Keith Gordon did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Arnold "Arnie" Cunningham in Christine.
The film begins with as a potentially typical high school film as we have the tough, but likable every guy, in John Stockwell's Dennis, then we have Keith Gordon as his best friend, the obvious nerd in his Arnie. Directed by John Carpenter, during his still competent phase, with a certain tongue in cheek quality, that honestly is the right approach for a concept as ridiculous as a killer car. This is definitely in turned seen in Gordon's performance even before the shift in his character, just as we see Arnie hanging out with Dennis, as the retiring friend shying away from everyone and everything. Gordon's performance very much emphasizing the nerd in nerd, and not the type of nerd whose the witty and intelligent sort within his awkwardness. He's just awkward, and Gordon's performance accentuates that as he exudes a constant desperation that only expands depending on his situation. This with his time with local bullies being spent with a wide eyed anxiety and just nothing except frustrated weakness. The only brightness in his performance being shown when he randomly sees a beaten old junker car for sale, with obviously a mysterious old man selling it. A seemingly minor but important moment as Gordon's beams with an instant obsession. This time seemingly less harmful as just someone interested in getting a car that he can fix up and potentially impress with. This fact that all those around him find instantly alarming, I'd say a little too alarming, I mean he just was buying car, though I purposefully digress.
The initial obsession we see seeds towards this odd confidence that Gordon delivers in his performance as it attaches specifically to the car. This in portraying a gaze of fascination in each moment regarding the car, the titular Christine, that he has rebuilt to perfection. The film then jumps as Dennis is struck, both literally and figuratively, when gazing upon a changed Arnie, losing his glasses, donning cool jacket, and making out with the most beautiful girl in the school Leigh (a terribly underwritten part). The transition we purposefully don't see, rather we see the other end of it. This where Gordon instead exudes now that confidence entirely and a certainty in attitude regarding his car and his relationship as though it was nothing to accomplish. When Leigh questions the nature of Arnie's obsession with his car, we actually get an essential midpoint in his performance. In that we do have a few last vestiges of the old Arnie, and perhaps any goodness about him as he asks her not to leave him with the same desperation we saw in the awkward teen, but we also see in this the darkest side of Arnie that is what makes this performance truly remarkable. This is that while I would still qualify this as a stylized performance, as again a film about a killer car isn't one that urges subtlety, Gordon's approach is rather fascinating as we see Christine more than take over Arnie's life. It seems as though it is all that there is to it, this at the same time as we see the scenes of Christine carefully executing Arnie's former bullies, though we are not aware of whether or not Arnie is complicit in this or this is the car's doing.
Gordon's performance can be taken as two things I think, one expected, and one almost predictive in certain way. The first is perhaps the more obvious of the drug addict but that of the car. That can be easily enough seen I suppose, but I don't think that's quite it, and that is part of why I found this performance rather special. This as Gordon portrays it rather as what I would say is a toxic fan of the vehicle. This as Gordon's performance when speaking of the car does so with this reference, this extreme, psychotic fanaticism regarding it. His physical work even in his interactions with Christine, that is of fondling as though it were a woman, rather than just an admiration of a car. He speaks with more than just a joy of it, but rather a fervent lust regarding the car. It is his entire world, and Gordon presents as this vile passion for the car. This as though it is his entire world truly, and something that is amazing, as he twists this love into hate in his performance, much like the terrible type of fan, who seems to exude only misery from something they supposedly love. This is striking in scene where Arnie describes this lust for Christine, which his eyes are expressing such vicious adoration, however he speaks with such a horrible disregard for anything other than this adoration. I especially love the moment where Dennis mistakes this lust for Leigh, and Gordon's brutally dismissive, no is so brilliantly petulant and again grants the sense of the narrowness of this obsession. This as Gordon makes it all that exists for Arnie, in his descriptions of the "greatness" of Christine as both this breakdown and near orgasmic reaction to something that he has made define his existence. This in turn we see that putrid venom towards anyone who dares question his view of this "passion", much again like the fan tearing down everything else for the sake of his singular mindset. Now perhaps I am slightly reaching with this interpretation, although such fandom is not new just more isolated before the time of the internet, but what I think is more important is that what Gordon's performance does is two things. This as it creates a uniquely haunting portrayal of obsession which both grants the larger than life insanity needed for the devotee of a killer car, but in a way that strangely enough grants just enough of a reality within it. Gordon thrives within the film's tone playing into, but does also make you believe that not only could a man lust after his car, but that also can be a rather frightening thing.