Christine (2016)

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This overlooked twisted nerve of a film is a very real and emotionally felt, rich examination of a soul on the edge. Directed by Antonio Campos and based on the tragic true story of Christine Chubbuck, a small-time news reporter who is both battling with the changing tides of news journalism as well as her own mental health. Based in Sarasota Florida the station in which Chubbuck works is intensely local, with most of their news being targeted towards those who still believe the news to be informative and truthful. However ratings are plummeting and Mike, the station manager is looking for juicier stories. Chubbuck as a figure in the film is a sweetly natured and well-meaning soul, she doesn’t drink; sings along to john Denver in the car and lives a life devoted to telling stories from real life for real people. As the film progresses it becomes clearer and clearer she is not really cut out for this world, even if it is local, blood and guts journalism is the call of the day.

Due to the real life tragedy that the film is based on this film has to tackle an incredibly complex and largely unknown figure in a respectful and unsensational way. Campos is clearly acutely aware of this and has taken real care in his recreation of the world that Chubbuck inhabited with period detail being very pointedly accurate. The frame is tinted with that signature 70s beige glow that we have come to expect of stories from the period. This is only accentuated by the brownness of the décor of most of the film as the fashions and set design of the station all conjure up the world of 70s Sarasota perfectly. Campos does not want to make a caricature and just feed scepticism however he does want to link this with the media of the time in a very tangible way. The story itself is something straight out of the hyperbole of Sidney Lumet and Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant bullhorn of the rise of news hysteria, Network. However unlike Network this isn’t a parable to warn us of the coming debasement of news, this is coming from a modern voice where this has already happened. Christine is also aware of this and this is her struggle that sends her into a bottomless pit that eventually will swallow her.

Rebecca Hall is a revelation and at points is a sympathetic and sweet natured figure of amusement, the film is funny and goofy in the first act. Christine is weird and off kilter but mostly harmless, it is once you are lulled into this fairly light beginning to the film when the second act starts and we see the real heart and goal of the film, to show depression in its clearest form. It’s not as if Christine is happy and then not, we just see hints at first. Her invitation of a happy couple to be on the TV in an awkward encounter after being stood up by her divorcee mother, this then creates a tension between her and her mother and soon we start to find Christine spiralling. Hall gives the character a sympathetic edge that makes her misfortune all the more heart wrenching. Depression is a beast that Christine isn’t able to fight and we as the audience have to sit by and see how easy it becomes to overlook by others. The stations employees might notice things going wrong but Christine avoids their attentions, Hall physically retreating into herself as they invite her to go out with them or do other things apart from chase stories to get on air. Michael C Hall tries at one point to help her in a sequence that sticks in the mind as one of the most tragic moments of storytelling I have seen in modern cinema.

Campos in Christine offers a truly honest portrayal of a soul on the edge with Rebecca Hall as the beautifully misguided and lost Christine, a figure who may be lost to myth and legend but made truly real through a criminally overlooked performance. I can’t kid and say that this is an easy watch but I really do feel it is a must watch especially for people wanting to understand and see into what depression is and how it can be stopped. Not every story with those in Christine’s position ends like hers did but it is essential we can learn from her story and do what her co-workers were unable to.

-Ed

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Christine (2016)