2016. Directed by Antonio Campos.
Giving the viewer a front row seat to mental devastation , Christine is a claustrophobic character study that chronicles the last days in the life of Christine Chubbuck, a TV reporter who ultimately lost her struggle with depression, and committed suicide on live television. Featuring one of the most profound performances by an actress this decade, Christine approaches its subject matter in a scholarly manner, observing the events from arm’s length and allowing the viewer to form their own conclusions.
Christine is the lead field reporter for a local news station in Sarasota, Florida, having recently relocated with her mother after a serious bout with depression. She spends her spare time fantasizing about landing a more reputable job, interviewing politicians and celebrities, while pining for a handsome coworker. The arrival of the station’s owner puts the crew under duress as rumors swirl about promotions and firings, with the station manager pressuring Christine to find more provocative stories to cover, going against her ideal that the joy of the human condition is paramount when it comes to the press. Christine’s mother begins seeing a man, sparking resentment from Christine who is yet to experience intimacy. As Christine’s depression returns, her sanity begins to succumb to attrition, culminating in one of the most shocking incidents in the history of live television.
Rebecca Hall’s portrayal of Christine is terrifying in its organic presentation. Watching her Christine go step by step through her psyche’s utter destruction is a harrowing experience, akin to Polanski’s Repulsion, but without the visual hallucinations, a telling omission that is a direct result of Hall’s undeniable power of communication. She remains on screen for the duration of the film, thus trapping the viewer inside Christine’s mental nightmare along side her and it never relents nor does it become tiresome. Christine is not the type of character that you root for, but she is awkwardly mysterious, stubbornly complex, and completely exposed.The amount of research Hall did in preparation for the role is evident in the details of Christine’s tragic existence. Her retreat from big city living to a false paradise, coupled with her obsession over mundane details are representative of the silent horror that many people endure on a daily basis. As Christine passes the point of no return, the viewer is left in an odd place, empathizing with the need for Christine’s pain to end and yet puzzled by her decision. The film’s refusal to add commentary is yet another gesture of the immense trust it places in Hall’s capable hands.
Joe Anderson’s cinematography captures the 1970’s backroom reporting vibe adequately, featuring smoky backdrops and close ups on the rudimentary camera equipment that would eventually capture the act. Craig Shilowich’s script relies heavily on Hall’s prowess, but manages to inject not only a sense of nostalgia, but a hint of the new age psychedelic mysticism that was prevalent during the time period, enhancing the atmosphere with free love antics. The dynamics between the crew are vintage representations of drug culture and sexual politics, but are easily eclipsed by Hall’s dangerous elephant in the room at all times. This is Christine’s story, and every other aspect takes a backseat.
In theaters now, Christine is a fascinating film about a woman’s decision to end her life live and in color. Hall will garner awards for her memorable and scary portrayal of a woman who has lost her way and cannot, despite everything, find her way back. A cold, academic analysis of a mental breakdown, Christine is disturbing in its casual attitude, presenting the events without opinion, reminding the audience that there is a Christine on every street, in every office, and in every classroom. If you’re interested in a sterile biopic that focuses entirely on its central character, Christine is an excellent psychological exploration of the perils of untreated mental distress.