Monday, January 5, 2009
“That’s not my son.” - Christine Collins
In March of 1928, a single mother named Christine Collins (Angelina Jolie) arrives home from her work to find that her young and only son, Walter (Gattlin Griffith) is nowhere to be found. Following a five-month investigation with nothing but dead ends, the fuzz (LAPD) tells Christine that they have finally found Walter. But it’s not him. In order to save face, they guilt-trip Christine into taking care of the imposter and give up looking for the real Walter Collins. Christine, along with a few other kind (male) patrons, including John Malkovich’s Rev. Briegleb, conducts her own investigation and uses the testicular fortitude surrounding her to uncover the truth and deliver justice.
The woes and foes of motherhood are not easily imitated on screen. A mother’s role, like that of the many waitresses, nurses, teachers, and secretaries who keep our society afloat, are poorly represented in cinema because of the so-called humdrum nature of their job. After all, who wants to watch a movie about someone’s mother unless they’re a serial killer and/or prostitute on the side? What’s truly dramatic about raising children if there’s no seedy underbelly? In other words, motherhood needs be stranger than fiction to make the cinematic cut.
Changeling, though it definitely has a seedy underbelly, is ultimately a movie about motherhood and its hardships. Like the best flicks about mothers, such as the tearjerker classic, Stella Dallas, and Almodovar’s fizzy Spanish delights, All About my Mother and Volver, Changeling almost sacrificially surrounds its narrative with women’s issues and plights. However, unlike its predecessors, Changeling misses the motherly beat because of the specimen-under-glass mentality it delivers in showcasing the dilemma of Christine Collins. Or, in other words, the film may comprehend what Christine is going through at a distance, but it’s too afraid to explore her character any further than its surface-level meanderings. What we eventually come to know about Christine is what the other male characters have told us because she won’t open her mouth to tell us herself.
As both an actor and a director, Clint Eastwood is notorious for creating and embodying some of the strongest male characters on screen since the late 1950’s. Almost all of them, from the Man with No Name to Dirty Harry, are independent, resourceful, and for the most part, immortal. The same cannot be said for his female characters, who are both single-minded and bodied creations, kind of like aliens in better clothes instead of equal members of society. Eastwood just can’t seem to separate himself or his maleness away from the camera lens. In both Million Dollar Baby and Changeling, Eastwood polarizes his potentially powerful female leads into nothing more than vessels for the male perspective. Eastwood may be able to comprehend the inherent struggle of his women’s films and their characters, but he’s about as appreciative and understanding of their souls as The Man with No Name is of Tuco’s lust for gold in The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly - which isn’t much.
If Changeling had been harnessed by a more emotionally involved filmmaker, I’m sure Christine Collins and her amazing story would have been far more empowering. As it stands now, Eastwood’s Changeling is nothing more than a beautifully empty portrayal of motherhood and its ghost stories.