Please note: This article contains spoilers for the film “Christine” (2016). Trigger warning: article contains subject matter that may be distressing including self-harm and suicide. Proceed with caution.
By Morgan Roberts
I remember watching “Christine” (2016) the first time. I went into the film knowing nothing about Christine Chubbuck or her life. I knew minimal about broadcast journalism in the 1970s. But watching the film was an eye-opening and haunting experience.
The real life Christine Chubbuck is not a household name. She was a television reporter in the Sarasota, Florida area, and worked on human stories; finding interest in the seemingly mundane about people. But in the 1970s, the world was shifting from feel-good news pieces to the mentality of “If it bleeds, it leads.” The 1970s is when we saw the rise of the Vietnam War, and serial killers dominated headlines. There was a paradigm shift and Chubbuck was not ready. Sure, she was interested in politics and asking tough questions, but she was intrigued with others, how they operated and what made them tick.
Antonio Campos’ film takes a somewhat fictionalized version of Christine (played tremendously by Rebecca Hall), and gives us an evocative tale on mental health. We do not know much about Christine, outside of what former colleagues said about her. We know she was hard working, caring but a bit aloof. Hall did research on mood disorders. It is clear that Christine suffered from depression, but Hall went deeper. Hall showed a bit of mania with the extreme lows – typically seen in individuals with bipolar disorder.
Hall crafted a woman very insecure, unable to relate with others or connect with others. She is moody and stubborn, sometimes to a point of extreme. But, she is also desperate to connect with others. It is this attention to detail that is particularly poignant. Hall’s performance is outstanding, and I have written before about how I think Hall was snubbed for an Oscar nomination. There is a nuance to her understanding of mental health. Mood disorders do not necessarily fit perfectly into a box. Sure, there are criteria to meet but there are variations in the condition that no two people experience mental health the same. Overlap, but never identical.
Instead of turning Christine into a caricature of mental health, Hall makes Christine an authentic and heartbreaking person. Her attention and care for Christine is what makes the ending even more devastating.
Christine Chubbuck is tragically not known for her broadcast journalism but for shooting herself on air, dying fourteen hours later. It does not matter how often I see this film, the build up to and her completion of suicide guts and haunts me.
“Christine” is not any easy watch. But it is an authentic portrayal of mental health. Maybe her life would have turned out differently if she had lived in a time where mental healthcare was more readily available. “Christine” is an excellent reminder to connect with others, to check in with others, and that there are people out there who truly care about you.
If you have been affected by any of the points addressed in this article, we would urge you to contact the following hotlines: US National Suicide Prevention Hotline Telpehone number: 1-800-273-8255, and in the U.K. The Samaritans Telephone number: 116 123