Christine Chubbuck was a woman who managed to do what no one else could – shock America. In 1974, in the midst of countless political assassinations, mass murders and serial killings, it would take a truly jarring event to shake the American public, which turned out to be a suicide on live television; “the latest in blood and guts, in living colour”. Chubbuck’s suicide has been an object of morbid curiosity since and it has finally achieved biopic status.
Christine is Antonio Campos’ retelling of Chubbuck’s final days. Chubbuck, portrayed by Rebecca Hall, deals with a looming mental breakdown, a seemingly unrequited crush on a co-worker, her mother’s new relationship and her inability to get ahead in her workplace, due to her more serious approach, sacrificing the “if it bleeds, it leads” style of reporting. The film packs in a lot of background information about Chubbuck, which holds the biopic back from being great. Christine deals with many disparate and unfocused themes, and abandons some as the story carries on. This is further aggravated by focusing too much on certain parts of her life that do not necessarily shed light on the greater scheme of things (her time volunteering with sick children being chief amongst them).
There is a lot to admire about Campos’ biopic, however. The great saviour of this film is Rebecca Hall, a woman who makes up for not looking anything like Chubbuck by giving an amazing, unforgettable performance as a woman slowly falling apart. Everything that she does seems so real: watching her go from love-struck to forlorn to furious, you never once see any artifice in her performance; she embodies Christine.
Finally, it is fair to say that the make-it-or-break-it moment in Christine is Chubbuck’s end. The original footage is lost to history – the event occurred in a pre-VCR age and the original footage is either destroyed or in the hands of TV executives. As such, the only available presentation of the footage is available in representation and Campos shows his greatest artistic flair in how he portrays the footage by showing very little artistic flair: the footage is shown realistically, with no artifice or unnecessary additions. It is an unnerving moment and absolutely makes the film.
Christine is not a perfect film, but that’s okay – Chubbuck was not a perfect person. As it stands, Christine is a good-reaching-great representation of someone whose existence is very timely: in the years since Chubbuck, several others have ended their lives on live television. Even more have ended their lives online in front of live audiences. This is a story of violence on television, but it’s also a relevant story of mental health; an issue that can be avoided until it’s literally in front of us, in our homes, in living colour.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam