Analyzing Craig Shilowich's "Christine" (2016)

The Real Christine Chubbuck
Analyzing Shilowich's Christine is a difficult task, sure to be wrought with bad assumptions and judgmental views about those who take their own lives. Every community has their outcasts, Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) was an outcast in hers. To try to delineate her crisis and reaction to it would probably be futile. Only Christine knows why she did what she did. The film gave us some clues: A promotion gone bad, a health problem that left Christine sterile and a mother who couldn't connect with her daughter, but desperately tried to. One thing is for sure. Shilowich's rendition of Christine Chubbuck marked a significant departure from previous works that told her story like an spooky urban legend rather than a real-life drama, which it was.

Craig Shilowich's take on Christine Chubbuck's life is different than the regular urban legendary found on YouTube channels. These works sought to do what Christine refused to stoop down to: Sensationalize the world, the people in it and the feelings that come therewith. But not Shilowich. His film gave Christine's story a new lease on life.

To say that the media world has its dark side is an understatement. It's a tough job that demands a lot from its employees. One such story, a very sad one, is one of Christine Chubbuck, a 29 year-old reporter from Sarasota who committed suicide, live on air, in front of co-workers and the viewing public. Christine was distraught by the loneliness and setbacks in her life. She pinned her hopes on her career to turn things around for her. When she lost a big promotion, unexpectedly, she finally gave the TV station what it wanted: Senseless, gratuitous violence - in the form of her committing suicide on air. Over twenty years later, they made a movie about it and aptly named it Christine. Before that, YouTube had made numerous videos about her and tried to turn her into a spooky, urban legends, the kind that teenagers and aficionados talk about at wee hours of the morning or late at night. Or maybe a cautionary tale of sorts.
Original article written in 1974

But Christine was a real person who struggled with loneliness and emotional connection. She tried her best to live up to values that supported her work. Although she didn't always treat her co-workers with the respect, her good intentions usually shined through. That made her valuable member of the team. People liked her including anchor George Peter Ryan (Michael C. Hall) who tried to help Christine get on a better track. She was a real person deserving of the same respect, the kind we want to give each other, because without it, our communities would fall into a darkness.

There is a problem, or rather, a challenge in making a movie about Christine Chubbuck. Shilowich's film can't be about gratuitous violence because that would desecrate her memory and values. To make a movie based solely on her final demise would be turning her last report into the kind of story she loathed in the first place. The only way to respect the memory of Christine Chubbuck is to show the human side to her, the real person struggling to make a life in a lonely world that most of us struggle to accept and live in each day. Shilowich succeeded in doing this.

Making this film must have been tough ride. To accentuate Christine's violent death would be to hurt us all in the end. For the real story is about her fighting for integrity over sensationalism, friendship over self-loathing and hope over despair. Christine was a real person and that's important because so are you and me. We all struggle with difficulties, perhaps less so that Christine, but it still hurts. The pain is still significant. That's why her story is famous. She inadvertently communicated what's on all our minds every day. We feel lonely here. We want to connect. But adult life makes it harder to do that on more levels that we can imagine. But we can't let shallow, senseless violence replace what is wholesome and good - not even on TV.

Christine isn't a fairy tale. The princess doesn't make it in the end. She doesn't find her handsome prince. The deal she makes with her devil - to give in to sensationalism - eventually gets the better of her. Her last vestiges of hope are systematically ruined, one by one. With no child, no husband and no career....

Christine Chubbuck has left an indelible mark on anyone whose heard her final story, but the YouTube videos didn't do her justice. Finally, decades later, Craig Shilowich emerges with this movie that dares to show the real person with the good intentions, a beautiful person struggling to survive in the world like the rest of us. Thank you, Christine for being so human. Thank you Craig Shilowich for showing us that. 

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