Christine June 3, 2017
Michael C. Hall
1 Hr., 59 Mins.
But Chubbuck, at least until two films about her were coincidentally released last year (Christine and Kate Plays Christine), is more often remembered as the center of a sensationalist story rather than as the flawed, sympathetic figment of despair that she was.
On July 15, 1974, in the midst of Florida newscast Suncoast Digest, Chubbuck shot herself in the head on air. "In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in 'blood and guts,’” she told the camera. “In living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide.” She succumbed to her injuries shortly afterward. Chubbuck even wrote a script for her co-workers to read following the incident.
Today she’s frequently seen as the real-life counterpart to Howard Beale (Peter Finch), the protagonist of media satire Network (1976) who promised to kill himself live at the end of his final two weeks as a journalist. "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!” he shouted to viewers across the nation following his firing.
Network is a first-rate laceration of the media, taking specific aim at how the tragedies of others can regularly become commodities, products for viewers to distract themselves from the disappointments of their own lives. It’s berserk, funny, and incredibly smart: it’s a lampoon that cuts deep.
But the intentions of Antonio Campos’ Christine, which finds its drama in the final year of Chubbuck’s life, are never as holistically clear as Network’s. The latter can get away with savagery because it isn’t real — it’s merely a laser-focused comment, an anthrax-lined letter to media bigwigs and consumers alike. Christine, however, cannot so easily work as an acidic cautionary tale. Too many people suffered to get us there.
It finds its basis in a woman who hurt so greatly that she eventually came to the conclusion that she wasn’t worth saving, and it spends two hours highlighting her self-hatred and her nonexistent relationships (and the ensuing torment caused by that loneliness). Her pain, while respectfully represented, becomes the foundation of our diversion. Taking her fate and her vulnerabilities into account, the very existence of the film feels wrong. Chubbuck is an incontrovertibly fascinating subject. But the movie digs so deep that it, at times, feels exploitative. It’s a difficult, relentlessly sad viewing. One cannot definitively hypothesize why it was made.
But speculation regarding why it was incepted arises in the face of the performances. Chubbuck and the people in her life promise roles of substance, and the screenplay, written by Craig Shilowich, draws them compassionately. Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, and Maria Dizzia, as Chubbuck’s unrequited love interest, boss, and closest friend, respectively, are exceptional. These are people who simultaneously believe in and are incessantly frustrated by the incessantly frustrating Chubbuck, doing everything they can to remain supportive even when she deems herself unworthy of that support. Shilowich’s script is so thoroughly rendered that even the supporting characters, usually squashed in a film as sizable in its depiction of tragedy, are given their own set of problems to contend with.
It’s Hall, however, who makes Christine worth viewing. Even as we grow dejected by the film’s questionable depiction of a woman’s self-destruction, Hall’s performance is so eerily detailed that we’re certain the spirit of the eponymous figure possessed her. It is not so much a characterization as it is an embodiment — like Isabelle Adjani in Possession (1981) or Gena Rowlands in A Woman Under the Influence (1974), Hall takes on the role with such reckless abandon we ponder if she suffered as a result of playing this character. It is one of the best performances of the decade, and it’s a tragedy that it lies within a film likely to be perpetually overlooked as an effect of its independent distributors and its unflagging misery. Hall is among the best living actresses, and her portrayal of Chubbuck will likely be her finest hour.
But the movie itself is too questionable to stir. It effectively achieves what it set out to do — humanize the person at the front of a spectacular story and try to understand what made her do what she did. But when a subject was as psychologically tortured, as routinely humiliated by her shortcomings as Chubbuck was, should a film turning her anguish into drama
ournalist Christine Chubbuck never knew what it was like to be happy. Her entire life was derailed by untreated depression, an inability to form meaningful relationships, and an incapability of piecing together a defined sense of self. In her brief life, the only thing that ever brought her unbridled joy was reporting. A newscaster with a knack for putting forth compelling human interest stories, reporting was a gift that came easily to her.