So here we are, over a year removed from my last piece and I’m once again going to talk about how a movie has a very personal impact on me. Let’s talk about the 2016 film, Christine, starring Rebecca Hall. It is the tragic story of TV reporter Christine Chubbuck.
Christine is an undervalued commodity on Film Twitter. It isn’t flashy. It isn’t controversial. It doesn’t star one of Hollywood’s most famous women, and it doesn’t have a big-name director. It is, however, a window into not only one woman’s depression, but depression writ large. And Rebecca Hall plays it so well that it feels like looking into a mirror.
Hall plays Christine Chubbuck, a reporter who puts on a face for those who watch her on TV, but that TV face belies the monsters and darkness that are underneath. Christine wants to be more than just a journalist in Sarasota, FL. At the very least, she wants to do bigger better stories than covering “the chicken lady” every night. She feels pressure to do bigger things, but also disappointment that the opportunities to do those bigger things aren’t being given to her, even when she fights for them. At one point in the film her station manager points out that she’s the most intelligent person there, but we can see that it’s partially her impatience that gets in the way. Although sexism is definitely a part of what she’s experiencing, she’s also volatile and combative and frustrated, and it is those symptoms of a greater underlying pain that hold her back. The manager wants juicier stories to bolster their ratings, which Christine bristles at having to do.
She’s also relatively socially awkward and even called “unapproachable” by the station’s anchor, George, played by Michael C. Hall. He recognizes things in her that he has gone through himself, pointing out, “We all have different versions of ourselves competing to be the real us.” One version of Christine is confident, but we see her internal doubts fight her at every turn. Another is a compassionate woman who volunteers to help hospitalized children and puts on puppet shows to explain that it’s okay to be different, to feel anxious, to feel “other”; but she lets them know that there are people who will love and support them. Christine’s own pain is clear to us in these moments; she says the words to help others, but just can’t seem to apply them to herself. In a scene when George is revealing the self-doubt and pain he’s endured, Christine tells him that he shouldn’t be so hard on himself. Again not being able to be kinder to herself.
Christine’s mother, while not necessarily understanding exactly what is happening, knows that her daughter is struggling again. References to something that happened in Boston pop up throughout, and it worries her mother, but her efforts and concern are rebuffed, and even turned back on her in the form of guilt for not being attentive enough.
In the end, the varied demons inside Christine’s head win out. Begging to be the lead story on that evening’s program, she makes reference to the current desire for murder and blood on the news, removes a pistol from a bag, and shoots herself on live television.
Like Christine, I have struggled with career stagnation, professional disappointment, moments of incredible self-doubt, and even thoughts of suicide. There was a time, many years ago, when I even made a half-assed suicide attempt. Oh, it wasn’t pills, or blades, or rope; I tried to starve myself. I didn’t fully give up food, but would eat perhaps only one candy bar or a couple of cookies per day. I did this for weeks and it was painful. I did find that cutting the backs of my hands was a way to simultaneously take my mind off the awful things happening in my life, but to also magnify them, to feel some sort of punishment for them. Although the cutting was short lived, I cannot say the same for suicidal thoughts–they are always there; sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, but never actually gone. And if I’m going to be completely honest with you, dear reader, I have to say that I wouldn’t be here right now if not for my children. But Christine also loved people and had people love her back; sometimes it just isn’t enough.
Nietzsche said, “…if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.” The abyss, I believe, is different for each of us, and even the seemingly happiest of us have one. Mine isn’t some expansive black hole filled with blackness and monsters per se; it’s filled with contentment, confidence, accomplishment, and satisfaction…bright things. It’s filled with things I will never feel; it is those things that stare back at me, taunt me, and eat away at me. Hall’s virtually unrecognized or lauded performance showed not only what Christine Chubbuck may have been experiencing, but they are my experiences, too. I understand what Rebecca Hall was doing with the role because not only have I seen Christine, but I know Christine, and in so very many ways I am Christine.