‘Christine’ – Mental Deterioration Up Close | Film Review
Antonio Campos‘ Christine is a subtle yet unnerving rumination on depression, mental anguish and self-confidence. It also happens to be the true story of Christine Chubbuck, a news reporter who shot herself on air in the 80s. It’s safe to say it is a dark film.
Though not dark in the way one might think. The film is not exploitative, and is in no way simply trying to profit off the public curiosity of such a shocking act. In fact, the film needn’t have been based off a true story to work, it just happens to be the framework surrounding a quiet dissection of one woman’s declining mental health.
The film has little interest in giving its viewers reasons why Christine did what she did. There are no big expository monologues, no didactic lessons to be learned. Instead, Campos lets his images do the talking. He glues his camera to Rebecca Hall‘s Christine and lets her facial ticks tell the story. Hall’s impeccably straight dark hair and stiff demeanour tell one story, but her sad eyes and lip quivers tell another.
Life slowly beats her down, we see what made Christine lonely, what made her feel unimportant at her job, what people in her life let her down, and begin to piece together a portrait of a woman that felt worthless and guilty because of it.
Perhaps the greatest asset of the film is its insistence to not explicitly examine the overarching ‘why?’ hanging over the elephant in the room, but instead understands that mental illness rarely has black and white solutions and creates a film with no real answers.
It commentates on the news media’s descent into ratings over substance, both through its story and through the real life event itself, but mostly stays a grounded drama willing to play out with an ellipsis attached.
The film is probably hampered slightly by the fact that the true story is now (relatively) well known, and coincidentally was beaten to the punch by last year’s hybrid documentary/drama, Kate Plays Christine. The films are totally different and not worth truly comparing, but it perhaps highlights how the film might have been superior without the true story attached to it.
Knowing the ending, knowing it’s true, unfortunately hinders the film and it’s by no means the film’s fault at all. Campos never gets beneath Christine’s skin like Kate Lyn Shiel did in Kate Plays Christine, but thus creates a more overarching depiction of depression, self-worth and suicide. It’s an inexplicable disease, that makes people do inexplicable things.
Christine detaches itself from the meretriciously sunny hues of Florida, plunging us instead into the gloomy, unceremonious browns of newsrooms and oddly discoloured apartments as we are gradually submerged into the veins of Christine. The film feels oddly false at points, much like Christine’s exterior presence, as we see the world for what it is through her eyes: a decaying lie that she wants no part in.
It is a film concerned with mood and letting its audience do the heavy lifting. Campos has always been a director more interested in what’s not being said (see Simon Killer, Afterschool) and that remains the case here. Come for your morbid curiosity regarding the true story, stay for the deft examination of mental illness.
Christine is released in the UK today.