Christine (2016, dir. Antonio Campos)
The story of Christine Chubbuck is fated to end in tragedy. To most people, she’s known for the stories of a video of her suicide. During the early morning on 1974, while delivering the news, Christine produced a gun from beneath her desk and announced that “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts,’ and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide.” She proceeded to pull the trigger and fire a bullet into her skull. Fourteen hours later she was pronounced dead at the age of 29. To the public who heard of this event the most looming question has always been, “Why?”
Antonio Campos’ dramatization of the last few months of Christine’s life begins in a way that might surprise someone who was only familiar with the story of her death. She is an energetic, passionate reporter struggling to tell positive human stories while up against a news media that is learning sensationalism corresponds to higher ratings. She isn’t willing to give up so easily and argue viciously with news director Mike. While she fights for principles on the news, Christine is also experiencing severe abdominal pains that she attributes to stress but seem to be something more serious.
Taking on the task of capturing who Christine was is actress Rebecca Hall. I’ve seen in some supporting roles in various films but never really felt very impressed. Apparently, she had just never been given an active enough role to show off her talents. Her absence from Best Actress nominations at any of the major awards is yet another sign that the mainstream awards are out of touch. It has been a very long time since I have seen a performance that so transformed an actor. Her voice, the way she moves, just watching her hands tense and grasp at objects, so encapsulates a real person. Christine’s pain is real, but even more surprising is her joy at producing stories about people. It’s hard not to get caught up in her passion as she takes the mundane and attempts to transform it into the remarkable.
Surrounding Hall’s central performance is a brilliant cast of supporting actors. Michael C. Hall plays George, the news station’s main anchor who shares the awkward flirtations of Christine. He could easily have been off as a pastiche of Ted Knight’s archetypal pompous newsman from Mary Tyler Moore, but a moment in the third act reveals a layer to the character I didn’t expect and changes the audience’s perception of him. The always great Maria Dizzia plays Jean, Christine’s best friend at the station and camerawoman. Jean sees Christine’s moments of breaking down and is deeply affected in the wake of her suicide. The final moments of the film choose to focus on Jean and they almost wordlessly convey the real emotions and reaction a friend would feel in the aftermath of such a tragic end. There is a numbness in her eyes and a deliberate effort to try and move past this. Tracy Letts plays the role of Mike, the film’s antagonist, who worries over the station’s dwindling ratings and aggressively pushes Christine to change her angle on the news. But even he is given brushstrokes of character development that reveal he does care about the station beyond just ratings.
The film gets across a sense of alienation that is suffocating. Christine continually spirals further down, never giving up her sensibilities that she can find a way out of her problems. But at every turn something gets in her way, kicking the legs out from underneath her. By the time the film reaches its climactic moment it feel heartbreakingly that there was no other way this could have ended. In the larger context of the news media, everything she represented was going down the drain. Throughout the picture news reports about Nixon and Watergate can be heard. Even the opening has Christine shooting footage for her reel, alone on the set, pretending to interview the president. She points out the idea that you can’t really be paranoid if people are actually out to get you. And for Christine, everyone did seem to unintentionally be out to get her.