Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) was a local television anchor from Florida who in 1974 made media history. She was keen to broadcast positive stories on the news about the community where little happened, and did her bit to help by entertaining the children at a nearby hospital with puppet shows, but she was increasingly feeling that there was a darker mood entering American journalism that was frustrating her attempts to better herself with the kind of subjects she felt were important. She was unmarried at nearly thirty, living with her mother, and had never been intimate with any boyfriend; to make matters worse, she was starting to suffer pains in her lower belly which was worrying her. Pressure at work merely compounded her problems, until...
If you had heard of Christine Chubbuck before seeing either this film or Kate Plays Christine, the film that used the same true story to head off in an alternative, almost experimental direction, then you would be well aware of why her life was important and also why it had been reduced to a few seconds right at its end. She was not a punchline, exactly, but she was held up as the epitome of the state of sensationalist journalism that had become prevalent in the seventies and by the twenty-first century seemed by its critics to be all the news was about, since that's what gathered viewers and readership. Director Antonio Campos preferred to offer up her experience in a rather more rounded manner, however.
That said, Craig Shilowich's screenplay apparently, according to those who knew Christine, painted a rather more testy picture of her than she was in real life, where she was more upbeat than her depression would have revealed had she had someone to talk to about it nearer the crisis that overtook her. Hall was nothing short of excellent as she portrayed the more damaging aspects of the mental illness, perhaps allowing us to see the woman as she saw herself rather than as others saw her, therefore the desperation Christine was suffering was in every frame of this: Hall was in more or less every scene, and put across just how overwhelming the power of negative thinking can be, either in yourself or in those you encounter every day.
Not that anyone here wanted what Chubbuck did to happen, nobody forced her hand, indeed there are those who try to reach out to her, but the brooding bleakness of her inner life swamps any moves towards friendliness and understanding, leaving enemies all around as far as she can see, though her biggest enemy is herself. The spirit of 1974 was well conveyed, with a production that was obviously not rolling in cash conjuring up what felt very authentic simply by careful set design, costuming and a filter on the imagery to have it look like the era, things that only underlined the helplessness of what it was depicting since the events took place so far back in the past that there was no possible way of doing anything to help its subject. That mood of utter hopelessness was particularly potent the closer it grew to the finale.
It was not only Hall who offered sterling work here, the whole cast, even down to the weatherman, were note perfect, creating a suffocating atmosphere where even we can see no direction for Christine to go that could stop her ultimate fate. That could be a flaw, when more conventional approaches would have allowed a shaft of sunlight into the main character's world where we could at least perceive there was a lifeline she could have clutched had she only been more aware of it, but there was nothing here as the palpable nihilism drowned her. In fact, what opportunities there were for Christine to survive were shown to almost to be a blackly comic joke, such as when she is at last invited out on her hoped for date with anchorman Michael C. Hall only for them to head off to a self-help class which he believes will help her as it helped him, but every move to do so by her counsellor falls flat. You can feel the ground falling away beneath Christine's feet in a film that was superbly crafted, but extremely difficult to watch, which was probably as it should be. Music by Danny Bensi and Saunder Juriaans.