Review of Christine, by Jim Baldwin. It’s showing in our cinema until Wednesday 19 April.
Christine is the dramatised story of Christine Chubbuck, an American news presenter who took her own life live on air in 1974. Our first image of the title character is in a tightly framed head shot through a monitor in the studio where she worked. She is conducting a very high profile interview and, surely, the whole world is listening. The film cuts, we’re now in the studio with Christine, and the framing is much wider. There is nobody across the table from her; she sits in the room alone, the interview was a fantasy.
This introduction to the character simultaneously displays to us a number of things. Firstly, it shows the ambition and hopes that drive a person, what she really wants to achieve, even perhaps what could have been. At the same time it drives home the disconnect between these desires and Christine’s actual lived experience, the failure of reality to align with dreams would seem to be one of the main contributing factors toward her suicide.
There is an element of fantasy to much of Christine’s life, she frequently performs puppet shows for a local children’s hospital, though it seems clear the stories she tells are as much for her own benefit as that of the kids in the audience. We don’t find out that Christine’s ‘roomie’ Peg is actually her mother until a time after the character is introduced, due to the choice of addressing her using her first name. She is reluctant to answer a question from her mother about her relationship with her work colleague, George, but for this question to be posed in the first place, it is clear she must at some point have implied there was more going on than is ever actually the case.
The film is beautifully shot, director Campos uses the same cinematographer as his excellent 2012 film Simon Killer. Whereas that was an altogether darker and more brooding psychological experience, and used directorial and cinematographic choices to unsettle the viewer, in Christine the more regular drama of the script allows freedom to simply make the images as attractive as possible. The colouring is rich, vivid and looks exactly how I imagine the 70s did. The shots are well composed, lighting is subtle and powerful, the costumes authentic and the sets are highly detailed.
The editing and score combine well to create tense and kinetic moments, such as early on in the film when Christine decides to change part of her report at the last minute, while the show is live on air. We also see for the first time here that Christine is often guilty of failing to take into account, or even to notice, how her actions affect those around her and vice versa. A number of times, she is asked for assistance by someone, or offered a way out of her situation. Invariably, she is too busy to help or be helped; maybe tomorrow she says.
Rebecca Hall in the lead role is gripping, her muted responses when a situation has dealt her an emotional body blow are powerful, she betrays that feeling of a gaping hollow that has just opened in your gut through little more than a pursing of lips and a slight turn of her head. The way she carries herself in a stressful situation, with a slight forward lean, her head bowed slightly in the fashion of a sullen teenager is subtle yet telling.
There are a couple of subtexts that can be read in the story which provide contemporary relevance. Christine is overzealous in her approach to her work, going over film reels of herself with a fine toothcomb, asking questions about her delivery while not being open to assisting colleagues when they have similar issues. She is too captivated in her own troubles to engage in the number of positive relationships which are available to her. I feel there is a parallel to be drawn between these behaviours and contemporary society’s obsession with its digital self image.
These lessons are realised through a well rounded cast of supporting characters. George (Michael C. Hall) would appear at first glance to be a textbook empty-headed hunk, but is shown to have far greater emotional depth and compassion than would first appear. He is unaware that he is one of the main factors in Christine’s issues, but provides her with a potential lifeline which she is sadly unable to grasp.
Further, the film plays out against a backdrop of the Watergate scandal, we hear frequent references to the then-president Nixon, who famously resigned from office live on television. The immediacy that broadcast media then provided to such a large event, paved the way for the blistering pace of live updates and instant video to which we are today accustomed and feel that we need.
Jean (Maria Dizzia) is caring and supportive in spite of, and contrasts well against, Christine’s often brusque manner; she would be a willing and helpful confidante if only allowed to help. In fact, she has my personal favourite scene of the film, showing us the importance of switching off every once in a while, giving yourself some headspace and savouring the little things in life; something that is absolutely still the case today.
In spite of the tragic subject matter, the story is fleshed out with enough warmth and hope to allow you to leave the cinema feeling uplifted. It is a great shame that the story must end in the way it does.