TW talks villains: Stephen King’s Christine, the original va va voom

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BY Owen Quinn

Villains come in all shapes and sizes and in all forms, from dolls to sea monsters to aliens but sometimes a villain takes a shape we never thought was possible and this week we meet the car that brings a whole new dimension to love struck.

In the Stephen King novel he introduced the world to Christine, a 1957 Plymouth Fury automobile with more than a healthy attachment to its owners. Love is the greatest emotion of them all and its power can make people go crazy as seen in Play Misty for Me and Fatal Attraction. Here Christine somehow has an influence on those who own her and she claims them all for herself and if you hurt the one she loves then you’ll be one sorry guy.

You see it all the time; men calling their cars by pet names and if you dare touch a paint flake on their bonnet, they will batter you for tainting their precious love. King brought this one step further where the car felt exactly the same way. Once you became her owner, she owned you. In the beginning fo the movie, she is found abandoned and rusting away by Arnie Cunningham, a nerd who faces bullying in school and has problems with his parents. Something attracts him to Christine and he wants to restore her despite being told by his best friend Dennis Guilder (John Stockwell) to leave the rusting heap where she is in the hands of George LeBay who sells it to Arnie. But isn’t that how love begins? When you see something in someone no one else does and ignore your friends telling you that she is no good for you? When Arnie’s parents refuse to let him park Christine at their home, he is forced to store her in the local garage. Arnie intends to restore her to full glory and he discovers that the radio only plays 1950s rock and roll with a penchant for love songs. Arnie beleives that this is a sign that he made the right choice in picking Christine. He begins to change under her influence from a nerd who doesn’t wear huge black rimmed glasses to a guy that has confidence and swagger and now fights back to those that bullied him. He works night and day and succeeds in bringing Christine back to her former glory. He moves his hands across her like he would a woman’s body and talks of her as if she were a living thing whose feelings can be hurt. He ignores all the advice of his friends about the change in his personality and Christine becomes the only focus in his life. He even turns on his father threatening him like a boyfriend attacking someone who has insulted his girlfriend. But the most telling scene is the sex scene that you can show your kids.

When Arnie returns to the garage to discover his precious car wrecked completely, he walks round her in shock. He promises to make her better and show the bullies they can’t get away with it. As he turns to walk away, Christine repairs her engine. Arnie walks in front of her and tells her, ‘Show me.’  Christine repairs herself right before his eyes to the soulful, sexy sound of a saxophone. The greatest thing between two lovers is to be naked and engage in sex and this is Arnie and Christine’s sex scene. She tantalizes him with the engine repair but bearing her soul completely as she completely restores herself just for him. It’s a nice allegory as Christine becomes the girl his parents don’t approve of which winds Arnie up. There was line once in Star Trek the Next Generation episode the Host where Beverley Crusher says that perhaps the human capacity to love is limited to the opposite sex and although it is a car we’re talking about, the principle is the same. Whatever possess Christine is powerful enough to change Arnie completely into what she wants him to be. He is strong, forceful and only concerned with Christine’s welfare. And she acts just like any other jealous girlfriend when Arnie goes on a date with Leigh who becomes Arnie’s flesh and blood girlfriend. Christine becomes Miss Fatal Attraction when she tries to kill Leigh. She and Dennis discover that George knows the car has a dangerous past. His brother owned it previously and he too changed when he had Christine.His young daughter died in the car and his wife was killed under mysterious circumstances and George always blamed the car. He never felt comfortable around it as if it had some sort of powerful entity controlling it.

Indeed this is best demonstrated when the bullies follow Arnie back to the garage and destroy Christine completely. However, she completely regenerates herself and begins hunting the gang down one by one going as far as to cause an explosion in a garage to satisfy her revenge. The police think Arnie did it as they heard Christine has been wrecked but her mint condition disproves that and the fact Christine has also killed the garage owner to make it look like he was responsible for killing the gang. No one is going to come between her and Arnie and those scenes where he is sitting alone in her as love songs play on the radio are startlingly evocative to the point where you can believe that Christine really does have sentience. His hands play over her body work as he talks to her about his problems and you just so know it isn’t going to end well.

Such is the bond between Christine and Arnie, he has no fear behind the wheel, drinking, driving with no hands and generally becoming a daredevil. He knows Christine will not let any harm come to him nor he to her. Love is blind and changes a person and here we see it ten fold. Dennis and Leigh know something is seriously wrong and when they hear George’s story, they see history repeating itself allover again with Arnie. They battle Christine with a bulldozer but the car keeps regenerating when they attack her until finally they crush her completely under the bulldozer. But not before Arnie is killed. And in the final moment of the film we see a crushed Christine, a mere cube of scrap in a junkyard. And suddenly part of her grill flicks back into mint condition. Whatever possess her, it isn’t dead yet.

 

Christine is unique among movie villains as it’s never determined exactly how she has come to life. The book says it was an evil spirit and yet the movie makes oyu belive she is sentient and as crazy a lover as Glenn Close was in Fatal Attraction. Could it be the ghost of someone desperate for that eternal love and will do anything to ensure that symbiotic relationship between herself and the owner. It’s Arnie that sees something in Christine he likes and it seems she is merely reciprocating the emotion, falling for him hook, line and sinker as their love grows. It plays out as a relationship as she influences him by giving him a confidence he never had and dressing him how she likes him to dress, exactly like a real life relationship. And they say the longer you are with someone the more you become like them which is what we see in the movie. Arnie feels Christine is the only one that understands him and he loves his new found outlook on life where he doesn’t get bullied and that Christine has made his life complete and made him the man he always wanted to be. She wants him for herself and to spend every moment with him and isn’t that how all new love birds behave? John Carpenter directed the movie and his camera angles make it seem as if there truly is a burning intelligence within the car from the frontal shots of the headlights which work the same way as the windows in the Amityville House. It gives the impression of eyes  and in this case eyes that watch 24/7 and never blink. The shot of a burning Christine flying along the road after the garage explosion gives new meaning to the phrase Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. It’s a powerful image and one that helped make the movie a success and create the persona that Christine projects in the movie. You believe she has a personality from Arnie’s reactions to her as a lover to Dennis and Leigh distaste. It’s the same reaction to someone who they know is a bad influence for their friend yet the only way he will realize is through her actions. Their final taunt to show Arnie that the car really is responsible for the deaths and what he has become unfortunately results in his death when he is plunged through Christine’s windscreen and impaled. The car goes mad trying desperately to kill Dennis and Leigh and again Carpenter succeeds in making us believe she is furious for the death of her lover through revving and the horn blaring.

There have been many deadly living vehicles in TV and cinematic history but there are none as memorable and in some ways sympathetic as Christine but the next time your car radio plays love songs which won’t switch off, I’d recommend the scrapyard……right away.

 

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