During a live television broadcast on the morning of July 15, 1974, Christine Chubbuck, a 29-year-old television news reporter from Florida committed suicide on-air. Before drawing her hidden revolver and shooting herself behind the right ear, she proclaimed to the camera that “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts,’ and in living colour, you are going to see another first — attempted suicide.” To this day, the surviving recordings of this moment are not available to the public.
Director Antonio Campos tackles the little-known story in his 2016 biographical drama Christine as a close character study. As a viewer (who either watched the trailer or read about it beforehand) you know where the journey is headed, but the film escapes the trappings of the dour and grim death march that might have been the easiest way to present the story or the angle of purity and integrity in journalism that Chubbuck’s final message and influence might suggest. Through the writing and the performance of Rebecca Hall as Christine, we are given a portrait of someone battling with depression and mental illness who struggles to connect with those around her. Christine is lonely and detached. Although she lives with her mother, their relationship is marred by fighting and paranoia caused by Christine’s “moods” (a breakdown is alluded to have brought her down to Florida from a previous life in Boston). Her colleagues at the station are encouraging of her vision but she can’t help but put up walls.
Christine is committed to her vision of journalism and what she sees as a mandate for human interest and local think pieces; early on she has a fight with her producer over the merit of “if it bleeds it leads.” Yet while she is undeniably intelligent, witty, and driven, she is also awkward, tense, and paranoid. It comes across during segments with guests, in her delivery and eyes. There is depth to the character of Christine, we begin to question the validity of her moral crusade and her talent as her judgement begins to waver. There is an entrancing quiet desperation in Christine, we see it on her physically in the tense manner she holds herself, or in how the whispers and glances of others seem to affect her. She has the energy of a coiled spring or a live grenade.
However, while Rebecca Hall is fantastic, some of the supporting cast are either forgettable or playing below my expectations of their ability (Michael C. Hall as George). The film’s pacing is also slightly off, and there are quite a few moments in the last third during which I hoped we could get to the point a little bit sooner. At around a two-hour runtime, at least 15 to 20 minutes could have been shaved off in favour of a tighter story and better use of Rebecca Hall’s performance.