“We could make a series of it. “Suicide of the Week.” Aw, hell, why limit ourselves? “Execution of the Week.” “Terrorist of the Week.” I love it. Suicides, assassinations, mad bombers, Mafia hitmen, automobile smash-ups: “The Death Hour.” A great Sunday night show for the whole family. It’d wipe that fuckin’ Disney right off the air.”
With that bit of dialogue, I fell in love with this film. Network tells the story of people working within a television network, how ratings rule their lives and how they try to reflect the world’s views by the shows they decide to air. The film is full of interesting, fleshed out characters that make us believe that they can be this eccentric and so ruled by their television lives.
First there’s Howard Beale (Peter Finch), an aging news anchorman who announces his retirement and his suicide to take place at the end of next Tuesday’s program. With the network going into damage control over Beale’s inappropriate newscast, they decide to let him go on the next day to apologize. Instead, he tells the world that he “just ran out of bullshit.” The ratings for his blunt honesty are through the roof and soon Beale has his own show as a prophet, rambling and getting people to shout out their windows all over the country. Together they yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
Dianne Christensen (Faye Dunaway) is the young vice-president for UBS and has been looking for some edgy programming to reflect the anger that Americans are feeling. When Howard yells bullshit, she finds her goldmine. Dianne is part of the first generation to have television all their lives, and therefore has much different views that her older coworkers, like Max Schumacher (William Holden), a long time friend of Howard’s. Max and Dianne start a relationship, even though Max is married, but he sees that Dianne is a sub level of human who has been too heavily influenced and desensitized by television.
I believe that is the main point of the film: television has defined how we live our lives. It’s how we learn to deliver snarky one-liners with perfect timing, how to enter a room with the right presence, how to pause for dramatic effect. Television shows us what’s in style, how to wear it right and how to walk in it. It even shows us definitions for love, joy, anger and happiness. How would we know these emotions if we had not grown up with defining images being flashed before us?
In the end, Network is too dark to be satire, I don’t believe it was meant to be interpreted in a satiric manner. It seems to serve more as a warning for what television could (and has) become. Channel surf on a Sunday morning and the images of some television preachers are very similar to Howard Beale’s raving rants just before he collapses into thunderous applause. We now watch and vote for the next musical sensation and watch young people try to find their true love out of a hand full of contestants.
Network is full of strong language and the ideas that we’re becoming less genuinely human because of television may not be what everyone wants to think about. But it’s a great movie, the acting is superb and worthy of the three Oscar wins by Beatrice Straight, Dunnaway, and the late Finch. I strongly recommend Network.
“I’m not sure she’s capable of any real feelings. She’s television generation. She learned life from Bugs Bunny.”