If ever a film called for a SPOILER ALERT, it’s this one. The film’s very raison d’etre is also pretty much its ending, so read no further if you wish to remain in the dark. Christine Chubbuck was a 29-year-old TV reporter who committed suicide in 1974 with a handgun, live on air in Sarasota, Florida. This is her story, or at least the final few months of it.
Rebecca Hall plays Chubbuck, and her performance is absolutely superb. It’s nuanced, naturalistic, and (when appropriate) understated. Chubbuck was evidently a mess of contradictions: likeable and intelligent, but brusque and in some ways immature; self-deprecating yet also self-assertive to the point of being pushy; desperate for closeness but inclined, in her own words, to “push people away.”
The period detail here is fairly accurate, and Chubbuck’s professional context (a small-town TV news station) is well delineated, and so too are her often fraught relationships with her workmates. She has a serious but thus far unrequited crush on anchorman, George Ryan (Michael C. Hall), and an ongoing struggle against her boss’ pressure for a more “If it bleeds, its leads” approach to choosing stories. The irony in that could not, of course, be more bitter. And then there are her health problems.
Suicides are not always entirely explicable, and the mode of dispatch here made this tragedy rather more mysterious than many. But Christine – with its subtle depiction of inexorably rising stress and despair – at least succeeds in turning established fact into convincing drama.
Christine plays at The Melbourne International Film Festival on August 6 and August 12. To buy tickets to Christine, head to the official website.