“Christine” is a drama by Antonio Campos, based on the real life of Christine Chubbuck, a TV reporter in the 1970s in the US, whose troubled professional and personal life leads her to commit one of the most chilling and gruesome acts on live television. In this film, the lead character is played by Rebecca Hall (“Vicky Christina Barcelona” (2008), “The Prestige” (2006)), and her performance is rightly considered by some to be one of the best performances by a leading actress of 2016. Overall, the film presents the story of Christine powerfully and resolutely, although there is no escaping the feeling that the film is both too long and hypocritical.
“Christine” begins with the very telling opening sequence where Christine is in the TV studio imagining that she is interviewing for real, and then asking her colleagues whether she is making this or that mistake on screen. This opening sequence tells a lot about what kind of a film is to follow and introduces the audience to the character of Christine. At first, Christine comes off as a reasonably friendly, but insecure individual constantly looking for approval from others. She appears genuine and honest, and even hosts a weekly puppet show for disabled children. As the film progresses, Christine’s behaviour becomes more erratic and irrational, and with her health complications, hardships in personal relationships-making and demotions at work, it is never too hard to imagine that Christine is slowly going down the tunnel from which might never return. Christine appears very misunderstood in the film, and she is dissatisfied with how she presents herself to the public, and the way others see and perceive her. She feels undervalued and underappreciated both at home and at work. Even if the audience is prepared to dismiss Christine as unreasonable bipolar disorder sufferer, there is no denying that the events Christine goes through are harrowing. The film clearly shows Christine’s loneliness; lack of real friends and a boyfriend contributing to an unhappy personal life; unfulfilled professional aspirations; demoralising and extremely stressful work environment; an irresponsible mother; and finally, health problems with the possibility of Christine never having any children. In the face of all this, one may wonder how anyone, and not just Christine, can remain sane. The audience really sees the story from Christine’s point of view, from her arguments with her mother to her nervous breakdown in the middle of a live TV session, but one pivotal scene sequences still stands out. This is where instead of a romantic date out with a man she is half in love with, Christine gets a “betrayal” in the form of a painful therapy session, and finds out that her date, a handsome colleague from work, is going to Baltimore for good to work with her friend from work. The emotional intensity of these scenes is high, and, thus, in its portrayal of the story, the film is, indeed, dramatic and very powerful.
In sum, the whole movie is one intense and dramatic character study, and Rebecca Hall as Christine is totally mesmerising, instinctively knowing how to portray Christine very believably. It is due to Hall’s outstanding performance that the audience really gets to empathise and even sympathise with Christine and her predicament. How the Academy managed to overlook Hall’s performance in “Christine” at the Oscars 2017?
The world of the news production, that high-pressure environment could not have been presented more realistically or powerfully in this film. As the camera starts to rolls, the pressure is in the air itself, and the TV crew gets to action: chaos and pressure, the hectic lifestyle and the desire to please everyone: audiences, bosses, colleagues, friends. On top of that, Christine works for a troubled TV channel with the slogan: “if it bleeds – it leads”, because the channel needs its higher ratings; and what other way to achieve that than to show more violence and gore? In that way, the film portrays accurately that media’s blind obsession with violence, and the price it often pays for its high rating, e.g., trespasses on all the norms of humanity and morality. Here, it is important to note that Michael, Christine’s boss, played by Tracy Letts (“Indignation” (2016)) is a key figure in creating this atmosphere of pressure and demoralisation on the TV studio set, and Letts gives a very good performance.
The other great aspect of this film is the realistic presentation of a 1970s setting, including furniture, clothes and music, and the admirable use of colours in the picture, including the emphasis on their symbolic importance. The film as a whole uses subdued colours as a lens, possibly to demonstrate Christine’s serious mood and a grim future outlook, but the movie also cleverly contrasts different shades of the same colour to bring different levels of attention to different aspects of Christine’s life and environment. For example, the colour of Christine’s car is bright yellow, possibly to reflect the fact that Christine should be cautious of her own thoughts and actions, and think less about others and what they think; and Christine’s room is completed in warm, pink colours, possibly to reflect Christine’s feelings of home being a safe harbour, protecting her from the outside world.
The downsides of “Christine” are few, but they are big and unforgiving. The film is too long, running two hours, without there being any need for such a length. There are many unnecessary scenes of meaningless dialogues running, which could have been cut out, and if the film was shortened appropriately, arguably, the story would have been even more potent, because there would not have been any distractions on the way. Also, I personally was very surprised to hear that they were making another film out of Christine Chubbuck’s story. Though Christine’s suicide was publicly performed, it should still be regarded as a personal act, and the dignity of Christine must be respected even after her death. There is something intrinsically wrong about doing a movie (essentially, a vehicle for entertainment) about anyone’s suicide, no matter in what circumstances it was performed and whether or not it involved TV-related motivations. Somehow, a documentary is a more suited vehicle for such stories, because it could be argued that the main purpose of any documentary is to inform, and then to entertain. However, the film “Christine” here has committed a double sin: not only it exploited Christine and her sad story for everyone’s amusement without her relatives’ consent, but has done so in the context less than suited for such exploitation. “Christine” seems to demonstrate the greedy, ruthless pursuit of high ratings and commercial success by a TV company by showing a TV company’s relentless aim to show more blood, gore and human suffering on screen. The film seems to mock and disapprove of such behaviour, and yet the film is guilty of the same crime as that poor TV channel whose fault it so ironically showcases, because it uses Christine, her personal problems and her sorrowful demise as a bait to attract its film audience.
Overall, “Christine” is a very good, character-driven film with the amazing performance by Rebecca Hall, but the one film which should probably never have been made, because it essentially commercially exploits the same human suffering that it so painstakingly wants to contrast with, and even defend against, commercial interests in the film. 7/10