I recently had the pleasure of finally catching what was probably one of my most anticipated films of last year (thanks Netflix), the on screen version of one of the most fascinating cases of garish television in the modern age; the live suicide of Florida reporter Christine Chubbuck. Such a tragic event seemed destined for cinematic adaptation, and 2016 saw it come to fruition with Rebecca Hall playing the lead. But does the film serve to sensationalise the tragedy or to present it thoughtfully through a cinematic lens?
In terms of story, Christine chronicles the short period of time leading up to Chubbuck’s death and the multiple possible motives for such an act. It serves as a character study of a woman very subtly nearing and eventually falling over the edge, and despite instances of sharp comedy, it is overall a very somber film, largely because of Rebecca Hall’s excellent performance. I’m not the biggest fan of her as an actress but she just knocks it out of the park here in a role that doesn’t call for grand displays of emotion but for quiet intensity. There’s just something so powerfully captivating in how her stare captures the meticulous thought processes of a women who’s life and mind is spiralling into chaos strikes a viewer; it is both uncomfortably eerie and devastingly heart wrenching all at once.
Standing on the shoulder’s of Hall phenomenal performance are solid turns by the rest of the cast, with Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia and J. Smith-Cameron all playing their secondary roles excellently, Letts and Dizzia inparticular, but in the grand context of the source material, they are essentially doomed to background status. While they contribute to the overall quality of the film, director Antonio Campos wisely cements his focus on the mechanations of Chubbuck’s delicately fragile, and Christine is at its most compelling when we are entirely focused on our main character.
As a sort of biopic, the film also wisely chooses to never single out a specific factor for why Chubbuck did what she did. On top of that, it also accomplishes the difficult task of not sensationalising the tragedy; everything from the appropriately drab cinematography to the minimalistic, almost-but-not-quite twee score reeks of a sort of cinematic professionalism. Chubbuck’s goal of humanising the news in a world of graphic vulgarity and regrettable apathy rings true in terms of the message this film is trying to convey, and through this execution comes forth the best form of true life put to fiction; capturing the essence of the subject while seamlessly crafting a moral centre and message.
The era we live in is perhaps the perfect time to release this sort of film, especially considering the internet’s fascination with finding the footage of Chubbuck’s death. The harsh reality is that news today is entirely in line with its depiction in Christine; grim, unflinching, intentionally provocative of sadness, anger, fear. Even in the context of the tragedy itself it almost seems too lurid to be considered anything other than fiction. As much as it unnerves us, we think of these things as merely trivial events that are often so far removed from us that our humanity fails to recognise the full extent of their effects. Christine works as well as it does because at its core there is a real degree of humanity. For me, someone who was born 20 years after the event, this film, particularly Rebecca Hall’s performance, grounds it all in an awkward, stilted, uncomfortable and tragic reality, and in terms of impact, the final 10 minutes will probably stay with me for a long time.
I don’t like really doing ratings, but if I had to it would probably be a 9 out of 10