3 Stars – Powerful
The sorrow of the Vietnam War is pervasive. This is not only due to the 58,220 young Americans and 2,250,000 Vietnamese civilians and soldiers who were killed, but also to the discovery that our government lied to us. These lies were articulated over decades by multiple presidents of both political parties. We know this not because of the transparency of our leaders but due to our freedom of the press. The Post is the true story of how this freedom was threatened when it attempted to provide these truths to our citizens.
Directed by Steven Spielberg this story focuses on the publisher of The Washington Post, Katherine Graham (Myrle Streep). Graham became the publisher of the paper that her grandfather started when her husband died. In a day when women were not considered capable of leading, her father had given her husband control of the paper, but upon his suicidal death the responsibility fell to her. But the men on her board had no confidence in her to lead and she herself was unsure of her own capacity. This secondary theme is woven into the first as she not only grows in confidence but also protects her paper’s freedom and responsibility to expose the lies of government.
A third theme is the friendships of the editors and publishers of the press with the presidents and government officials. We see this in two ways, in Mrs. Graham’s friendship with Secretary of State Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) and her Editor’s friendship with President and Mrs. Kennedy. A caricatured had-hitting editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks) comes to realize that the pressure he is putting on Mrs. Graham to publish the Pentagon Papers is hypocritical when he himself succumbed to the Kennedy’s requests.
We won’t spoil how these three interlocking themes work out except to note that the historic dynamics have left a lasting impression on our culture. Today, few question the freedom of the press to hold government officials accountable and most agree that women leaders are as capable as men to lead. But the third theme is not as clearly resolved. It is clear that the wealthy class often cover for each other to the detriment of the middle class and poor. As it is also true that in the professions where doctors, lawyers, priests and pastors often excuse each other rather than hold one another accountable. In both the wealthy class and the professions this lack of accountability is destructive to the very persons the press and the professions are supposed to serve.
Historical films are often helpful in understanding why we have the problems we do. The Post is a great example of this and worthy of our consideration and conversation.
- For those of us who lived through the Vietnam War and experienced the tremendous loss and destruction this film brings up old wounds. Do you think this film helps heal our wounds or deepens them?
- It’s a struggle for Katherine Graham to find her voice. Have you ever been in a place where your voice is discounted? What did you do to find your courage and confidence?
- Have you experienced a professional harming you and then being inappropriately supported by a peer? What did you do?