Part of growing up is compromising with the world. Most of us can’t follow our dreams and make boatloads of money. We can’t dogmatically stick by our principles and make everyone happy. The world never works how you expect it to, and the sooner you learn to live with that, the sooner you can get on with actually living. Some people learn this lesson early. Others learn it later. Some, like the protagonist of the film Christine, never learn it at all.

Christine is a fictionalized account of the last months of the life of Christine Chubbuck, a real-life television personality who went down in history for committing suicide live on TV in 1974. The film follows Christine as she descends into a depression that ultimately ends in her untimely death shortly before her 30th birthday. Now, you might be thinking that I’m giving away too much of the plot, but judging from the trailers, this film was intended to be seen with full knowledge of Christine’s fate. Seen from this vantage point, much of this film is infused with the specter of her death. The film could have felt like a character study of a quirky woman in a rough patch with a startling punchline. Instead it’s a compassionate portrait of an ambitious person who’s never reconciled with the realities of life. For the most part, this approach is highly effective at fleshing out a character who’s far more notable for her death than for her life. Indeed, the film is noteworthy for portraying this dark subject matter with a lightness of touch that makes it highly entertaining, and in fact hilarious at times, while remaining sensitive to its subject. 

Throughout the film Christine is portrayed as a highly motivated, creative, and intelligent woman who can’t meet her own expectations. She moves from project to project, giving it her all. She’s constantly working, fussing over every detail of an upcoming segment. Despite her best effort, though, she’s never able to receive the approval of her boss who’s desperately struggling to increase ratings for his TV station. Her pieces are simply too interested in telling a meaningful story and not engaged in enough sensationalism. She wants to stick by her principles and be successful as a modern journalist, and she’s not willing to compromise on either point. Most of us, after a greater or lesser degree of suffering, learn to compromise with reality, but Christine never does; she never grows up. Instead she’s left living at home in her childhood bedroom with her mother. She’s left wondering about why the world isn’t working out the way that she wants it to.

Of course, all of this thoughtful exploration of character would go to waste without a central performance to match it. Luckily Rebecca Hall, in the role of Christine, delivers. The character of Christine, in the hands of a lesser actor, could have fallen into a series of cliches about depression. Instead, Hall delivers a nuanced performance which highlights the many faces of a person struggling to keep it together under immense internal pain. She deftly balances crippling self-doubt and negativity with a strong desire to succeed in the eyes of her colleagues and find fulfillment in life. Hall’s portrayal of Christine truly gets to the heart of what it means to live with depression. It’s heartbreaking to watch.

Christine, though, is not a perfect movie. In particular, despite laying the blame of her suicide on an inability to reconcile her ambitions and values, the film spends a significant amount of time exploring her personal life. While, executed well, this digression would have further deepened Christine’s character, in reality, it’s not well integrated into the rest of the film. This discrepancy undoubtedly arises from the filmmakers’ desires to overlay a story about professionally based existential frustration onto Christine Chubbuck’s actual life story. Despite the film’s primary focus remains on Christine’s career, the real Christine Chubbuck is reported to have committed suicide primarily due to difficulties with her unfulfilling personal life. Unfortunately, director Antonio Campos and screenwriter Craig Shilowich were not able to fully integrate the historical Christine Chubbuck with their version of the person that was consistent with their themes. We’re left with certain portions of the film that just don’t fit in.

In the end, Christine delivers a thoughtful, if flawed, vision of an ambitious professional unraveling under the stresses of reality. With brilliant performances from Rebecca Hall and a strong supporting cast, we’re provided with a simultaneously compassionate and entertaining look at a character that could easily have tipped into either caricature or drudgery in less capable hands. Long after the final credits rolled, I was left pondering the tragedy of Christine. Did she die because she couldn’t handle the world? Was Christine just too delicate to survive in the hard world of modern broadcast news? Maybe there is more to it than that. Maybe she died because she was too good for a world where everyone has to compromise their ideals to succeed.