Director: Antonio Campos
Cast: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia
Running time: 119 minutes
Anchored by a deftly understated, but beneath-the-surface rich performance from Rebecca Hall, Antonio Campos’ Christine is an oddly brilliant character study – masterfully incorporating waves of both heartache and comedy which distance it from perhaps a more expected austere account of depression.
Based on the true story of 1970’s Sarasota news reporter, Christine Chubbuck (Hall), Campos’ film follows the life of the 29-year old titular character as she struggles with disagreements at work, career progression, health issues, and unrequited love, before killing herself live on television.
Yes, the name Christine Chubbuck may only be synonymous for one short, tragic moment of television history; however, Christine is about so much more. In fact, where in lesser hands it would be all too tempting to completely pump every narrative string and emotional punch into that moment, Campos and screenwriter Craig Shilowich give Christine’s suicide very little attention at all; opting instead for an incisive and realistic character study of depression and alienation – it is, ironically, what the TV cameras do not see that makes the film so compelling. The irony of Campos’ film also extends to the portrayal of Christine herself; she is a reporter of human interest stories, yet the most interesting (and devastating) of these is her own life – the one she is so unable to tell. Instead, she buries her true worries over health, her romantic feelings towards fellow reporter George (Michael C. Hall), and overwhelming sadness beneath commitments to a job – progression in which she feels will be the cure for all her woes.
Despite her obvious dedication and talent in such a role (at one point in the film, the station manager states explicitly that Christine is the smartest of them all), her efforts always appear to fall short. And in this sense, the film adds a further layer of poignancy, given its 1970’s setting, by repeatedly touching on the idea that while she may tick all the boxes on paper, she might, just might be the wrong gender. But, crucially, Campos refuses to let this contextual commentary engulf the piece entirely, never steering us far from Christine’s own social incapability and gradual descent into her own dysfunctional psyche. Ultimately, everything harks back to Christine and Hall’s magnificent realisation of Sholiwich’s patient and understated character progression – or in this case, regression.
And perhaps unexpectedly, expertly pitched humour claws its way through the tough subject matter exterior in this excellently told narrative. From recurring (and increasingly poignant) puppet shows, down to a single salad fork stab, the laughs are also a means of tapping into Christine’s unfaltering ability to misjudge social situations; creating a simultaneous character blend of awkward likeability and frustrating, and saddening alienation. For all her outspoken rants, Christine is insecure; and for all her willingness to achieve, she simply can’t shake her overly sensitive nature. And Hall encapsulates this almost effortlessly in what is undoubtedly her best performance yet – every fragile stance and stare is captured with the measured astuteness of the very best real-life character depictions of recent times.
The supporting players are also on fine form here, most notably the trio of Michael C. Hall, Maria Dizzia, and Tracy Letts as charming anchor-man; sympathetic understudy; and fiery, but ultimately caring station manager, respectively. But, as the film’s title might suggest, this is only ever about one woman, and one woman alone.
Despite the fate of our titular protagonist being public knowledge, when the infamous scene arrives, it is not any less shocking or devastating when we hear the haunting words uttered: “In keeping with the WZRB policy of presenting the most immediate and complete reports of local blood and guts, TV 30 presents what is believed to be a television first. In living colour, exclusive coverage of an attempted suicide.” It is testament then to Campos, Sholiwich, and the cast that an event known to so many already never finds the need to be overegged yet retains its emotional sucker punch.
Thoughtfully – and for many somewhat unexpectedly – constructed, Christine is an intriguing excavation into depression and the cruel hand life can so often deal us. Shocking, funny and powerful, Campos’ film is a peculiar blend that just seems to work.