You could make a movie about Christine Chubbuck, the Florida TV reporter who killed herself on the air in 1974, that wallowed in the sensationalistic muck.
That’d be the easy thing to do because it is an incredible story, the sort of surreal spectacle that seems simply too unlikely to have been anything but the stuff of a screenwriter’s imagination.
Filmmaker Antonio Campos, in the biopic “Christine,” applies a far different approach, one that focuses more on who Christine (Rebecca Hall) was than on how she died.
The result achieves something far more substantial than a mere true crime recreation: It propels the audience into the heart and head of the character and deepens our understanding of both the dark forces at work inside of her and the lighter ones, too.
There are no simple answers here, just the story of a proud and determined woman struggling to cope with familiar pressures.
It is, in other words, the movie offers a portrait of a woman in full, played by Hall with the sort of fervent conviction that earns awards attention.
Christine, toiling in Sarasota, Florida, and desperate to report on stories of import, chafes against the instructions of station director Michael (Tracy Letts) who wholly subscribes to the “if it bleeds, it leads,” ethos.
She’s evidently driven and talented, forward-thinking in the way she approaches covering a crime scene.
But she’s unwilling to compromise her high, exacting standards and has little regard for the sort of nonsense that began increasingly passing for infotainment in her era.
There are more deeply rooted personal problems, including hints at a past history in psychiatric care and a strange rivalry with her mother (J. Smith-Cameron), as well as an abiding loneliness that seeps into the essence of the picture.
Thanks to Hall, you come to understand this person, to see elements of your own highs and lows in her story, and to recognize that a person’s life is not defined by how they died but what they achieved while they were here.
It’s a powerful way of reconstituting this story and it finds a level of genuine comfort and meaning amid a senseless tragedy.