Most people who have ever heard of Christine Chubbuck already know how her story ends; she’s been attributed to glimpsing into the future of television journalism with her final statement, the story turning into a morbid urban legend in the over forty years since the incident occurred. I admit, the first time I heard the story almost ten years ago, it sounded so bizarre, I almost couldn’t believe it.
Christine sets out to humanize Christine Chubbuck, and elicit empathy from an audience that might already see her as someone who is monstrous. Yet, somehow, the movie accomplishes it’s goal, giving her humanity that was lost in the headlines. Much of that credit is due to Rebecca Hall who transformed herself completely, throwing herself into the role so thoroughly that it’s almost frightening.
The first time we see Christine she is filming herself doing a mock interview, and then later on, we see Christine examining every little gesture, picking herself apart in order to remake herself into something better to gain that elusive feeling of perfection, yet no matter how many times she’s assured by Jean Reed (Maria Dizzia), the only person at WZRB that could probably be considered a friend, there’s still that look of dissatisfaction with herself etched on her face.
It’s been written that Christine Chubbuck used to give puppet shows to mentally challenged children so the screenwriter incorporated that into the film, but it’s utilized as little glimpses of what she’s thinking: ‘Be Bold, Be Brave‘ she tells them, a fairly innocuous phrase, but for the viewer who knows what’s to come later on, it has chilling connotations.
The moment that made Christine Chubbuck famous is shown in all of it’s brutal and devastating impact. The film even shows her mother watching as it all unfolds. I don’t know if Christine Chubbuck’s mother, Peg, was actually watching the day Christine did what she did, but the possibility of that actually occurring, is heartbreaking.
It’s a testament to the filmmakers that, though Christine can often come across as incredibly difficult and unlikable, the audience still has a great deal of empathy for her. Yes, she has fights with her boss about ‘blood and guts’ television, and her mother about the state of her life, but it’s carefully contrasted with moments of quiet desperation, like the sequence when the head news anchor, George (Michael C. Hall), takes her to a transactional analysis meeting where they play a game of ‘Yes, but…” and Christine slowly reveals the things that she feels make her life impossible to live.
Overall, Christine is a portrait of a woman desperately trying to make something of herself but because of a chemical imbalance, she can’t seem to sync with the people and world around her. Anchored by Rebecca Hall who gives an Oscar-worthy turn, Christine is also supported by an excellent supporting cast (Maria Dizzia and J. Smith Cameron in particular), strong direction and an incisive script. Highly recommended.