Christine (1983)

Director: John Carpenter

Starring: Keith Gordon, John Stockwell, Alexandra Paul, Robert Prosky, Harry Dean Stanton

Guys, are you the lonely type? The sort that has never known basic things like love and freedom? At first glance, Christine might seem like the perfect girl for you. She’s beautiful, loyal, and is guaranteed to take you places you’ve never been before. She has been around the block more than a few times, so there’s also that. But you had best put the idea of a ménage à trois out of your mind completely. Christine has one hell of a jealous streak when it comes to other women. She’s highly possessive (what singers Hall & Oates call a “Maneater”), and can get rather scary… some would say homicidal… when others come between her and the object of her obsession. If all this weren’t enough to make those around you question your judgment, there’s one more thing about Christine to consider: she’s a 1958 Plymouth Fury.

Before she is even off the assembly line, Christine has already injured one man and killed another. 20 years later, in the fall of 1978, she finds a new admirer in Arnie Cunningham (Keith Gordon). Arnie is a loser, pure and simple, and he knows it. He’s got the classic nerd glasses, is the constant target of a gang of bullies at school, and life at home isn’t any relief. Anything Arnie wants to do is always put up to a vote, which he notes he always loses 2 to 1. Mrs. Cunningham in particular is quite overbearing. Even if she were the last woman on Earth, there’s no way she could ever win the Mother of the Year award. Arnie has one friend in the world, and that’s Dennis (John Stockwell). It’s Dennis who Arnie is riding with when he lays eyes on Christine for the first time. She’s beat to hell, appearing as though she has probably driven her last mile, but Arnie is smitten and he buys her. He has her fixed up, looking good as new and running smoothly, and it’s around that same time that Arnie starts dating the loveliest girl in school, Leigh Cabot (future “Baywatch” babe Alexandra Paul). That, combined with the local bullies plotting to trash Arnie’s new ride, are all the ammunition Christine needs to start showing her true colors.

Keith Gordon, who these days spends more time behind the camera than in front of it, does a fine job as Arnie. He portrays Arnie’s frustrations at home and at school with sincerity. A little over-the-top towards the end, he is less convincing as Arnie loses himself in his symbiotic relationship with Christine. My favorite thing about the 1983 film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel (published earlier that same year) is the soundtrack. I’m not a HUGE fan of 1950’s rock ‘n roll, but the use of it here is simply ingenious. Because Christine is a car it has no speaking voice… at least, not the way you and I do. So, in order to convey her thoughts, Christine uses various tunes such as Little Richard’s “Keep-A-Knockin'” for warding off intruders or “Pledging My Love” by Johnny Ace in expressing her devotion to Arnie. And I LOVE the fact that the movie both begins and ends with the 1982 hit “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood & the Destroyers! It’s clear to me that one or more of the screenwriters responsible for the “Transformers” movies are fans of “Christine.” Those three (soon to be four) films also feature a car that communicates with its driver using excerpts of songs and other media.

What is an admittedly absurd premise is given a very serious treatment by director John Carpenter. If he’d tried to tell this story with the sense of humor he would later bring to “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986) or “They Live” (1988), I don’t think it would have worked. I like the fact that Christine can be interpreted both literally as a demonic automobile and figuratively as a psychotic girlfriend, one who is infectious enough to make you spite anyone who doesn’t approve of your association, even your closest friends and family. In searching for a moral to this story of a boy and his car, I’ve come up with the following: Always ask the auto dealer to show you the Carfax!

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