By: Bharati Ganesh
When I first heard about Steven Spielberg’s latest film endeavor, The Post, I could hardly feel anything but exasperated. Of course— yet another historically relevant movie starring Hollywood icons that would certainly be an Oscar contender. The Post chronicles Washington Post publisher Katharine “Kay” Graham, played by Meryl Streep, and editor Bill Bradlee, played by Tom Hanks, as they contemplate whether or not to publish excerpts of Pentagon Papers. Up against them are the White House, The New York Times, and senior management at the Washington Post.
I found Streep and Hanks complemented each other perfectly on screen. The crass, grating Bradlee and cautious, regal Graham are polar opposites at the beginning of the film but evolve and grow to meet each other in the middle. By honing in on the tense period that preceded the publication of the Pentagon Papers and decision to defy the injunction issued against the Washington Post, Spielberg is able to focus on the nuances of a legendary working relationship that the real life Graham and Bradlee forged.
The Post’s greatest strength is its cultural relevance— with issues such as gender barriers in the workplace, a White House that is hostile toward its critics, and evolving role of the press dominating the plot it fits in perfectly to our socio-political climate. Kay Graham is scorned by male advisors who still view her as only temporarily in charge after her husband’s 1963 death, and do not trust her decision making abilities. The Nixon administration is determined to unleash the full power of the presidency to silence dissenters. Reporters are conflicted about publishing articles that criticize the leaders whom they once had close relationships with. All of these events in the film could easily have happened today.
Like any good director, Spielberg is masterful at compelling his audience to feel the magnitude of a scene. The various experiences and characters described in The Post all offer something relatable to the audience, creating a parallel between 1972 and 2018. It commands respect for the past from those who did not live through the turbulent 70’s, reassuring us that everything we see as “unprecedented” now has happened before.
More importantly, The Post is a thank you to journalists who are often assailed for their role in helping shed light on the truth. Spielberg illustrates it is not so simple to just write a story and print it. There is tireless researching, editing, and interviewing involved, which veteran journalists at The Washington Post are part of. Ben Bagdikian, portrayed by Bob Odenkirk, personifies what it means to be a diligent reporter. He is the intrepid Washington Post reporter who first determines who is behind the leaks of the Pentagon Papers and finds them.
Though The Post is not “brave” or “original” in our current political climate and could just be considered a regurgitation of the most notable news headlines of late, it is valid. Rather than dwelling on the negative it provides good examples of a healthy working relationship between a man and woman, and the importance of diligent journalism. It is an assurance that many desperately needed to move forward and understand the moment we are living in.