Christine is a slick, impactful re-telling of a singular, shocking true-life story.
On the morning of July 15th 1974, Christine Chubbuck, a reporter for a Sarasota news channel, committed suicide by shooting herself live on-air, while presenting a news report. She prefaced her act with a statement, reading that it was “in keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts'”. A host of details emerged subsequently about Chubbuck’s long-term struggle with depression, and a litany of exacerbative circumstances in her personal life. Antonio Campos’ film seeks to explore the final chapter of this promising journalist’s life, both in celebration and mourning.
“the gradual descent into depression and disappointment is shown with purposeful clarity”
Indeed, for the first part of the film, the tragic subject matter could easily be mistaken for far lighter fare, and Christine has something of a Broadcast News ‘behind-the-scenes of a newsroom’ kind of feel. She is shown to be dedicated, hardworking, but stubbornly unpragmatic. The film responsibly holds back from scoring too many political points from the defiant nature of her death. The immorality of media sensationalism has been the focus of some seminal cinema, from Network to the brilliant Nightcrawler, but this is not the central focus here. Christine is ultimately a character study, an attempt to reconstruct a freak tragedy into something explicable and linear.
Rebecca Hall gives a convincingly fraught performance as Chubbuck, and the gradual descent into depression and disappointment is shown with purposeful clarity. Only in one scene (an argument with her mother) does she overstep into melodrama, less her fault than that of a slightly limited script – the film’s largest weakness. Michael C Hall (of Six Feet Under and Dexter fame) gives an intriguing turn as Chubbuck’s co-anchor, sympathetic but, crucially, oblivious to her illness.
Christine’s essential problem is in trying to structure a feature length drama around an unexceptional figure who commits, at the very finality of her life, an exceptional act. This is not to demean its subject; the portrait of a small-time journalist struggling with depression is certainly interesting enough subject matter on its own. To then make this shift, to combine her day-to-day normality with her eventual posterity, is a tough task indeed and inevitably, there are some cracks that show through. Nevertheless, Christine takes a fascinating story and makes of it a pretty solidly good film.
Image: Antonio Campos