Christine is a based-on-a-true-story narrative film about the final weeks in the life of Christine Chubbuck, a Sarasota, Florida, news anchor who famously committed suicide on-air in 1974. Christine is played by a steely-eyed, emotionally-distant Rebecca Hall. Hall is the best thing about the film, as she needs to be, because the narrative centers almost entirely on her. Chubbuck is by turns stoic and volatile. Hall makes her relatable and inscrutable all at once.
The rest of the film is less compelling. Whether these struggles were true to Chubbck’s life or not, Christine tries to cram as many 2016-present-day concerns into its narrative as possible. Christine is deviled by being marginalized as a woman in the workplace, the sensationalization of the news, a self-centered mother, an inability to have children, loneliness, being jilted by a would-be lover, her own high morals, and more. Any of these foci would have made for a strong thematic core for Christine. All of them together are distracting.
It has to be difficult to fictionalize the real life of a person. Anyone is more complicated than a film of any length can capsulize. It has to be even more difficult when that person’s life ended as tragically as did Christine Chubbuck’s. The need to treat her respectfully and provide all explanations for her very public suicide weighs the film down. In situations like this, it often works better when filmmakers forego trying to depict the whole of the person and instead part of what that person’s life meant to people then and today. And it works best when filmmakers focus on one particular contemporary resonance.
The character Christine in the film is motivated by two desires. One, her reporting is guided by a moral center, She doesn’t want to sensationalize and dumb-down the news. She wants to do quality reporting about things that impact her viewers lives. Her editor demands “juicy” stories to boost ratings. Second, she is ambitious and hopes to move on to a bigger market in a bigger city, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to make that happen.
The film is unaware that these two drives are in essential conflict with each other. In one scene, Christine is doggedly moral. In the next, she’s bending rules and going behind people’s back to get what she wants. This makes the film feel as manic as she’s acting. Granted, this is a woman who committed suicide on live television. She was clearly mentally and emotionally unstable, so this shifting morality makes sense historically. Narratively though, it’s very confusing.
In the end, Christine is either a martyr or a fool. Take your pick. The film seems to think she’s the former, but there’s enough in the film to suggest the latter as well.