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Suicide Live at 5

‘Christine’ recounts the tragic end of a news anchor

Nov. 1, 2016
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Reading the headlines is a newscaster’s job, but every now and then, a newscaster becomes the headline. It happened in 1974 when Florida anchor Christine Chubbuck drew a revolver during her news program, saying: “In keeping with Channel 40’s policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and in living color, you are going to see another first—attempted suicide.” She succeeded.

Infamous for 15 minutes, the Chubbuck case receded into the memory pit of bad events but has been revisited here and there by writers and filmmakers. The latest is director Antonio Campos’ Christine, a fictionalized account of her final weeks with Rebecca Hall in the title role. Campos follows the generally accepted outline of what happened: Chubbuck was troubled by depression as well as the already declining content of broadcast news. “Fender-bender reporting is demeaning,” she tells her station’s news director, a jerk in pursuit of ratings. “If it bleeds, it leads,” he insists. Chubbuck eventually chose to give him some of her own blood. 

Christine sketches out the professional conflict zone in which Chubbuck found herself. She might be the smartest person in the room and her boss resents it. Chubbuck’s personal life was also unhappy, even aside from clinical depression. Approaching the perilous milestone of her 30th birthday, Chubbuck lives with her mom, whose “hippy baloney” she resents. She has had no meaningful romantic relations. She is a virgin. Her brusqueness is a brittle frame barely holding together a life about to come apart.

Campos gets the setting right. Chubbuck works in a newsroom where the weatherman points at a map painted on pasteboard; she lives inside an emotional world of lachrymose soft rock songs; the Watergate hearings drone on in the background. But there is no reason to suppose that something similar might not happen today in a society where depression is widespread and the pursuit of happiness often hits a dead end.

Christine

Rebecca Hall

Directed by Antonio Campos

Rated R

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