The movie ‘Christine’ released in 2016 is based on the true story of up-and-coming journalist and newscaster Christine Chubbuck who worked at WXLT-TV in Sarasota Florida. Not to be confused with the 1983 horror thriller of the same name about a possessed supernatural car who kills people, though these two films share a common thread – both are extremely frightening! Although this flick is 6 years old it’s worth writing about given the current climate of relationship woes, and the fact that this July marks the 48th anniversary of Chubbuck’s death. So let’s dig into the very important life lesson this picture imparts.
Spoiler alert, Christine Chubbuck violently killed herself live on air July 15th, 1974, via a single self-inflicted gun shot wound to the head behind her right ear. Prior to drawing her weapon Chubbuck opened her newscast with the comments, ‘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.’ It is shocking and beyond tragic that Christine succeeded in her attempt, dying hours later in hospital, however, it’s the back story that led up to her demise that haunts me the most. Although Christine angled to attribute her disturbing death to job related stress and her distain for new editorial tactics that dramatized the news (i.e., sensationalism), her contemporaries knew something much more menacing was going on with Christine behind the scenes than just her professional struggles. So what drove this rising 29-year-old star to the brink of destruction? Depression of course, though the root of her despair is what is still so relevant nearly 50 years on.
There are many causes of situational and chronic depression, but relationship difficulties are chart toppers when it comes to triggers. No pun intended. In Christine’s case there were a number of confounding factors, but one problem stood out above the rest. After her death a Washington Post article described Chubbuck as being ‘terribly terribly terribly depressed’ due to her social awkwardness, inability to relate to others, lack of friends, and above all – zero love interests. All this despite being an extremely bright ambitious news anchor who was breaking the mold in an era of new working women as depicted in the Mary Tyler Moore Show; so much so this popular sitcom’s theme song was sadly and symbolically interjected into the film’s closing scene. Though unlike Mary Tyler Moore, Christine Chubbuck was not ‘going to make it after all’. But why? Although Christine was an educated inquisitive attractive scrappy go-getter who worked hard to advance her career, she was still a woman in transition between a society who highly valued females as ultra feminine wives/mothers/sex symbols vs. independent women of substance who could take care of themselves. Therefore, the former societal views were still incredibly important to Christine, and all were areas of her life she felt she was miserably failing at due to her impetuous yet shy demeanor that made it difficult for her to click with others.
It is no surprise that quality of social relationships is a key risk factor for major depression. In Christine’s case she may have been genetically predisposed to depression to begin with, but her condition was most likely exacerbated by what is non-medically termed ‘relationship depression’, an overwhelming sadness that develops due to relationship difficulties. Symptoms can range from mild to debilitating and include, feeling unhappy, worthless, guilty, irritable, angry, tired, fatigued, experiencing low self-esteem and difficulty concentrating or making decisions, eating and sleeping more or less than usual, loss of interest in enjoyable activities such as hobbies or socializing, loss of libido, and suicidal thoughts – a box Christine definitely ticked.
As the movie unfolds audiences are slowly drawn into Chubbuck’s downward spiral, bearing witness to her negative transformation as assertive keenness crosses over to hostile aggression bordering on obsession mainly spurred by the fact that Christine was nearing her 30th birthday and had basically never been kissed. Christine tried to make light of her situation in self-deprecating ways, even calling herself ‘the dateless wonder’, but all this did was draw attention to her virgin ‘femcel’ (involuntary celibate female) status. An aside; by all accounts it’s good to poke fun at one’s own shortcomings, but the danger with too much averse self-talk is that it can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy so beware.
Of course, relationship depression is not gender specific, made obvious by the recent lashing out of Incels (i.e., involuntary celibates). This online community of ‘involuntarily celibate’ men who became radicalized by their shared mistrust of women view the idea of involuntary celibate females as an oxymoron. In short, they believe that unless a woman is ‘severely deformed’ she can have sex whenever she wants. The group even has its own nomenclature referring to archetypes labelled ‘Chads’ (i.e., big handsome masculine jock types), and ‘Stacys’ (i.e., curvaceous hyperfeminine cheerleader types) as males and females ranking near 10 out of 10s on the attractive scale allowing them their pick of partners, with ‘Beckys’ (i.e., average females) falling below the standard but still able to snag a mate.
