Christine (2016): Art Imitating Death (Review)

Rebecca Hall as Christine Chubbick

By the time one finishes watching the 2016 biopic of Christine Chubbuck there is an almost irresistible urge to take a long hot shower. This attempt to wash off the depression that settles on the viewer like a black stain would be followed up by watching something lighter, like The Wrestler.

For those not in the know, Chubbuck was a local news reporter on a Sarasota television news station who, after suffering a period of severe depression, wrote a script allowing herself the chance to commit suicide live on the Florida news show.

The obvious question here is why tell Christine’s story now, a full 42 years after the fact?  Clearly a number of people feel the need to present their version of the truth behind the act as there are two films out that deal with the subject.

Christine was written by Craig Shilowich (His first time up as writer), directed by Antonio Campos and stars Rebecca Hall in the title role. Ultimately the film attempts to show what led up to Chubbuck killing herself on live television. 

This biopic takes known facts and embellishes upon them.  It seems to change details to fit the writer and director’s take on the personality of the woman. Michael C. Hall plays George the local anchor that Christine hoped to have a relationship with and Tracy Letts plays Michael, the manager of the station who is most often at odds with his community segment reporter. 

A lot of time is spent showing how obsessive Christine was about details and her awkwardness with some coworkers. She is even shown having issues with her mother and housemate Peg (played by J. Smith-Cameron).

On top of her inability to communicate properly with her peers, according to the film, Chubbuck learns she has an ovarian cyst. This news adds to her deepening depression as it means she cannot have children after the operation.

Christine also shows that the reporter had no real sense of humor and was, despite working in front of the camera, a social inept who was almost painfully shut up inside her isolation from others.

Hall plays Chubbuck as someone who agonizes over her appearance and the smallest  details of her work.  Unconfident and seemingly unable to latch on to the station’s manager idea to make the news more “juicy” Christine is constantly out of step with the news team.

Yet, at the same time, the film shows that the reporter was technically astute, except on the newer machinery, and was able to help her co-workers make their own broadcasts smoother.

The movie also shows Christine unable to romantically connect with anyone. Her “crush” on George (Hall) is smashed down after their one date, a meal, ends with the anchor taking her to a Transitional Analysis meeting.

(T.A. started in the 1970’s and preached the “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” philosophy and explained how people fell into categories like Parent, Child and so on.)

After their one dinner date, Christine also learns that George will be leaving to anchor at the newly acquired Baltimore station.  Throughout the film, Chubbuck is shown to be overly concerned with her onscreen gestures and news stories.

At 119 minutes, nearly two hours, the film runs long and spends too much time delivering whatever its message seems to be. Anyone who knows the Christine Chubbuck story already knows the ending as will anyone reading the press release of the film.

Certainly Hall does a splendid job portraying Shilowich’s version of Christine Chubbuck. Hall and Letts both deliver strong performances of embellished versions of the real players who worked and interacted with Chubbuck.

By the end of the film, however, we are left shaking our head and asking just why this was all necessary.  This voyeuristic experience of watching  a sad woman taking her own life just before her 30th birthday feels wrong and more than a little sordid.

There is not attempt to delve into why Chubbuck was so ill equipped to deal with her life in front of and off the camera. Indeed, there are not any clips available to see how the real Christine fronted her stories or reported her segments.

As the film portrays her, it is surprising that the woman had a job as a television reporter at all.

Certainly the event itself, Christine’s death on-air, was huge back in 1974. The act was covered so extensively that it is wrongly credited with influencing Paddy Chayefsky who wrote the Oscar winning film Network. In the film, Peter Finch plays a character who  plans to kill himself live on air.

However,  in Dave Itzkoff’s  “Mad as Hell: The Making of Network and the Fateful Vision of the Angriest Man in Movies” published by Henry Holt and Company in 2014, it is pointed out that Chayefsky started writing the script before the incident of Chubbuck’s televised death. It is, apparently, “just an eerie coincidence.”

Stripping away the poetic license taken with the subject matter, Christine is, in essence, art imitating death. A long depressing look at an unhappy young woman who could not live up to her own expectations.

The film is a solid 3 star film which, if viewed, should be followed by a light comedy to take the bitter taste out of the viewer’s mouth. The award winning film is rated R, presumably for the its bloody conclusion.

Author: Mike's Film Talk

Former Actor, Former Writer, Former Journalist, USAF Veteran, Former Member Nevada Film Critics Society

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