A sheep farmer retaliates after his teenage son is accidentally killed by chemical weapons released as part of a covert U.S. Army experiment. [ Rage credits: Dir: George C. Scott/ George C. Scott, Richard Basehart, Martin Sheen/ 100 min/ Drama/ Abuse of Power]
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Every so often another revelation appears in the press about the U.S. government exposing Americans to harmful chemicals, pathogens, and/or radiation. There were the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s LSD experiments, the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments, the radiation experiments of the 1950s, and of course that radioactive cloud released half a century ago over Los Angeles that the feds only recently got around to mentioning. And for all we know those may be just the tip of the iceberg. After all, the U.S. government hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about even these events.
So the premise of Rage is not implausible: a father and son are accidentally exposed to a deadly chemical weapon, and the Army and Public Health Service join forces to hush it all up.
In this case, however, the father lives long enough to find out what happened and retaliates, in a way. He succeeds in blowing up the chemical weapons lab, but that’s about it. And in the course of his rampage he kills a few relatively innocent security guards. It would have been much more satisfying if he had been able to wreak his vengeance on the people who were really responsible, but the outcome shown here is probably more realistic.
By the time it’s all over he is sick and helpless, dying while Army personnel coolly observe. Apparently his and his son’s deaths are considered useful in the sense that their bodies provide accurate information on the effects of the chemical weapon to which they had been exposed, and which had previously been tested only on animals. In the end, the one really is at the mercy of the many—there’s something of 1984 here.
Despite a few moments of distractingly unconventional cinematography, Rage, which both stars and is directed by George C. Scott, is worth watching if you don’t mind a slight elevation in your blood pressure. It does a good job of building sympathy for the father and son. And the government agents are suitably indifferent to human life. When it was made in 1972, it was probably considered left-wing fiction, but now it seems all too real.