I believe Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers that ever lived and THE POST is a brilliant movie. And it’s a timely movie as well. A few years ago, serious journalism was an endangered species. More and more people were tuning into social media and paying undue attention to amateurish bloggers and maleficent news personalities. The advent of Donald Trump changed all that and in 2017 the ancient powerhouses of journalism resurged all over the globe with particular mention to our venerable and adored idols of The Washington Post and The New York Times, who not only have been incredibly strong in the Trump years but have also shown us again the meaning of true journalism.
In the 19th century an important writer called Alexis De Tocqueville wrote about Democracy in America in a way that made him a major source of American thinking. In his masterpiece, De Tocqueville named a strong press as an important pillar in a successful democracy. Without a press able to inform the public and limit the abuses of the politicians, no democracy could survive. And true journalists, the ones that understand the seriousness of De Tocqueville’s claim and are proud to represent their high role, are many times true heroes of the modern age. It is fitting, then, that filmmakers are sometime fascinated by them.
This month I watched three very good movies that honor journalists, enacting three true stories that had great impact in our History. I’ve watched the superb ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, by Pakula, maybe for the tenth time; I’ve watched McCarthy’s SPOTLIGHT for the second time; and I’ve watched THE POST for the first time. SPOTLIGHT, about the Boston Globe’s revelations of the child abuse cases in the Catholic Church, and despite lovely performances by Michael Keaton and Live Schriber and a fragile Best Picture Academy Award, is by far the weakest of the three. Mark Ruffalo is not at his best and McCarthy is not in the league of Pakula or Spielberg.
THE POST, about The Washington Post’s exposé of the Pentagon Papers is a solid movie that will be a classic, not only by the matured and intelligent direction of Spielberg but also because Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep are probably the finest actors I’ve ever seen, and what they do with Ben Bradlee and Kay Graham is remarkable. But I am still in awe with that film I love which is Alan J. Pakula’s 1976’s masterpiece, based on the work of Carl Berstein and Bob Woodward as they denounced the Watergate scandal. ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN not only shows great direction and screenwriting, but also iconic performances by Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards. The film’s finale is a bit abrupt, but the final sequence is so good, so beautiful, so well directed, that we forget about the writing faux pas.
We need journalism. We need to believe in it and we need it to be serious, intelligent, vigilant and free. In a Democracy, it is the last guarantee against abuse, as all these pictures strongly argue. One of the most important texts of the 20th century is a journalistic piece written for The New Yorker by Hannah Arendt called EICHMANN IN JERUSALEM (which I also happen to be reading again). In it, the German philosopher narrates the Israeli trial of Adolph Eichmann, an ambitious and opportunistic German that ascended through the Nazi hierarchy by his cunning ability to deal with bureaucracy and logistical problems. He was also Evil. Arendt shows how the Evil in Eichmann came from a simple fact: the logistical problem he was instructed to solve was how to erase Jews from Nazi held territory, be it by expelling them, concentrating them in ghettos and camps or simply kill them – and Eichmann was able to block in his mind the job he was to do from any moral considerations. His crime was embracing banality. His crime was not thinking about the unthinkable so he could be efficient and effective. And so he was a willing cog in one of the most brutal murdering machines in Human History. He was satisfied with his job, even though killing Jews was not particularly interesting for him.
And so the Banality of Evil holds hands with the Banality of Truth. The relentless pillar of banality is invisibility. What is banal is not important. And so when we decide to ignore the objective hole that is in front of our eyes, we are being complicit and negligent. The role of journalism is to destroy this banality. It’s to reveal. To show what’s being concealed in spite of its importance. Curiously enough, invisibility is the opposite of transparency. If we are transparent and true, we are not invisible. We are whole.
THE POST is a film that shows us the struggle of journalists in this fight for Truth and Democracy. What they are capable of, what they risk and what they achieve. Ben Bradlee was one of the greatest and a moral compass for many. And Kay Graham was a pillar of modern society. THE POST honors them in kind. Both the movie and Spielberg, who has been consistent in this plight, take a moral stand: Democracy needs Truth. Truth needs Freedom of Speech and a Free Press. And we need to stand tall protecting both of these.
Yes, we need Truth. Truth is important. Truth protects us. And that’s why we should believe in journalism. We should feed it. We should rely on it. We should worship it. Well done, Steven.