In 1976, the movie Network dominated the award season. The film won four Academy Awards, including Best Actor (Peter Finch), Best Actress (Faye Dunaway), Best Supporting Actress (Beatrice Straight), and Best Original Screenplay (Paddy Chayefsky) and received much critical acclaim. The brilliantly clever satiric movie was ahead of its time and prophetic.
Peter Finch, who plays anchorman Howard Beale, learns from his best friend Max (performed by William Holden) that he’s going to be fired from the UBS Evening News because of low ratings. Having been on the air for a long time, this news puts him into shock. During one of his last appearances, he announces that he is going to commit suicide. Howard Beale’s announcement sends shockwaves at UBS and its audiences. While Max is stunned, Diana (Faye Dunaway) sees an opportunity that could benefit the studio and further her own career. As Howard’s outbursts continue, Diana persuades the network to give Howard a prime time slot because his ratings have surged and he will make the network a lot of money.
Although Howard may seem like the crazy one in the movie, he’s actually the one who is closest to the truth. His monologues are angry and galvanizing. He is most notable for shouting, “We’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it anymore.” It’s clear that Howard is suffering. He faints at the end of his speeches as though his monologues literally take everything out of him. Meanwhile, Diana and the network are more than happy to exploit Howard’s vulnerability. They refer to him as the Mad Prophet.
Howard is the prized possession of UBS, until one day he’s no longer useful to the network. The ending of his story reminds us of what happens to life when people choose to live in a world where profit determines the value of a human life. Howard Beale does indeed become a prophet.
Diana is responsible for what happens to Howard, and she feels no guilt for her actions. As a program director at the network, she’s willing to do anything to acquire more power. She’s even willing to work with domestic terrorist organizations in order to create television programs that will garner explosive ratings. Diana is married to her work. She even admits that she is incapable of feeling for others. Her lack of humanity is most noticeable in her love affair with Max. During an intimate scene, Diana is incessantly talking about her work. She is simply a beautiful, but empty shell of a human being consumed with her own success and power.
Max is one of the more human characters in the film. He’s weak, and he makes the terrible mistake of cheating on his wife, Louise (Beatrice Straight). In a poignant scene, which earned Beatrice Straight an Academy Award, Louise warns Max that Diana will end up breaking his heart. Max’s character symbolizes an older generation, and he can’t completely relate to Diana. Diana is from the generation that grew up with television, and it has stripped a part of her humanity. Television feels more real to her than her relationship with Max.
Screenwriter and novelist, Paddy Chayefsky, is the only writer to win three Academy Awards for original and adapted screenplays, and Network was one of his finest creations. Another strength of this film is its star-studded cast, which also included Robert Duvall, who plays one of the network executives. Many of the leading actors who performed in the movie were the not first choices for Paddy Chayefsky and Director Sidney Lumet. For example, Chayefsky originally wanted Jane Fonda to play Diana, but Fonda declined the role, claiming that it was too “hysterical.” Peter Finch, who plays Howard, suffered from emotional and physical exhaustion. His monologues are so long and passionate that it is clearly obvious why he won an Academy Award. Sadly, Finch died a few months after the filming of the movie, and his widow accepted the Oscar on his behalf.
When Network was first released, people enjoyed its dark humor and satirical portrayal of mainstream media. Today, Network is a treasured classic film and a tragic reminder that we should’ve have listened to Howard Beale. The media is a powerful force that can shape, influence, and ultimately destroy societies one generation at a time.