Michelle throws it back to an underrated performance by Rebecca Hall in Antonio Campos’ film Christine.
Although I’m not throwing it back too far in the past, I thought that highlighting the amazing performance of Rebecca Hall and diving a bit into the film’s story would be a good representation of what we look for in our #TBT posts. Today also marks the second day of Women’s History Month, and I’d like to give women of every ethnicity, race, age, orientation, etc. the opportunity to shine in our varied posts.
Christine is the biographical film of Florida news anchor Christine Chubbuck who attempted suicide on air in 1974. The film centers on Christine’s continuous battle with depression and her often dismissed attempts to further her career and advance at the station. From the start, Christine is firm and serious. There’s a cadence in her voice that sounds like it means business, and there’s a presentation in her mannerisms and interactions that shows a bit of social anxiety and reservation. It’s easy to assume Christine is a career driven woman who has allowed her job to dictate her life and interfere with any potential of making real friends or finding a significant other, but as you orient yourself with her (through Hall’s performance) you can see there are underlying issues and secrets that have created these roadblocks for her.
Hall’s embodiment of Christine Chubbuck is captivating. Nailing her stature, deep stares, distant body language and reception, cautious and cold nature, Christine is able to come to life to tell her story. Though it will never be the complete story as to why she chose to kill herself on air at 29. Taking on a project like this and attempting to tell someone’s story without their testimony and feedback can sometimes lead to a butchered characterization and mockumentary like design of a real person. Antonio Campos’ film doesn’t buy into that, and instead carefully observes Christine Chubbuck and seeks to really hear her story.
As a woman working in a 1970s newsroom, it’s no secret that the workplace proved to be another battleground for Christine. Constantly having her ideas and stories shot down in favor of basic and safe news pieces, being overlooked for a promotion, and a continuous fight with the station manager, Christine is tired, depleted, and down on her luck. Add in a string of signs pointing to a struggle with depression, Christine was putting the pen to paper in telling her story, but no one was ready to read it. There were issues with sexism in the workplace, the societal pressures of finding love and starting a family versus chasing a career, Christine’s issues with her reproductive system and potential infertility, and a longstanding dissatisfaction with herself. Mental illness is at the center of this film and I think the exploration into Christine’s struggle is important because at the time of her suicide, mental illness was still a quiet topic we didn’t want to acknowledge in the public eye.
An emphasis on Christine’s mental illness and personal doubt is best seen with her social dynamics. Christine is self-deprecating. She is stern and reserved when she speaks, sarcastic and sardonic, but it is never registered as so to her peers. She is evidently dark and secretive, but most of all, she is misunderstood. For years the position society has taken with emotive responses from women or mental illness in general has created a stigma around it. Within the film, the only real life altering issue discussed is addiction. There are clear cut signs throughout the film that Christine is harboring demons and dealing with deep rooted depression, but as it occurs for many individuals, it’s completely swept under the rug or neglected. Transforming herself as Christine, Rebecca Hall assumes the role as messenger but also emphasizes this problem Christine faces. In her responses to individuals reaching out, receiving invites to functions, creating any organic and substantial relationship outside of work and her family, Christine gives us an example of textbook social anxiety. She wants to engage, she wants to live her life and be content within a family structure and career, but she cannot give herself over to fulfill these desires. This disappoints her and is believed to be the center of her depression.
Christine is a powerful testament to the stigma of mental illness, the impact of suicide, and the painful realization that we may not always know what goes on in someone else’s life, so in order to overstep or offend, we must always remain considerate and compassionate. In what others and myself would call a career defining performance, Rebecca Hall tantalizes the screen and recreates the life of Christine Chubbuck in a tribute-like fashion. There is no room for caricatures or Hollywood generated characterization in this performance. It’s authentic, precise, and fantastic.