And the Best Actress goes to…Rebecca Hall
Her incredible performance anchors “Christine”
One of the most difficult tasks a culture writer takes on is those end-of-the year lists. Dealing with biased fans of particular film is never easy, nor is getting 1–10 just the way a writer wants. In this day and age, however, seeing every film or television show provides the most difficulty. There is too much content and so little time.
Sadly, around this time of the year, films not heralded as award contenders are pushed aside. Small releases or box office bombs are forgotten for the shiny glitz and glamour of the Oscar or Golden Globe. Normally, in the massive pile of the forgotten, there is a diamond waiting to be found. It just takes a year or two for anyone to notice.
At the beginning of 2016, Christine made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival. In October, the film was released in the United States. Met with overwhelming positive reviews, the film seemed a sure hit. That wasn’t the case. The film made a bit more than $300,000 at the box office — not the kind of money a critically acclaimed film earns. (This was due to very poor marketing, which is a bummer. Though, not my expertise.)
Directed by Antonio Campos, the film stars Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts and Maria Dizzia. In Florida, during the 1970s, Christine Chubbuck worked at a local news station. She was a television journalist, determined to tell the great stories of her community. Her hardworking demeanor and seriousness toward her job come on top of having a poor relationship with her mother and poor social cues — aside from her job. When life becomes too unbearable, Chubbuck commits suicide on live television. Though her story is tragic and heart-wrenching, Christine is powerful. No matter the setting, depression is a personal battle. It’s effects on a singular person and their community can be devastating. Understanding the point of views of others is vital to a healthy world.
The reason to see this film is because of Rebecca Hall’s performance. It’s easy to say she should be up for more awards, but this film was dead and buried on arrival. There was no chance of her winning any big awards. Sigh. Hall is Oscar-worthy sensational as Christine Chubbuck. She delivers by unforgettably showing the incredible emotional war going inside Chubbuck’s head. Chubbuck wants to be the best at her job; she wants to succeed as a journalist; she wants one meaningful friendship; she wants a loving relationship with her mother; she wants to go on a date. All of these situations rage inside her head, flashing out superbly by Hall, who doesn’t oversell Chubbuck’s internal fight. We sympathize and root for Chubbuck, even though her stubbornness is a problem at her job and at home. She sees things only her way, not understanding the views of others.
It’s impossible to divert your eyes elsewhere with Hall on screen. She commands attention, though most of it is coming from the audience and not her peers. Her relationship with her mother is the most difficult of the people she deals with in the film. We spend a lot of time with the two squabbling over issues we never see and a past we don’t know. Though wonderfully acted, the information being told doesn’t help us. We know of her social tendencies and giving us nameless backstory is wasted time. However, the scenes tell us Chubbuck’s home — as her mother lives with her — is no safe haven.
The film is difficult, for obvious reasons, but the most difficult aspect is watching Chubbuck’s will to create solid products and her work being looked down on. Her station manager uses the old journalism adage “if it bleeds, it leads”, so Chubbuck buys a police radio and listens for stories. She’s committed to doing the work, but takes the job too seriously. On one occasion, she films the aftermath of a local fire. Instead of filming the wreckage, she gets a closeup of a, hardly, burnt face. Her intentions are great; the execution falls short. When presented the footage, the station manager erupts. Chubbuck takes it personally. We know Chubbuck’s mental state tears herself apart internally, but the event begs the question: should bosses be more aware of their employees mental state? The answer is obvious. Instances like that follow, sending Chubbuck spiraling down. The film suggests her co-workers and bosses sense something is wrong, but elect to stay quiet. Chubbuck’s death is horrific; her peers’ silence is mortifying.
The footage of Christine Chubbuck only aired once — when it happened live. Never has it been copied or sold. Nor will or should it be in the future. However, stories like Chubbuck’s need to survive. Dealing with personal struggles — no matter how small or large — is an important fact of life. Ignoring these conditions exist or have the effect they do is wrong; Christine allows the viewer to really understand why. Rebecca Hall is at her best as Christine Chubbuck. The film, and its message, will stick with you for a very long time.