Sundance 2016 | Rebecca Hall Achieves Perfection as ‘Christine’
One can only imagine what it must have been like to watch the news in Sarasota, FL on July 14, 1974, when reporter Christine Chubbuck sat at a desk and said the following words: “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts,’ and in living color, you are going to see another first: attempted suicide.” Chubbuck pulled a gun out from under her desk and shot herself in the head on live television. It is one of the most shocking events ever witnessed in the history of the medium.
But while some no doubt remember where they were the day they saw her (sadly, successful) suicide attempt, filmmaker Antonio Campos is more concerned with what Christine Chubbuck was going through in the days leading up to the tragedy. In Christine, he chronicles Chubbuck’s life in intimate detail, and invites us to sit and watch in powerless sympathy as loneliness, paranoia, health issues and stifled ambitions whittle away at her mind.
Rebecca Hall completely disappears into Chubbuck, giving a devastating performance that captures, incredibly, the many layers of a woman whose confidence was at least partly a façade. We watch Christine power her way through a floundering workplace, one that was anxious for ratings, and disinterested in the inspirational human interest pieces she was actively trying to produce. It is here that she stands up for herself, eager to appear strong, talking back to her boss and rebuking the attempts of her co-workers to engage with her socially. At home, where she lives with her mother Peg (J. Smith Cameron), she can express her vulnerability but mostly through pained, frustrating confrontations.
Craig Shilowich’s nuanced screenplay conveys a very complicated set of circumstances, which make Christine Chubbuck feel isolated in a social network that consistently invites her. She pines for the anchorman at her network, George Ryan (Michael C. Hall), but doesn’t trust his advances when he shows interest. Her cameraperson Jean Reed (Maria Dizzia) detects her unraveling and reaches out, but Christine can’t resist her need to demonstrate resolve, for fear of admitting frailty.
In the film’s most heartbreaking moment (no small feat), we see Christine Chubbuck engage in an exercise designed to break down the illogic of negative thinking. And we see her hopefulness gradually fade away as she becomes convinced that logic is actually on her side, and that the tragedy she thinks her life has become isn’t a mere delusion, but instead an accurate observation of her circumstances.
To watch Christine is to feel horror. Antonio Campos brings us dangerously close to Chubbuck’s point of view, so that we can better understand the nature of her tragedy and, hopefully, recognize the traps we each set for ourselves. Christine presents as a self-fulfilled prophecy, and in doing so it inspires a profound empathy for its protagonist that few motion pictures ever come close to (and fewer still find). We are frightened for Christine Chubbuck, and we are frightened for ourselves because we know how close we all can come to losing ourselves in despair.
Christine concludes quite perfectly, in a moment that finds sadness and hope interlocked for a moment, and possibly going on forever. Before that we are given an uncomfortable but important look at the inner world of a woman whose life had more meaning than she realized, and whose death should matter to us all. Rebecca Hall deserves to be lauded for the painful work she has done to bring Christine Chubbuck back to life, and Antonio Campos is to be thanked for his sensitivity to her distressing plight.
Top Photo Courtesy of Sundance Institute
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.
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