While waiting in line for the midnight premiere of the newest horror flick, we have adrenaline running through our bodies watching the previews and seeing the lights dim. At last it is completely dark. Creepy music makes its way into the theater; we can feel the anticipation in the air. Our palms begin to sweat, our hearts are racing, and our minds are questioning “what’s going to happen next?”. Finally we are being shown what is behind the door, we see the monster for the first time, as we peak through our fingers. As scared as we are we keep watching. Once it is over we remind our self that it was “just a movie” and is not real. But if it is not real, then why are we so scared, and why do we watch it?
The Changeling is a story of a composer named Doctor Russell living in New York, who loses his wife and daughter in a traffic accident on vacation. After their deaths he moves himself cross country to Washington State, where he rents an eerie Victorian style mansion and begins to try to live again. Doctor Russell discovers that he has company in his large home and becomes intrigued to find who or what it is. He discovers that it is a ghost murdered by his own father, now being replaced by an imposter who collaborates with the father to carry out the lie. The ghost of this child has shown himself through shattered windows, opening and closing doors, and speaking during a séance. Russell digs deeper to find that the child murdered is linked to a powerful family in the town and whose heir is a senator. As the movie goes on, we as the audience try to discover who the monster is, why we are frightened and what is the other. Robin Wood explains to us that the reason we are scared is because somehow the horror film is linked to our life.
He explains the idea of basic repression which is “universal, necessary, and inescapable. Basic repression makes us distinctively human, capable of directing our own lives and co-existing with others” (Wood). The movie The Changeling shows us how repression is turned to oppression and that things are not always what they seem. The irony in this movie is that we tend to think of monsters as something from another world, but in this case the monsters are not from another world, but are normal people that are monstrous. The father and the imposter child are the monsters, but instead of having a frightening face and unrealistic power, they are monsters because of the character and not their appearance. Every horror film has a monster, whether it is supernatural, human or animalistic. In the changeling, we believe that the monster is introduced with the banging Russell hears every morning at six AM.
We think that there is an evil ghost wanting to run Russell out of his new home. This is a definite possibility after hearing, “That [the] house is not fit to live in. No one’s been able to live in it. [And] it doesn’t want people” (Minnie). What kind of horror movie would it be if there wasn’t a house full of secrets? Russell discovers a door boarded up behind a closet, as the audience we want to see what is behind the door but at the same time is scared what lies behind it. There is somewhat of a struggle as Russell is trying to break the lock off the door. As he is trying to break the lock we hear the reoccurring boom and are anticipating what is going to happen next. The director takes us up the stairs with very dim lighting that leads us into an attic that has a child’s belongings, a child’s wheelchair, a music box and more. As the movie progresses Russell discovers who the ghost is after a séance.
The ghost is a boy named Joseph Carmichael; he was a crippled sick child, and in the event of his death the family fortune would pass to his mother’s side of the family. Desperate to keep control and money, Joseph’s father drowned his own son and secretly replaced him with a healthy orphan. He told people that he took his son to Europe and he was miraculously cured, when he returned he acted as if he did nothing wrong. He gave his secret new son a small medal he wore around his neck that his real son had as well. We at first believe that the monster is the ghost haunting the house but it’s really the father of Joseph.
We learned that Woods believes that every horror film has a reason as to why it scares us and that we have repressed memories whether they are universal or personal. Freud believed that our society’s repression was becoming unbearable. He believed this lead to: “frustration, dissatisfaction, anxiety, greed, possessiveness, jealousy, and neuroticism” (Freud). In the case of The Changeling, half of these beliefs become a reality. Joseph’s father is, greedy, possessive and frustrated. The reason we are afraid of the monster is because we don’t see our parents as people who could kill their own child. In addition to Joseph’s father being a monster the imposter is just as much of a monster. Joseph’s father is a monster because he murdered his own son. The imposter Joseph knows the truth but is in denial and does not want the truth out because he is greedy and does not want to lose what he has gained because of the lie. The monsters are so scary to us in real life because: we do not believe a parent can murder a child. We see children as pure and innocent and not capable of growing up into monsters that will cover up a murder for money.
In the movie The Changeling there are many things that we do not consider “normal”. Normal can be defined in many ways; it all depends on your culture, society and location. In the movie ghosts are not normal neither are murderess fathers. The other (monster) emerges from what we believe is right and wrong, this knowledge is gained by our super ego. We see the other in forms that are not gruesome or unwatchable but that are raw and real. This film give us a different kind of scare, it’s the underlining reality that scares us. The other is very real and possible. As an audience we see that it gives us goose bumps and doubts in our lives because something that seems morally impossible is proven possible.
Throughout the film the two monsters scares us more than a creature we cannot explain because it is something that can really happen in our own lives. Russell tells the imposter Joseph something very powerful, “You’re the beneficiary of the worst kind of murder… murder for profit!” (Russell). In our lives today money is huge benefactor. If we do not have it we would do anything to get it, and if we do have we will do anything not to lose it. Joseph’s father used his repression in a way that connected to oppression. In turn what escaped his repression was now being dealt with oppression. Oppression is a cruel exercise of authority or power, which was used by both the monsters. Joseph’s father used his power by killing his son and the imposter used wealth to keep his secret.
As I anticipated watching The Changeling, I wondered what gruesome things I was going to see and what kind of monster was going to be in my dreams that night. To my surprise it was not at all what I expected. When I think of horror I see bloody death scenes and people screaming. But this film was different; it made me truly think of all the harsh realities in the world. It made me think what would happen if my own repressions turned into oppression. It also made me question what is normal. My normal is different from others normal. I began to think what is universally normal and came to the conclusion that normality may not always be perfect that there are things in the world that happen even though they are not thought to be possible.
A monster is not always a monster because of its animal like body and cruel intentions, but can be a person whose monster lives within. Normal cannot be based on appearances. Someone might look normal but they are not, other may not look normal but they are. What is horrific does not always have to deal with unrealistic creatures that hide in the dorm bathrooms at three in the morning but can be the janitor who has to clean the bathrooms every day and is seeking revenge on those who cannot clean up after themselves.
The Changeling, proves that monsters are not always mythical creatures or even psychotic people, but ‘normal’ ones. People we may see as put together could be the ones who have repression that is waiting to come out. We learned why we are afraid of things that are unexplainable and things that are so painfully unbelievable. Also what the ‘other’ really is what we see as normal in form of a monster. Monsters come in many shapes and forms, as seen in The Changeling.