The Great Scenes: “The Primal Forces of Nature” from NETWORK
The Movie: Network (1976)
Spoiler Level: Low
The Setup: Howard Beale (Peter Finch) is a veteran anchor for the UBS Evening News. Due to a combination of declined ratings and a hint of depression, Beale announces on national TV that he will kill himself live on air the following evening. This prompts his resignation followed by a reinstatement by the network when the corporate heads realize that this altered personality of Howard Beale is actually improving their ratings. They set Beale up as modern-day prophet; someone to tell it like it is in a very harsh way. The network assumes the shock value of this side-show gimmick will increase the ratings, but Beale has a real impact on the people of America. Upon learning that CCA, the UBS parent company, will be bought out by another even larger company in Saudi Arabia, Beale goes off on a rant on live television and demands that his audience send telegrams to the White House in protest of this deal. Up to this point, the big dogs at the top have both benefited from and gotten a kick out of Beale’s depressed and manic state of mind. However, Beale has gained enough support and influence from his viewers that his most recent tirade could seriously put a hold on this Saudi Arabia deal. In an effort to put a stop to Howard Beale, he has been summoned by the CCA chairman, Arthur Jensen (Ned Beatty), who dramatically and fiercely lays it out for Beale in this brilliantly executed monologue.
Why It’s Great: This monologue alone earned Ned Beatty a Supporting Actor nomination. Beatty breaks the world down for us in savagely depressing terms and alleviates all of our hopes, leaving us in despair with his very colorful, very dramatic monologue.
The lighting and framing of Beatty in the shot is suggestive of a vision of God. The desk lamps are aligned so that it resembles a dream-like tunnel of light leading straight up into the heavens. It’s reminiscent of a runway to the cosmos as Arthur Jensen gives us a smack down by filling us in on the cold hard truth of “the natural order of things today”.
Peter Finch, the posthumous Best Actor winner, is virtually silent during the entire scene. This scene is the linchpin of the film. There’s a decisive and dark turn at this point. It was suggested earlier in the film that Beale had a vision from God. Here it is quite literal that Beale is playing the part of a prophet that has been struck by a vision and given a message. His face is eerily lit and he wears the reaction of one frozen with awe. He has heard the voice of God and must carry out His message to the world.