Daily Archives: April 19, 2020

Christine (2016)

*. I really like how Christine opens, with Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) on screen acting out her dream of interviewing actors in the Watergate saga. Then we see the reality behind the image: this is a performance only for the camera, she is talking to herself in public mode.
*. I guess the reason I like this is because it underlines the crazy, and crazy-making, zone that media personalities inhabit. Who are they when they’re not performing? Or are they never not performing? It’s interesting that later we’ll see Christine pitch the idea for what today we’d call a reality-TV program with herself playing the leading role. And we all know how fraught the label “reality” is with those shows.
*. I think this is a point that gets at the heart of what Christine is about. Obviously it’s a movie about a mentally ill woman having a breakdown, but there are various ways of approaching what’s wrong with Christine. It may be clinical depression, which means she could use the pills that are recommended to her. It may be the result of her working in a male-dominated world, though I don’t see much of a feminist message here. All the men are trying to help her, no one is taking advantage of her, and the news industry does use female anchors.
*. It may be that she’s just repressed, with her desire to have a child in conflict with her fear of getting into a relationship (and, later, her medical condition).
*. In fact, it’s probably all of these things. But what I find most interesting is that conflict between the private and public self. What happens when the latter breaks down? Is there a private core able to stand on its own?
*. That split is also central to the movie’s most impressive scene, and the one that apparently was the kernel of the original script. This is the back-and-forth between Christine and another woman at the therapy session. On the DVD commentary with Rebecca Hall, director Antonio Campos and writer Craig Shilowich they discuss her wardrobe in this scene, which is key. Hall thought it might be too sexy, but her sexiness turns into exposure as the date takes a bad turn. What they don’t mention on the commentary is the effect of her faux nudity, with her long hair covering up the straps on her dress so that her solo shots make her seem totally naked. This must have been deliberate.
*. It’s a powerful scene, and it’s a powerful film, driven mainly by Hall’s standout performance (the two main supporting characters of George and Jean struck me as relatively weak). Hall captures the scary or at least unnerving quality Christine’s mental state has without turning her into a freak, something not easy to do. This is a real-life horror story, and it should evoke pity and fear.
*. There’s a special challenge to making a movie like this, where you can assume the audience already knows the story and how everything is building up to that one big scene (the film even comes with a warning for “a disturbing scene of violence”). But then, that’s the way a lot of tragedy works. We know the tragic hero is doomed.
*. How sad is that little record player Christine has in her bedroom? I remember those. They really were pathetic.
*. Much as I liked the film, I thought they flubbed the ending. First there’s the suicide scene, which is well done but then immediately goes off the rails. It’s really strange that the second reaction shot is that of Mitch, a nothing character we don’t care about. Meanwhile, the responses of George and Jean struck me as being played wrong. George (Michael C. Hall) in particular really undersells it, even though he doesn’t seem to be registering either shock or disbelief at what has just transpired.
*. Then there is the turn to Jean at the end, as she finds comfort at home by watching TV and singing along to the opening of the Mary Tyler Moore Show. There’s an obvious thematic relevance here (Moore was a television producer on the sitcom, trying to “make it on her own”), but since I didn’t think this was really the main theme of the movie, and that there were significant differences between the two characters, I thought it inappropriate. Even in death it felt like Christine was being cancelled and replaced by someone perkier and with more upside.