The name Christine Chubbuck won’t mean much to many people. However, perhaps the story of a television journalist who committed suicide on live TV will ring a few bells. In Antonio Campos’s latest biographical feature, the events, the people and the depression that led Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) to her final moment are compellingly laid out on screen, with the actress – so often relegated to supporting roles in the past – giving the performance of a lifetime that could catapult her career to the next level.
Chubbuck is a hard-working journalist, committed to her own brand of issue-driven journalism, who struggles when her station manager (Tracy Letts) tells her she needs to bring in more sensationalist, crisis-driven stories if she wants to progress. She is ambitious and desperate to succeed, but can be difficult to work with thanks to her perfectionism and depressive tendencies, which close her off to those around her. For all that, she is not unlikeable, and Craig Shilowich’s script casts a sympathetic light on a woman who, above all, cannot sit comfortably in her own skin. The film is a character study, but not one that gives a neat explanation of what led Chubbuck to do what she did. Viewers may be left thinking, But why did she do it? Indeed, the steps that transform the protagonist from troubled woman into a notorious moment in TV history are not made explicit through dialogue, but are suggested at through Hall’s ability to physically embody opaque complexity. Campos and Shilowich do not seem to want audiences to understand Chubbuck, or to give the impression that such a thing would be possible – and it’s unsettling.
The supporting cast are strong too: Michael C Hall looks every part the 1970s American man as “Gorgeous George” the TV anchorman, and Maria Dizzia is a welcome calming reprieve as Jean, Christine’s friend and colleague. Stylistically, 1974 is superbly evoked through the colour scheme and the recreation of newsrooms as they were is done well, where film reels were spliced by hand and everything was just a little less slick than it is today.
Christine is a thoughtful piece of cinema, and Rebecca Hall’s performance is most certainly worth seeing. There are moments of humour, as Chubbuck is primarily written as a human who can’t quite work out how to be human. Where her story ends is sobering, and Campos offers no easy answers; this will frustrate some, but it’s an honest depiction, and one that will stay with you once the credits end.
Christine is released in selected cinemas on 27th January 2017.
Watch the trailer for Christine here: