Kate Plays Christine
Christine Chubbuck was a television journalist working for a local station in Sarasota, Florida, in 1974, when she shot and killed herself on the air. She was soon to turn thirty and had lately been dissatisfied with her professional life as well as her love life. She was single, lonely, and profoundly depressed. Forty years later, an actress from New York City, Kate Lyn Sheil (House of Cards, Listen Up Philip), was cast to play Chubbuck in a movie about her dramatic death that would be shot on location in Florida with a local cast. is a documentary about the making of that feature film, though no mention is made of what became of it, as though what happened behind the scenes was ultimately more interesting or more important than the campy soap-opera-style biopic that was originally intended.
follows Sheil through her process of preparing for the role and what appears to be a growing obsession with Chubbuck. Sheil is a serious-minded thirty-one-year-old, also single, who is determined to do justice to Chubbuck’s life by carefully researching who she was as a person and what drove her not only to commit suicide but to do so in such a public way. It is difficult to say how truly “obsessed” Sheil was or whether editing has created her intensity of focus, but Sheil’s dedication to her craft and her desire to respect the memory of the woman she is attempting to embody are mesmerizing and even honorable. She interviews former co-workers, psychiatrists, Sarasota historians, journalists, and others to get a sense of Chubbuck and her behavior in the weeks and months leading up to her death. She spends much of the movie trying to track down video footage of Chubbuck, because she has no idea what her voice sounded like or how she carried herself, but this proves elusive because the morning show Chubbuck worked for was broadcast live and rarely recorded. Sheil transforms herself physically with a wig and contact lenses, and as the story progresses, it is not always clear whether Sheil is in or out of character. Her desperation to do more than “play dress-up” imbues the movie with an edge-of-your-seat-thriller quality.
explores ethics in acting, storytelling, and journalism, while also delving into women’s perceptions of their lives over the last half-century, along with changing attitudes toward depression and mental illness. As Sheil prepares for the movie’s unnerving final scene, special effects designers hover, affixing blood squibs to her head underneath her wig. She seems to feel that by pulling the trigger of the prop gun, she will be contributing to the sensationalizing of televised violence that she has learned Chubbuck railed against. This inner conflict makes it seem as though if she pulls the trigger, she will not only be killing Christine all over again but annihilating a part of herself, too. — Jennifer Levin