People today seem to have very mixed feelings about work. Some days they just can't get enough of its adrenalin-pumping satisfactions; other days they wonder where their lives have gone while they've been doing time at their jobs. This contradictory view of work comes across vividly in The Paper.
Henry Hackett (Michael Keaton) is the metropolitan editor of The New York Sun, a newspaper on the brink of financial disaster. HIs pregnant wife (Marisa Tomei) wants him to accept a higher paying job at a rival newspaper where he will have to work less. Henry has other priorities. He spends most of the 24-hour period depicted in the film chasing down the story behind the murder of two white men in a low-income black neighborhood. He also has to do combat with a corporate-climbing managing editor (Glenn Close) who has decided to run a story that may be untrue.
Henry wants some counsel on his possible career move from the Sun's crusty editor-in-chief (robert Duvall), a veteran journalist. But he is mourning the results of a lifetime of workaholism — namely prostate cancer and estrangement from his grown daughter.
"There is more to life," said Mahatma Gandhi, "than increasing its speed." The Paper, directed with suitable elan by Ron Howard, shows the high personal cost of living under constant pressure and crucifying deadlines. At the outset, Henry says, "Every day I'm behind from the minute I get up." And he never catches up.
The busyness that consumes the lives of these journalistic workhorses gives birth to a subtle form of dehumanization once described by Trappist monk Thomas Merton. "To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns," wrote Merton, "to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects is to succumb to violence."
The Paper succeeds in catching the high-tension mixture of camaraderie, competition, and confusion that characterizes many workplaces. But screenplay writers David Koepp, whose credits include the film Jurassic Park, and Stephen Koepp, a senior editor at Time, also manage to portray the ways in which busyness and overwork violate us. In the rush of constant activity, we sometimes miss the magic moments of joy and beauty which need to be enjoyed slowly. These small moments, sadly enough, are irretrievable.