The Changeling is much darker and far-fetched than anyone was expecting. Even those familiar with the true life story of Christine Collins could not have expected the dramatic sepia-tinged scenes of savage child murder, face-wrenching electrocution, scream-fuelled public hanging and two-faced police sadism that are delivered. The film moves in slow waves, the plot devices gradually trumping themselves in succession until the wide cooling pools of Jolie’s eyes are our only sanctuary in what becomes a horrific and sinister psychopathic tale of multi-levelled crime and punishment.
Socially and politically The Changeling explores a lot of territory: faith in authority, women’s rights, religion as a reactionary force, legal procedures and generally the human condition. Still, there is something oddly nouveau-puritan about the film’s message, promoting maternal domesticity, chivalric masculinity, God’s infinite levels of forgiveness. The media is refreshingly represented as a philanthropic and illuminating force, as is the pastor played by John Malkovich.
Robert Hanks suggested in The Independent that Clint Eastwood’s “rather syrupy music” was perhaps relied upon too much to give The Changeling its sense of melodrama. I disagree here. The soundtrack is effectively harrowing as it often emerges unexpectedly during otherwise quite passive moments. The film’s major composition has minimal, creeping crescendos and a melody that is strikingly similar to the strings arrangements on Justin Timberlake’s What Goes Around, contributing for a younger audience towards the eerie ways in which The Changeling successfully strokes the perimeters of contemporary Hollywood parallels.
The ending attempts to be ethereal but is dissatisfactory as Angelina Jolie claims to have felt a kind of catharsis built on the hope that her son may still be alive, despite the overwhelming odds that he has either starved to death or been brutally axe murdered in a chicken pen. She walks away as the credits begin to rise, a changed and newly-confident woman, but in reality Christine Collins was an innocent and level-headed mother who the police emotionally damaged and physically abused beyond repair.
The seemingly low-minded and erratic killing of the boys for me operated as a microcosm of the wider portrayal of crime and punishment, the hypocritical injustice of the death penalty and the figurative violence of selfish bureacracy.
Watch the trailer for The Changeling:
Words: Jack Cullen