Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Review of Network

Number 64 on AFI's movie list is Network, directed by Sidney Lumet. It is the story of Howard Beale (Peter Finch) a TV news reporter who has a psychotic break with reality and finally begins to broadcast the truth about the world. Meanwhile, the struggling network who controls his contract battles to harness his madness for their own benefit. It is a satire of television in the 1970s, which then becomes a satire of capitalism, spouting truths that are still relevant today. If you have never heard of Network before, you have surely heard the movie's most famous quote, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!" and its many derivatives.

This is certainly a complicated movie. It is more of an intellectual exercise in satire than a traditional story. The characters are icons rather than real people. Yes, they have depth, but it is character depth piled upon symbols. Diana Christensen (Faye Dunaway), for instance, bears this comparison: "You are television incarnate, Diana. Indifferent to suffering, insensitive to joy. All of life is reduced to the common rubble of banality." Max Schumacher (William Holden), who delivers this line, represents Journalism in the traditional sense. Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty) is capitalism incarnate.

Did I like it? I suppose I did. I wasn't that crazy about the second of the story's two plots, in which Diana and Max conduct an illicit and age-mismatched affair. However, this story is essential to understanding the satire. I don't want to say more for fear of spoilers.

I should also say that this is not the ha-ha sort of satire. It is a black sort of satire that you know can't end well. Not once through this picture did I get a rosy-feeling.

Network is prescient. As with most things prophetic, the prophecy took longer to realize than the prophet predicted. But twenty-five years after Network satirized television, reality TV finally sank to the depths predicted by the movie (shudder). It also predicted FOX news pundits: rabid, delusional madmen ranting about Arabs and capitalism.

Network is, without a doubt, an important film. Enjoyable? Well, maybe. It depends on your interests. I liked it well enough.
$3 1/2 billion dollars out of $5 billion.