When reporter Christine Chubbuck shot herself during a live broadcast on July 15, 1974 it was to make a point, a gruesome and horrifying statement. Television news had lost its way and became too obsessed with providing sensationalism rather than the truth. Her deadly action was meant to be a wake-up call to society; a plea to not allow ourselves to be sidetracked by the showy presentations and to focus on the things that truly impacted us as people.
Sadly, if the news coverage of recent events, including the American presidential election, are any indication, society is still fast asleep. Even Chubbuck herself has, in death, become an example of that which she rallied against. One quick entry of her name in any search engine and one will find plenty of chatter from those seeking the video footage of the horrific events. Her identity is now so intertwined with the tragedy that her life before the incident has become an afterthought.
Director Antonio Campos’ film Christine aims to turn the attention back to Chubbuck the person. The film is a meditation on the inner turmoil that Chubbuck (played by Rebecca Hall) wrestled with all the way up to that fateful day in July. Struggling to get ahead in the world of journalism, Chubbuck frequently found herself at odds with her stations’ new “if it bleeds, it leads directive.” Furthermore, she had to deal with the underlying sexism that afforded individuals, like new age minded news anchor George Peter Ryan (Michael C. Hall), opportunities that she was routinely denied.
The constant conflict between Chubbuck’s professional ambitions and the expectations that society placed on her gender weighed heavily on the young reporter’s mind. Unlike her field reporting segments or one-on-one interviews, which Chubbuck scrutinized repeatedly, she could never figure out how to tweak or re-edit her own reality. She was singularly focused on her goals, including waiting for the man of her dreams to finally take notice of her. Conforming to social norms was never one of her strong points, which made her struggles even that more fascinating.
Though Campos’ film brings a sense of sympathy to its troubled protagonists, it is Rebecca Hall’s performance that is a marvel to behold. Her subtle gestures, which routinely betray the aura of strength Chubbuck thinks she is portraying to others, show the cracks in her foundation. Hall makes the viewers just as uncomfortable as those at home must have been when that tragic broadcast originally aired. Her performance taps into, and makes us aware of, our own fascination with watching people self-destruct.
Anchored by Hall’s brilliant and unsettling performance, Christine effectively shines a light on Chubbuck while subtly turning the camera on our unhealthy obsession with media sensationalism.