Christine (2016)

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I am someone who relishes his knowledge of controversial events in twentieth century history, and one event that many have heard of, but one that remains shrouded in mystery, is the story of Christine Chubbuck. Her story is one of the most intriguing but elusively mysterious stories, and while it isn’t entirely mysterious in the sense that we aren’t aware what happened, it is an incident that continues to exist as an idea rather than as something with an actual presence – until now, when the beautiful and complex independent drama Christine, about Chubbuck, brought her heartbreaking story to the big screen.

For those that are not aware of Chubbuck, she was a news reporter and journalist in Florida in the early 1970s. She was a woman who had an insatiable need to be noticed, and she finally was, because on July 15th 1974, Chubbuck, reporting from the news desk, boldly stated “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in ‘blood and guts’, and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide”, and subsequently produced a revolver out of her handbag and shot herself in the head, committing suicide on live television. The reasons for her doing so have not been popularly discussed, which is why Christine was such an important film – it took a look inside the life of the titular character and tried to display that she was far more than a news piece, but rather someone who had reason to take her own life. This film explores the life of Christine Chubbuck, not as a piece of trivia, but as a human being.

A few days ago, I read an article on Vice, where they explored the lives of individuals that had become known only as viral internet memes, and how they have dealt with the pressure of being known for only one minuscule aspect of their lives. It was a shocking and very sad read, mainly because the lives of individuals have been trivialized into something small, that they will be remembered for forever, and their lives before and after are not really relevant to anyone other than those few who actually seek it out of interest. The story of Christine Chubbuck, while it took place in a pre-Internet age, can be considered an example of a precursor to virality. Yet, as tragic as the story is, I feel like Chubbuck achieved what she wanted to achieve – to be noticed. It is one of the most unsettling stories in media history, and honestly, it was something that needed to be told somehow, not for the infamous event, but so that the world could get a glimpse into the world of of Chubbuck. This is why I consider Christine a truly exceptional film – it takes a very difficult subject matter and creates something sensitive but fascinating, and it is successful at giving Chubbuck’s story the respect it deserves.

Almost all of that success lies in the lead actress who takes on the role of Chubbuck. Rebecca Hall was the person who was chosen to bring this story to life, and stepping into the shoes of Chubbuck could not have been particularly easy, but I’ll be damned if Hall didn’t give one of the most extraordinary performances I’ve seen in years. Everything about her in this film is utterly amazing – the way she carries herself, her small gestures, the way she uses her voice to convey more emotion that I thought was possible – it all contributes to the fact that Hall is utterly and undeniably incredible in this film. She doesn’t only give career-best work – she gives one of the greatest performances of the current century. This may seem like a hyperbole, but I swear that anyone who has seen this performance can’t disagree. Hall is simply extraordinary. It feels like this struggle is her struggle as well, and she lets the character envelope her completely – a great barometer of how a performance is successful is if us, as the viewer, struggle to see where the performer ends and the character begins. I dare anyone to watch Christine and not marvel at the true wonder that is Rebecca Hall’s performance here. It is certainly something for the ages and I am sure this will be seen as a masterclass in acting in the future.

The terms “supporting” can sometimes just refer to performances that don’t have a role as big as the lead performances, or simply just another character in the story. Yet in Christine, the true definition of that word comes out – the film is constructed with performances that are there to truly support and guide the lead performance, and director Antonio Campos certainly found it here with his very talented supporting cast. First of all, Michael C. Hall proves that he is much more than just Dexter Morgan, here playing George Ryan, the charismatic news anchor that is also the subject of Chubbuck’s infatuation. He may not appear to be very deep on the outset, but we get glimpses into a truly fascinating character, and Hall is a wonderfully talented actor and I hope that he successfully transitions into making films, because he is a singular talent that deserves to shine. Tracy Letts is such a reliable performer, and in Christine, he gets one of his most interesting roles yet. He has made a cinematic career out of playing grouchy authority figures, but in Christine he is able to really dip deep, and playing the film’s most important supporting character, he is complex and interesting and has a sub-plot that isn’t overtly stated, but clear through the nuances in Letts’ performance.

Maria Dizzia is such an interesting actress – she is unfamiliar to many, but she’s actually made quite a splash, albeit in smaller films. Perhaps she is best known for her performances in Louie and Orange is the New Black, but Dizzia has been a reliable character actress in independent film, and in Christine, she plays Jean, the loyal but ambitious friend to the titular character. She imbues her performance with such sweetness and tender sadness, and the final moments of this film are punctuated with Dizzia’s masterful performance. J. Smith Cameron is also quite an underrated actress, and while her performance in Christine pales in comparison to her incredible work in Margaret, it is certainly a great performance from a remarkably reliable character actress. The entire supporting cast of Christine is remarkable and deeply committed to bringing this very sad story to life.

Christine is such an original film in the way it tackles its subject matter, but also wears its cinematic influences on its sleeve. Most of all, it reminds me quite a bit of Network that was released forty years prior to Christine. It isn’t any surprise that the main plot of Network was inspired on the story of Chubbuck. Many of the same conventions that made Network (and similar thrillers in the 1970s) so successful were brought into play here. Campos clearly knew what he was doing, and through some deliberate staging, unique cinematography and production design, it is a well-needed touch of nostalgia to films of past eras, and also to the period itself. Its a beautifully made film, and proves that independent cinema is capable of far more than one would expect.

I need to just veer away from talking about the film for a moment – it may seem strange, but there is something in this film that made me want to just be honest and frank – Christine is a film about mental illness, and the main character is a tragic figure. She isn’t only a piece of historical trivia, she is far more than that. She was a real woman with real struggles. Christine, if anything, displays that everyone has their own battles that they fight, and that it is up to all of us to try and show empathy for those that need help. Mental health is a serious issue, and while it may seem alluring to just think of Chubbuck as a woman known for committing suicide on live television, she was much more than that – she had her struggle, and was one of many, many people who felt like they did not belong in this world. Honestly, I don’t have anything to comment on this film here, and can only offer this solid request – if you need help, seek it out. No one is alone, and there is always someone willing to help. Speak to someone, get the help you need. It may seem strange to insert this public service announcement here, but it is an issue very important to me, and it appears to be equally important to those that made the film, because how else would they accomplish something so beautifully heartbreaking and utterly tragic if they didn’t truly care about this issue?

All in all, Christine is a fantastic film. Rebecca Hall is beyond incredible and I will be surprised if this film doesn’t end up taking her career to the next level. The supporting cast is amazing as well, and the film itself is a reminder of the importance of supporting independent cinema. This is a beautiful and very sad film that I believe everyone needs to see – it is a sensitive but honest depiction of a struggle many go through, and it tells the story of all those who were in the same position of being lonely and depressed with such accuracy and precision. It is an utterly astounding film and I believe it is one of the most important films made, if not for the subject matter, for the themes it represents.

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