You don’t need to have seen Network to be roused by the film’s iconic “Mad as Hell” speech. You don’t need to work in network television, live in the ‘70s, or face retirement. This scene transcends time, ripping the viewer out of the present and into that exact, electric moment when Peter Finch’s Howard Beale explodes.
The speech taps into the boiling experience of anger. Beale is the Lewis Black of the ‘70s, his fury having bubbled well beyond its limits, pouring out in a torrent of words and physically shaking aggravation. The rage is so pure that on one hand, the words are almost inconsequential to the adrenaline rush of releasing pent-up emotion.
That said, Paddy Chayefsky’s perfectly written rant is also timeless, barreling into our chests and plucking at our modern experience. It speaks as perfectly to the people of the seventies as it does to the people of today. (With, perhaps, the exception of the Russians. But you can input any other international threat there.) Beale is ranting about a depression – the fear and anxiety as people lose their jobs or struggle to keep them. The dollar is bad. The environment is problematic. He speaks of antisocially staying inside.
Beale’s rant hits on the very essence of life’s cyclical nature, and Finch’s delivery gives voice to our aggravation. We might not be running to our windows to echo him, but the passion of his performance pushes the words outside of the bounds of cinema and into real life. This speech is one of the best reasons why Network works so well as a dark satire. In the midst of all that Swiftian ridiculousness, it still speaks so perfectly to our human experience.