well, that and the fact Bethlehem has 0% Approval Rating from his own troops and the top brass, so nobody minds the new commander. Including his own Number Two shooting the general in defense of the new leader.
  • 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?
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: What happened with the horse of the Holnist patrolman that Abby and the Postman killed after escaping Benning? One shot, we see Abby rummaging through its saddlebags, the next, the horse is gone, and she and the Postman are with their "own" horse. This does, however, bite them back down the line, when they have only one horse for food.
  • Word of Saint Paul: Happens in-universe. Ford met the Postman and got personally sworn in by him as the new postal carrier (and at least one of the other carriers comes from Pineview, too, so he can corroborate Ford's story). From there on, Ford used his authority and "direct link" to maintain and expand the US Postal Service all on his own. Notably, the Postman made it all up, and then Ford keeps adding to the lie, without even knowing the original story was bogus.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The Holnists start to hunt down postal carries, not being stopped in the slightest by the fact they are mostly just kids.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are:
    • The Postman's plea to Luke isn't a plea for mercy, but an assurance to Luke that he is too good to serve Bethlehem.
    • In the finale, when Ford has the general at gunpoint, the Postman has just one thing to say to talk him out of it.
      "Be a leader, Ford."
  • You Cannot Kill An Idea: Even after a cataclysmic war, social collapse, and the apparent death of the United States, the idea of America proves resilient and infectious to a degree that it eventually reaches California and beyond.
  • 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 fewer than men to sit on them, so one man will always be executed for not following orders to sit.
  • You Wouldn't Shoot Me: Played with. When held at gunpoint by Luke, a man sent to kill him, the Postman doesn't try to plead, goad or play chicken. He walks right on the gun and tells right in the face of his assassin that he's serving a fucking lunatic and Luke is better than that. Not killing him, since the Postman doesn't care at the moment, but simply pledging his allegiance to a madman. Luke lowers the gun.