Sunday, November 9, 2008
I was unfamiliar with the Christine Collins Story prior to watching this film. After watching the trailers for the past few weeks, I was eagerly anticipating the release of this film. I was further intrigued upon learning that this film was based on a true story. At nearly two and a half hours, this latest film from Clint Eastwood was a bit slow, but equally profound. It did not quite reach the level of Schindler's List which left me stunned and disoriented, but that eerie silence was evident as viewers slowly funneled out of the theater. Eastwood did a phenomenal job of conveying this story.
Changeling reveals the story of Christine Collins, whose son Walter turned up missing in 1928. Collins is notified by the Los Angeles Police that they have found her son and escort her to the train station amongst a throng of media. Collins immediately rejects the notion that the child is her son which angers the Police Department. They try to convince her that her son has changed and the separation has caused her anxiety. She is asked to take the child home on a "trial basis." Collins quickly discovers that the child is shorter than her son and is circumcised. The Police Department dispatches a Psychologist who further belittles Collins into her own delusions, insisting that the child is hers. Collins begins publicly challenging the Police Department and finds herself committed to a Pschotherapy Institution where shock treatment was still a common method of treatment. While these events are unfolding, a police detective stumbles on a serial killer in Wineville (now called Mira Loma as a result of the negative publicity). This discovery casts doubts on the police investigation regarding the Collins boy. The resulting investigation causes public outrage at the Los Angeles Police Department resulting in public hearings and an overhaul of the department. In order to preserve the integrity of the story, I will leave the speculation regarding Collins own son up in the air...you will have to watch the film to find out more.
Because this story was a true story, the writer (J. Michael Straczynski) was limited in terms of plot. However, developing characters and writing dialogue in a period piece are where the challenges lie in this film. Straczynski did a great job of taking historical characters and bringing them to life. His characters were well developed and interesting. The 1920's dialogue was different at times. Because I am not an expert on the era, I certainly cannot disclaim any of the language in the film, but it appeared that they did their research. Another strong aspect regarding the writing was the development of the storyline without getting bogged down in details. Now that I have seen the film, I looked up the story on the internet to find out what really happened. There were a few differences in the true story which I would chalk up to artistic license. I believe the story was streamlined a bit, because at two and half hours, the story was already thick enough without adding more plot lines. Although the movie progressed slowly at times, it wasn't necessarily sluggish and the gripping story unfolding was worth waiting for.
Do not read this paragraph if you have not yet seen the film: One of the interesting items that was not delved into in this film, which I will add here as a bonus concerns the Northcott Ranch. The killer, Gordon Northcott, was living on a ranch owned by his father. In the movie it is portrayed as vacant other than Northcott and his nephew who is held at the ranch against his will. It appears that in real life, this ranch was occupied by the Northcott family. Gordon's father incestually molested his sister who was still in Canada (the place where he is arrested in the film). Gordon was a product of that incest. So the woman who lived at the Ranch that he believed was his mother was actually his grandmother. So, in essence, it is his own mother/sister who turns him into police when he arrives in Canada. Collins does not believe her son Walter was killed, but in real life, Northcott's grandmother testified that she killed the boy and was sentenced to life in prison. She was paroled after serving twelve years.
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