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"Christine": New biopic offers gripping, tragic look at a TV journalist who slowly unravels

Posted by: Amy – Nov 18, 2016

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Christine follows the lead-up and death of Christine Chubbuck, a Sarasota TV journalist who committed live, on-camera suicide in 1974. Before shooting herself, Chubbuck read a sardonic statement wherein her death would be incongruent to the “blood and guts” reporting her station had been weaving to.

While shocking, her public statement of media exploitation is still true more than ever decades later. It also isn’t the entire story of Chubbuck who had bouts of depression, suicidal tendencies and had been under psychiatric care according to her mother. Chubbuck’s seemingly inability to let herself enjoy and experience relationships, friendship or otherwise, is illustrated in Antonio Campos’ (Afterschool, Simon Killer) new biopic with some insightful results.

We first see Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) conducting an imaginary interview with Richard Nixon, her ambitions and insecurity are both high and at odds with each other. Chubbuck herself is awkwardly forward and at times socially intrepid, usually slightly off on the points others express to her. She is perhaps an idiosyncrasy in her profession of reporting.

Chubbuck is overly critical, socially conscious, even spending her free time doing puppet shows for disabled kids, but ultimately is awkward, even out of sync in connecting to others and understanding her own personal foibles. What does make Christine as a subject very compelling is that it’s not only a smart, attractive woman floundering in her own despair and downward spiral of not being heard and not hearing others, but that somebody so sensitive and smart can be so out of step with, well everybody.

While eating alone and pondering about better connecting to viewers, she introduces herself to a nearby couple and immediately asks if they are in love and could possibly do a community news piece. Chubbuck also has mistaken the interest of lead anchor George (Michael C Hall) as romantic rather platonic.

Rebecca Hall’s precise performance is simply sublime and riveting. The film lives or dies with Chubbuck’s portrayal and it is a mighty depiction of a woman at the end of her rope. Seeing Chubbuck projected on various screens in a nauseating green tint of the monitors certainly can give goosebumps and raise the tension, it’s the performance here that really combs our interest for the character’s overall psychological crisis until the film’s climatic, scarring ending.

There’s a bit of good irony here as “Christine” is actually a thoughtful, quiet interpretation of a woman many know nothing about, but are we still being entertained by what Chubbuck warned us about? As Chubbuck is explaining to her editor Mike (Tracy Letts), who is pushing for more salacious content, that sensationalized media is a dangerous game and critiques as “fender-bender reporting”, the film feels a little deaf to its own narrative build and perhaps the nature of a voyeuristic medium to such a sad personal tale.

Christine also seems to be with little insight outside of speculation as to what Chubbuck’s suicide derived from. We do get various glimpses of her career shortcomings, her unrequited love, inability to connect to others, health concerns, wanting to have a family, etc. The film nudges us with these issues and would rather we derive our own interpretation from them.

Perhaps that little mystery is a bigger appeal than hammering down anything and in the end it does work in the film’s favor and mystique. But with no real affirmation, by the time the film gets to the end and the event, it suddenly feels anticlimactic, obvious, and somewhat appropriately empty.

Eventually everybody involved moves on and sadly, rather quickly. For that, it’s why Christine actually excels and doesn’t commit to the unhealthy adage of “If it bleeds, it leads” that Chubbuck’s own suicide sought to address or armchair diagnosis in painting this portrait. Despite how thought-provoking that can be, it sure is a tragic statement to bear witness to.

Words by Kyle Shearin

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