January 19, 2009
Of Chickens and Changelings
Although there wasn’t necessarily anything distinctly remarkable about this film, apart from being well-acted with very good special effects that gave you a decent — if a bit artificial — 1920’s feel, I feel compelled to post a blog on my reactions to this movie. This film freaked me out, plain and simple, in a way that I haven’t been freaked by a film in several years. The last film to leave me with such a reaction (perhaps a stronger one) was NaPolA, which told the story of boys in an elite Nazi-era school.
Anyway, in The Changeling (2006), Angelina Jolie portrays Christine Collins, the mother of one of the boys abducted, and most likely murdered, by Gordon Northcott, who was convicted of confining and then brutally killing several boys in the L.A. area between 1928 and 1930. There were probably several more whom he killed for which he was not convicted due to the manner in which he succeeded in destroying much of the evidence. What was unique about Christine Collins, was that her son, Walter Collins, who was reported missing the night that he disappeared, was “returned” to her six months later, apparently as part of a publicity stunt by the badly corrupt and much publicly maligned LAPD. However, the boy returned to Mrs. Collins was in fact a double (whom she loses no time in identifying as a fake), named Arthur Hutchins. Thus the title, “Changeling.”
Anyway, leaving aside some of the historical inaccuracies (for instance, according to Wikipedia, Northcot’s mom, revealed at trial to be is grandmother, was involved in the killings; however, this character never appeared in the film), the movie succeeded cinematically. Read more about that on IMDB, or wherever you get your film reviews. I’ve learned — and I frequently remind myself — that we don’t go to Hollywood to be informed, let alone educated, but rather to be entertained. The brief glimpses at the manner and method of the Northcott killings was chilling, although what was particularly painful was the outright helplessness and innocence of his victims, little kids who where picked up and abducted by Northcott with the aid of his younger cousin, Sanford Clark, who was pressed into service as Northcott’s unwilling (and sexually abused) accomplice. Beyond that, the scenes at the psychiatric hospital (wash-down, syphilis test, electro-convulsive “therapy”) were upsetting enough. However, what was particularly disturbing — and what has left me mulling over this film for days afterward — was the use of administrative psychiatric confinement as a tool by which unscrupulous (and downright evil) authority figures were conveniently “putting away” those who might cause them embarrassment, undermine their already sullied public image, and hinder their careers. There’s that unfortunate characteristic of human nature where even in cases of clear victimization, we try to think “what could this person have done to avoid this unfortunate situation?” And yet the only thing Christine Collins could have done would have been to shut up and accept the Hutchnis boy as her son’s replacement, and avoid the LAPD characters (Captain Jones, and his medical accomplices).
What was also galling was the willing participation of medical authorities (pediatrician, psychiatrist, psych ward staff) who conspired to go along with the corrupt LAPD officials in trying to cow Collins into believing that Hutchins was really her son, confining her to the ward, and subjecting her to the horrors of crude and unnecessary tests and “treatments.”
Anyway, this has been more or less a therapeutic exercise for me at this point. If you’ve got the stomach for it (or if you’ll watch anything with Angelina Jolie), go see the film. If not, suffice it to read the Wikipedia article, or whatever other literature is available on the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders. I’ll be avoiding chicken for the next few days (maybe weeks), at least until the main brunt of the images is out of my head.
By the way, for all that I’ve described about the plot, I really haven’t given away any spoilers, since it’s obvious from the beginning that the “changeling” isn’t the Collins boy.