The true story of Christine Chubbuck, a local Florida news reporter, continues to be a compelling subject since not much is known about her private inner life. She only kept a diary at the age of 15, long before her sudden suicide at 29, leaving many unanswered questions for a film to explore and keep the imagination guessing as to what happened.
The main question running through Christine, the film, scene after scene, is, “Who was this woman and why did she commit such a desperate act for everyone to see?” Director Antonio Campos’s filmic version of events is a both a sombre retelling of the last days of Chubbuck’s life and a portrait of the mid-1970s, a time when the media was just on the cusp of becoming ratings-driven and sensationalist. Overall, the effect is quirky and disarming, suggesting that there’s much beneath the surface of ‘70s American society amidst all the polyester, burnt orange, and taupe-mauve-green combinations you can handle. Snippets of President Nixon’s Watergate scandal, at the height of his accountability in 1974, also create an atmosphere of unexpressed rage. A re-imagined “Christine,” expertly played by Rebecca Hall, emerges as an intensely neurotic figure, someone who is unpredictable and emotionally volatile at all times.
Her boss, played by Tracy Letts, is an authoritarian threatened by the current feminist wave and clashes head-on with Christine over her ideas to maintain a standard of ethical journalism that mirrors what Woodward and Bernstein did with Watergate. He tries to give her some realistic perspective, but it doesn’t sink in. It’s part of her charm and her downfall, ultimately. Then-fellow reporter and “friend” Jean (Maria Dizzia) tries to be in solidarity with Christine but gives in to the lure of reporting as entertainment, and betrays her. Michael C. Hall plays George, the man that may have finally sent Christine over the edge, with a mix of unrequited love and a confusing hidden agenda.
What makes the film watchable with such depressing material is the contrast between Christine and the people that surround her. Their attempts to reach out to her in a realistic way only underscore just how distorted her perspective is. It’s more than speculation that Chubbuck was under terrible strain when she died, and thankfully, Christine as a film sheds some light on what it’s like to suffer in the thick of depression and not be able to find a way out, even when others give you every reason to live.
Christine is now playing at Cinema du Parc.