By Staff Sgt. Jon Cupp, MND-B PAOMarch 12, 2009
CAMP LIBERTY, Iraq - Changeling, one of the most surprising and disturbing movies of 2008, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Angelina Jolie. Released on DVD January 14 of this year, it just hit the Camp Liberty PX a couple of weeks ago.
As I was perusing the video isle, I saw the movie and the story really intrigued me right off the bat-and seeing that it was directed by Eastwood, I thought what the heck. So I threw down the money and took it to the trailer.
The movie is a mix of true crime drama, thriller and murder mystery. It reveals to us the seedy side of a corrupt Los Angeles police department in the 1920s and the brutality of man.
The movie pulls and tugs at the emotions and heart strings, playing the audience as though they were a yo-yo. And I must admit, there are times when it is a very hard movie to watch-not because it's bad, slow-paced or boring. But because there are times when you dread seeing what's going to happen next-the subject matter is very rough.
As someone who is a parent, I found it difficult to like this movie for that reason. And that really bothers me considering that Clint Eastwood is a great director and his movies are always really well-made. The movie has a good flow, it moves along at a steady pace. The acting is top-notch and the production is lavish-making a town look like 1920s L.A. couldn't have been easy, especially when no detail was spared right down to the electric street cars and Ford Model Ts that used to be so prevalent in those days.
Angelina Jolie plays Christine Collins, a single parent who spends her nights taking care of her son, Walter, and her days managing a telephone company switchboard. The job involves Jolie rolling around on actual roller skates to phone stations along the switchboard interacting with phone operators. It's a very interesting look at a long-gone era before computers did all the switching-it was a time when people would actually talk to a person if they wanted to be connected on a long distance call. It shows that there was once a more human factor to communications.
There was also, it seems, a much more human factor toward child-rearing, being a time before television when parents were much more in tune with their kids; when families actually sat down at the dinner table to eat.
Walter's father left Christine when their son was an infant, and she has raised the boy alone. In a nice scene between Jolie's character and Walter, played by Gattlin Griffith, the mother explains that Mr. Collins left not because he didn't love them but because he could not face responsibility. Mrs. Collins likens this, only as a mother would, to getting a "big box of responsibility" that was laid at his feet.
Jolie goes all out in her performance as a very loving parent who spends as much of her off time with her son as she can-but then the unthinkable happens.
When she returns from work one day, Walter has gone missing. She calls the police but they tell her not to worry as it has not yet been 24-hours since he went missing.
Eventually days become weeks, and then months. Christine has all but given up hope when a call from the police department reveals that her son is alive, having been picked up by a drifter who left the child safe and sound in another state. The police department arranges a reunion between mother and son at a train station where the press records the event; however, as soon as Christine sees the boy she knows it is not really her Walter. The police chief convinces Christine that it is her son but that the trip and his months away have changed him some.
But the boy has definitely changed. He's not the son she remembers. He's shorter, dental records prove that the boy really isn't Walter and Walter's elementary school teacher knows the boy isn't him and even signs an affidavit saying so. The child would seem to have become a "changeling" - an allusion to a mythical creature left in the place of a human child much like a double that would often display different personality traits than the child it replaced.
In order to save face due to the boy's disappearance and in the wake of several scandals, the police department perpetuates the fraud as an opportunity to create good public relations and garner good press.
John Malkovich aptly plays Reverend Gustav Briegleb, who serves as an advocate for Christine Collins, taking up her fight against the corrupt police force that perpetuated the deception and that has given up trying to find the real Walter Collins.
Eventually, the police department has Jolie's character committed to a mental hospital where she is accused of not wanting to live up to her responsibilities as a mother. The head psychiatrist says this is evidenced by Christine's "delusions" that the boy the policed returned to her was "not her son." All the while, Collins tells the hospital staff that her real son is still missing and pleads with the doctors to let her go so that her son can be found.
The movie is based on true events surrounding the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders and there was a lot of creative license taken to bring the Walter Collins story to light. However, much of what transpires in the movie actually took place, with many of the details of the actual event around Walter's disappearance being much more disturbing than what transpires on the screen.
Some of the real events that are portrayed in the film include the fact that there was indeed an intentional plot by the L.A. Police Department to make Christine Collins believe that another child, an impostor, was her son. The corrupt police chief really did tell Collins to "take the boy home and try him out for a few weeks." The implications of this are chilling.
Throughout the entire movie, Eastwood keeps up the suspense of whether or not Walter, Jolie's son is still alive. I will not give away the ending, but I will tell you that there are enough twists and turns that you keep thinking...maybe he is alive or then again, maybe he isn't. You will definitely double guess yourself even until the very end.
If I were to actually rate this movie on a scale I would actually give it a three out of four-star rating but I will caveat that rating with a warning that if you are a parent or someone who has a deep fondness for children that you should be prepared for some very intense and sometimes very disturbing scenes. Scenes that will probably churn your stomach-and this is coming from a guy who loves zombie movies and action films with lots of gore.
I guess it's more of an emotional type of gut-wrenching experience. But after watching the Changeling, you will definitely want to go home and hug your kids.