That said, such impertinent misconceptions truly miss the point. Newsflash – sex can be bought (not that I condone it), but ‘connection’ has no price tag. Chemistry, magic, the spark, are emotional bonds that cannot be artificially manufactured and when they are not achieved loneliness and frustration set in, which ultimately can lead to depression. There is no denying that physical attributes play a part in attracting a partner but given that there are so many single people around the globe despite having much to offer via good looks and other great qualities speaks more to finding the right ‘romantic fit’ than anything else. In short, scoring isn’t the goal, strong unions are!
On that point, this biopic directed by Antonio Campos timelessly plunges into the unbearable dark reality of social sadness, with an honest portrayal of Chubbuck’s complicated life so poignantly played by fabulous actress Rebecca Hall. Also, the 1970s backdrop of this movie (e.g., hair, clothes, topics of the day…) is done to perfection with the rise of feminism at the forefront, that really highlights Christine’s uphill battle for equality, as it slowly unpacks the mounting self-loathing that leads to her heart-breaking downfall. It’s worth noting that women, unlike men, who attempt suicide normally do not choose such ferocious measures to end their life. Again, Christine’s violent death signifies the severe level of bleakness she must have felt. Her personal life and the unrequited love she experienced with fellow news anchor George (Michael C. Hall), coupled with feeling overlooked professionally, watching helplessly as the weather girl tart garnered promotions over her is most likely what drove Christine over the edge. Not to mention the disconnect that a straight-arrow like Christine must have felt from her pot-smoking man-happy bohemian mother (J. Smith-Cameron), whom she loved but had nothing in common with. In the end Christine felt invisible, and in her mind would have remained that way if she hadn’t taken the drastic steps she had.
This cerebral real-life tragedy is not for everyone but the message it sends is more profound today than ever. The truth is that all human beings yearn for acceptance and meaningful relationships but getting them is the challenge. It doesn’t help that we live in a society that continues to laud and applaud superficiality, thus pushing emotionally sensitive thoughtful internalizing souls off the grid because they deviate from the norm. Frivolity vs. Fairness – ‘Life can be unfair sometimes, but that’s no reason to give up on it.’ — Anonymous. I know I am an eternal optimist who believes every pot has a lid, every dog has its day… It’s too bad that Christine couldn’t see herself for what she really was, a pioneering kick-ass presence in a male-dominated industry who had so much to offer to the world professionally and otherwise. On the bright side maybe Christine’s story will alert others to the fact that there are many vulnerable yet high-functioning despondent people who sadly suffer in silence. Perhaps some added awareness is needed that our planet mainly consists of two types of people, dandelions (e.g., individuals who can survive anything) and orchids (e.g., individuals who need optimal conditions to thrive), so a little added kindness might be in order for those who fall into the latter category.
PS. I have long admired journalism as a profession and if I had 3 lives to live one of them would be as a reporter! I have been in front of a camera enough times to qualify as having some media savvy but to be covering the story instead of being the story is where its at. What could be more interesting and exciting than corresponding on the frontlines of breaking news and current events! Quality broadcasting is a very noble vocation and truly a must-have in any democratic society. Afterall it’s our last line of defence that holds people accountable, plays no favorites, and keeps the checks and balances intact. Political leaders, movie stars, sports phenomes… all come and go but the media is a constant and that equals true power. My affinity for journalism runs deep, so much so I even encouraged my kids to enter the field. Both did start their post-secondary education in journalism, but one branched off into human rights law and the other into animal rights and veterinarian assisting. Oh well. Maybe in my 3rd life there will be a journalist in the family (the 2nd life is already spoken for as Queen of Harts! 😊 Duh). That said, I do get my reporting fix in a small way via writing this movie blog and through my magazine entitled Bully’s The Bulldog Magazine that I own and operate. It’s a fun lighthearted illustration that covers a host of pet related topics and since I give all proceeds to animal and environmental conservation it also serves as one of my humanitarian fixes. Be sure to check it out at: https://pocketmags.com/ca/bullys-the-bulldog-magazine