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Obviously, I have just returned from an intense couple of hours entrenched in the anxieties, terrors and corruption of 1928 Los Angeles in the film, ‘Changeling.’
From the onset, I was immersed in the story of the abduction of Walter Collins and the ceaseless battle waged by his mother, Christine, as she fought to learn of her son’s whereabouts.
Based on a true story, the movie drew the audience deep into the vagaries of life lived as a single, working mother at a time when that lifestyle was held suspect. More than that, it surfaced the trials and tribulations uniquely faced by women who stood up for their rights in a singularly masculine environment.
Forced to leave her young son alone at home because she was called to work and dared not refuse the command, Christine is torn by frustration with her plight.
Although she contacts friends and asks they stop by the house to check on Walter, Christine is not happy with her choice or her decision. She only knows they are ones she must make.
Upon returning home at twilight, Christine discovers her son’s absence and phones the police who dismiss her anxiety with a legalistic, and classic, response and an assurance runaways usually wend their way home within hours.
Neither are her fears allayed nor her affirmations faced. Christine becomes a voice crying out in the wilderness as she attempts to prepare the way for her son’s return home.
Her voice becomes a chant that disturbs the status quo, a voice that must be silenced at all cost. The first price to be paid is she accept a changeling child, a boy sent in her son’s stead, to be her own.
She shouts out against the move but is manipulated into taking him home, on a trial basis. When her protest becomes persistent and fortified with facts proving the boy is not her progeny, Christine is summarily declared mentally ill and institutionalized.
From this point forward, the story unfolds to reveal a world of changelings, people who are not what or who they proclaim to be. It is a world filled with the topsy-turviness of truth that turns a universe of lies upside-down. It is a frightening world because it one that can easily surface in any age.
The changeling portrays a dichotomous existence, a study in contrasts. Truth and lies coexist. Hope and desperation live side by side. Integrity and dishonesty, transparency and concealment occupy the same space.
Like the weeds and the wheat of the biblical parable, these entities are so enmeshed that separation can become a lethal operation. The solution is to live faithfully and well in the midst of them.
There lies the heart of the story—and the message for all. Christine never deviates from her understanding and her proclamation of truth. “This boy is not my son. You have stopped looking for my son. I want you to keep looking for my son. I want my son.”
She never loses hope for his return, no matter how much time has passed, how many years have elapsed without result. She maintains her integrity, her authenticity and her transparency.
However ineffective and terrifying her struggle, however devastating her experiences, Christine refuses to become embittered. Anger erupts, but it is not anger against people so much as it is against the corruption of a system that refuses to listen to the cries of the poor, the vulnerable, the outcasts of society.
It is anger that nothing is being done, anger that her queries are labeled as the nonsensical babbling of a hysterical woman and an unfit mother. Her anger mimics the harsh words of scripture as Jesus decries the whitened sepulchers, the blind fools, and the hypocrites who pose as religious leaders.
Caught in the claws of corruption, Christine sees clearly those who are supposed to be enforcing the law and protecting others from lawbreakers have declared themselves to be above it.
They have opted to enforce and protect their own positions of power. As a result, lies override truth. Desperation takes devious measures to erode the hope of innocents. Concealment trumps transparency. Unity gives way to division. There are only those who prey upon others and those who are preyed upon.
In this setting, one would presume defeat. Instead, victims are literally shocked into an unrelenting search for truth and goodness. Hope is not crushed. It is crucial and constant.
As Christine’s determination never wavers, it has a positive effect. The determination of others is both affirmed and grows exponentially. People from all walks of life find her cause an impelling one.
Parents of other “lost boys” appear. A rough, tough, jaded police officer takes a stand against the commands of his superior officers. He pursues a possibility, uncovers truth, refuses to be silenced, and seeks closure, even at the cost of his career—just as Christine makes the same choices, even at the cost of discovering her son’s demise.
The story has its moments of justification, but it is does not invite us to “walk hand in hand into the beautiful sunset.” Its invitation is crucial.
It is a commanding call to pay attention to those who are in need. It is a call to commitment. It means recognizing we can easily become changeling children who have lost our identity as children of God and have fallen prey to illusions of power and control.
Entrance into that falsehood is insidious. It tricks us into lying in the face of truth, denying in the presence of desperation, manipulating ourselves and others to concretize concealment and avoid transparency.
To live in a world of changelings is to be consistent in our response to grace and determined on our journey of holiness. It is to recognize we are all changelings in need of conversion, changelings who must discover our true identity as children of God.
We do it together, in the prisons of our life, in the midst of our losses, in the hectic pace of our workaday world.
We do it, no matter what the outcome. We do it because we trust in the power of transformation, in the reality of God’s grace. We do it within the mystery of a changeling world, believing and trusting the persistence of grace overpowers the presence of godlessness.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master's degree in theology and is the author of, “AWAKENING TO GOD: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of scriptural meditations],” leadchaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader and lecturer.