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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Changeling

For nearly 80 years,this story remained buried in the files of Los Angeles City Hall.

Written by Shalini Langer |
January 17, 2009 1:58:36 am

Cast: Angelina Jolie,John Malkovich,Jeffrey Donovan,Colm Feore

Director: Clint Eastwood

For nearly 80 years,this story remained buried in the files of Los Angeles City Hall. The scriptwriter,J Michael Straczynski,discovered it just when the documents were about to be destroyed. Now,you can only wonder how.

Changeling is the true story of a woman,Christina Collins (Jolie),whose child goes missing,who is handed another that’s not hers,and who is almost arm-twisted by a shockingly corrupt Los Angeles police force into accepting the second boy as her own. When she resists,she is dubbed mad and thrown into a psychiatric ward. Doubts are put into her mind about whether she is imagining things — she is told that child could have “scientifically” grown shorter in the two months he remained missing – even as the police force gives up searching for her real son.

Christine fights back,with the help of a Reverend who has been waging his own battle against the police force. The truth is simply too big,and as it turns out,too grotesque,to remain hidden for long. As Christine says,she can’t give up as she knows that somewhere out there her son could be waiting for her to find him.

One can only imagine what Christine,a single woman raising a boy on her own,working at a telecom exchange,looking for a child on her bare resources — at a time without e-mail or 24X7 media — went through. The rest requires no stretch of the mind at all: that the police are under media pressure to crack the Collins case,that the media won’t leave a mother alone to grieve with her missing child; and that everyone would rather watch their own backs.

If there are few joys greater than motherhood,there are few fears bigger than having a child go missing. And imagine the circumstances of it: Christine’s son disappears while she is away at work,having broken a promise to take him out. He is her life,she says,and the grieving will never stop,for not only what was but what could have been.

For a woman who has taken upon herself to mother the world’s lost children,this is a tailor-made role. However,Jolie seems to be both straining herself as well as restrained — a woman acting her heart out and,yet,getting none of the heart into it.

And for someone as striking as her,the heavy mascaraed eyes and the jarringly red lips can be too devastatingly distracting. One can realise what she is going through,but the persistent close-ups of her teary eyes don’t make it easier for us to feel it.

While Jolie has herself remarked on the passiveness of her character,the factor could be as well the time when the film is based — this is 1928 — as Eastwood’s no-stress working style. Jolie isn’t the only one; others too suffer the fate of appearing too staged and strait-jacketed,even the guy manning the roadside restaurant. The emotions seem well-rehearsed,the tics too exaggerated.

The Captain of the police force,played by Donovan,is a unidimensional cardboard character,unmoved by even news that 19 other children besides Christine’s may have been axed by a crazed killer. He spends not an anxious moment over it before trying to bury the case.

However,Eastwood perhaps fares the worst with the children. Making us like them in a story such as this should normally be a cakewalk. But here they are cool,calculating and almost completely un-childlike.

The same Eastwood captured a range of emotions flowing beneath the surface of normalcy in Mystic River,also involving a father and a murdered child. Here,while he stretches himself as much out with a story that requires no embellishments at all,he only bobs on the surface.

The title Changeling itself is derived from West European folklore,and means the offspring of a fairy who has been secretly left in the place of a human child. They are not nice beings,and they take a heavy toll on the mother. Clever or not,the connotation perhaps goes all against what Christine stands for in the film.

shalini.langer@expressindia.com

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