Relationships through the medium of celluloid as experienced through the movie The Post
SV Prasad, Chairman RetyrSmart Advisory
The Readers would recall that I had viewed at Relationships through the prism of movies – specifically the Hindi movie Karwaan (now available, I am told, on Amazon and therefore Amazon subscribers can download and watch) and the English movie Searching.
Whilst “Karwaan” covered a number of relationships – child & parent, child & grand parent and friends (the three protagonists of the movie) and of course love, “Searching” largely focused on parent child relationship.
I had promised to cover the modern classic The Post. I must apologize for the delay.
As a compensation or bonus of sorts, I will soon be covering Sui Daaga and Badhaai Ho too, all through the perspective of myriad relationships.
The Post now. What a wonderful film with two of Hollywood’s all-time greats – Meryl Streep as the Newspaper Tycoon Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks as the all-powerful Editor Ben Bradlee!
We are taken to the era of the ’50s (briefly) and largely the ’60s and the ’70s in the US. Washington DC, where the media owners and the Politicians of all hues socially mingle, quite freely and openly. The laid back aristocracy of the media owners like Katherine, to use a Hindi expression khaandaani paisa! What is surprising is that at that time, even in the US, women were unfortunately given short shrift. So much so that most, if not all women became docile and almost a door mat, reconciled to their fate. The Editor Ben’s wife and Meryl Streep’s reel daughter are worthy exceptions. That’s for later.
Katherine’s father had owned the influential paper The Washington Post and after his death (remember Watergate Scandal which is to happen a few years later?), the ownership passes on to her husband. After the husband’s untimely death, by way of a Hobson’s Choice, the baton of ownership falls on Katherine’s lap.
Initially, Meryl’s character Katherine is shown to be meek, reticent, not so sure of herself. In her daily breakfast meetings with the Editor Ben, he tends to give her short shrift. So too in her first Board meeting, even though she is now the Chairperson, and in the meeting with the Investment Bankers as her Company is being taken public. After Katherine has sat up the whole night and studied the draft prospectus and all the other Board documents, her queries on some tricky clauses are brushed off by the “macho men” as “boiler plate”, i.e. standard legalese! Her awkwardness in further exemplified when she drops the bulky Board papers on the way to the Board Meeting!
Even her daughter brushes her off. Katherine has been a shy person, happier and more comfortable in her parties and in socializing with her friends, albeit all influential politicians and their wives, from both the major parties – Democrats as well as Republicans and various businessmen.
Barring Katherine’s relationship with her granddaughters which is naturally a unselfish, loving one, in all her others, she does not get her due, not even a modicum of respectability as the owner of one of America’s great newspapers or for that matter, even as a fellow human being. It’s like almost everyone feels that she is not cut out for the job and to make matters worse, making no bones about it even on her face.
After the initial stutters and hesitation, she gradually grows into the job, becomes confident and sure of herself and gets a grip of all her various relationships. What is really nice is that she gets her way in a quiet, dignified and at the same time, firm way and not by bull dozing herself like a “macho man” would typically do.
The moment of truth arrives where the Editor Tom Hanks pushes her for supporting him on a major expose`- the Pentagon Papers. It was an exhaustive, official document covering the political and military involvement of USA in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967. It candidly said how over the years it was clandestinely enlarged in scope. All in all, explosive stuff. The Editor Ben Bradlee and the publisher Katherine Graham had the guts and the courage of conviction to go ahead with its publication by way of a service to the nation. This would undoubtedly take The Washington Post back to its glory days, but that was at best a minor bonus for the Publisher Editor duo.
On the other hand, the Board, the lawyers and the family loyalists strongly advise Katherine to not do so. The Company had just gone public and besides, their worry is that this would mean rubbing the Government on the wrong side, possibly putting Katherine in contempt of court. The scene where she quietly but firmly tells off her advisers that this is no longer her father’s paper, nor her husband’s and it is now hers and that she and she alone had the right to take the call of what to do is etched in my mind. This was a quintessential Meryl Streep performance!
The metamorphosis Is now complete and Katherine achieves this in an admirable way and at the same time getting all her relationships on track and in order – with the Editor, with the Board, the legal experts, the family loyalists etc. and last but not the least, with her daughter. Her daughter truly respects her mother now and in fact looks up to her, apart from of course always loving her.
The Editor Ben Bradlee’s wife nicely puts her husband in place. He comes back home and consciously or otherwise, tries to take the credit for having the expose` published. His feisty wife Antoinette tells him that but for Katherine this would never have happened and that the full credit has to go her. After all, Katherine’s neck was on the block!
The last scenes where Ben proudly shows to Katherine copies of all newspapers across US copying The Post covering the expose` portrays his new found respect for his Boss.
Tom Hanks is happy to play second fiddle to Meryl Streep and that shows his comfort and utmost confidence with his craft. He plays the role of the typical, quintessential editor, for whom editorial honesty comes foremost. And when he notices that his Boss is willing to go the extra mile, including appearing in Supreme Court hearings, he is more than happy to put his life on the line.
Incidentally, in recent times, this is the second movie where Tom Hanks is more than happy to play second fiddle to a co-star and still more than registers his presence in the movie. He did this playing the role of Walt Disney to Emma Thompson who played the role of Ms.Pamela “P.L.” Travers, the author of Mary Poppins in “Saving Mr.Banks”.
If anyone is interested, I am more than happy to do a write up on this film and indeed, some of the other recent movies of Tom Hanks – Sully, Captain Phillips, Bridge of Spies etc.
All in all, a wonderful, wonderful all time great movie.
And the movie ends with The Washington Post newsperson eavesdropping on what later on turns out to be The Watergate Scandal wherein President Nixon clandestinely got snooping going on, on the Democrats at the Watergate Hotel. But that story is perhaps for another day! .