Hide   Volume
The Communicator NEWS & POLITICS

The Reel Alternative: Rebecca Hall Stuns in Real-life, Shocking Tale


Photo credit: The Communicator Archives

Written by: Zachary D. ElickDecember 07, 2016

Quality reviews focused on alternative films shown at Fort Wayne’s Cinema Center. A column by Zachary D. Elick.

Chronicling the real-life story of Christine Chubbuck, a Florida newscaster infamous for her 1974 on-air suicide, “Christine” is the rare movie that can be difficult to watch, but soon after leaving the theater you want to see it again.

Instead of simply doing a character study of Chubbuck, who obviously suffered from some sort of mental illness, the filmmakers behind “Christine” present a complicated world full of realistic details and fully-fleshed out characters.

Rebecca Hall leads the cast with an amazing performance, communicating the titular character’s nervy, tightly-wound energy largely through body language, including facial tics and a slouched posture. Michael C. Hall also shines as George, the ditzy, but well-meaning, lead anchor of the Sarasota, Fl. news station at which Chubbuck works.

Covering the final few days before her death, “Christine” portrays Chubbuck as an ambitious, socially awkward and highly-intelligent woman trying to make it big in the world of  broadcast journalism. She loves what she does, and appears to be very talented, however Chubbuck is increasingly frustrated by her boss’s (Tracy Letts) desire to sensationalize the station’s news coverage. He brings up the famous trope “If it bleeds, it leads,” at a meeting to emphasize to his staff how the station should be giving the viewers what they want: violence, and other dark facets of humanity.

Having a bit too much integrity for her own good, Chubbuck balks at this direction of the news station. Though, since making her boss happy will improve her chances of being moved to a larger market, she vainly attempts to adapt her style. When these attempts do not succeed, Chubbuck, who barely seemed to be keeping things together previously, starts to spiral out of control, lashing out at her boss, her co-workers and her loving, hippie mother.

To make matters worse, Chubbuck’s unrequited crush on George is not panning out very well.

The wonderfully restrained screenplay, by Craig Shilowich, wisely never tries to diagnose exactly what is “wrong” with Chubbuck.  It simply outlines a character suffering from extreme forms of universally human problems, such as having difficulty making meaningful connections with other people or dealing with failure. This makes her a relatable and sympathetic character, while not shying away too much from the harsh realities of what she likely went through.

Director Antonio Campos,, uses close-up shots and off-kilter angles in order to help make Chubbuck look uncomfortable, trapped by the mechanisms of everyday life.

And the external conflicts in Chubbuck’s life — her very prescient fights with her boss about journalism, her challenges being a woman in a male-dominated industry — provide the story with depth but never take over the narrative. There is no wagging of the finger or blame to go around. Despite a few examples of some troubling attitudes toward gender (it was the 70s, after all), no one is villainized or blamed for failing to prevent Chubbuck’s tragic end.

In fact, not since “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994) can I think of a movie that treats such dark subject matter with so much warmth. In “Christine,” you are let into the lives of Chubbuck and the other characters, in a manner that does not encourage one to judge them or even analyze them too much. It is an odd, but wonderful trick, the film pulls off — telling a non-exploitive tale about an event that was meant to be extremely shocking.