I once worked in local television news and sports broadcasting. After a few years I came to recognize that I did not have near the, to quote the great George Carlin, “Dig Me” show biz mentality to stay with it for long. Most of the other folks who toiled along side me during that time certainly did. However, none of them to near the desperate extent of the tormented soul revealed in “Christine”. At least not to my knowledge, that is. After all, who among us can know what goes on when one is alone? In “Christine” we see this troubled woman, the late TV reporter Christine Chubbuck, alone in her tortured world a lot. And it is far from a pleasant place either to be or to behold.
Rebecca Hall (“The Gift”, “Iron Man 3”) is searing as Chubbuck, whose fate I won’t reveal if you are not already familiar with the shocking circumstances of her story from the 1970’s. Hall’s piercingly unsettling portrayal of a young woman in the throes of mental illness is bound to linger with you awhile. It certainly has with me. Chubbuck is relentlessly single-minded in her tenacious drive to move on and up to a top rated market. She is talented and quite often personable. She actually hatches the strikingly progressive idea of a kind of “reality television”, although she is incapable of effectively articulating such. Chubbuck suggests to her irascible News Director (Tracy Letts of Amazon Video’s “Divorce”) that she chronicle the lives of ordinary people and present these stories to the struggling station’s limited viewing audience in an effort to boost paltry ratings. But this notion, along with practically everything else she proposes, is derailed before it can get on track as a result of Chubbuck’s almost complete (and painfully oblivious) lack of social skills or an internal filter, thus stifling any real hope of advancing her career.
Hall’s performance is at once touching, harrowing and heartbreaking. In a hauntingly memorable manifestation of the mousy, vacant-eyed Chubbuck, the gifted actress gives us a woman who is fully aware that she has an insidious sickness (“one of her moods” as her roommate mother chooses to classify it), yet she does little to address it, choosing to ignore her troubling symptoms, behaving as if they will simply go away and never return. At one point we see her refusing a doctor’s suggestion of a mood stabilizing med of the moment, claiming that she doesn’t like the way these psyche drugs make her feel. And with each of these self-destructive choices, Chubbuck doesn’t give herself even the most remote chance of standing strong against her merciless disease.
Director Antonio Campos and Cinematographer Joe Anderson mesh their respective crafts together magnificently in creating an authentic mid-’70’s sensation with “Christine”. I came of age in this decade of the “Smiley Face” and Polyester, and you may need to have at least a somewhat clear recollection of the period to fully appreciate what I’m referring to with this observation. Still, if you’re not hip to what was happenin’ back when we all earnestly encouraged each other to “Have a nice day”, be mindful of this film’s tone, as reflected in both the sensibility of the culture and by way of the muted and yellow hues reminiscent of the faded pages of a well-worn book. Do this, and you will be transported right smack dab into the middle of the pervasive vibe and attitude that was uniquely indicative of this bygone, bawdy and boisterous era.
There is a prominent and enduring message I came away with after having watched “Christine”. The American healthcare community has introduced remarkable advancements in the detection and treatment of human mental and emotional deterioration over the past forty years since this film was set. Recognition by someone, anyone, who knows an individual suffering with these too often times potentially tragic issues must be proactive in helping them access professional help in battling a burden for which they are not responsible and over which they have no control without dedicated support. Somebody has got to genuinely care.
Had that somebody been there with persistence for Christine Chubbuck, chances are more than reasonable that she would not have become merely a macabre footnote in our history as a country.