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John Zaixin Zhang

 
 
 

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A Foucauldian Interpretation of the Movie Changeling  

2011-06-11 12:13:35|  分类: +西方文化与电影 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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Also see http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/articlelist_2077202261_0_1.html (博文目录)

A Drama of Power and Truth: A Foucauldian Interpretation of the Movie Changeling  
Xiao Mengni(肖梦妮)

Department of English

Beijing Foreign Studies University


I. Introduction

A. Summary of Clint Eastwood’s movie Changeling

The word “changeling” finds its origin in medieval European myth. It refers to the kind of imposter creature used by supernatural forces to replace human children. As the movie title indicates, Clint Eastwood’s Changeling is at heart about theft of innocence and replacement of truth.

Based on actual events happening in 1920s Los Angeles, Changeling tells the story of a woman who was driven to confront a corrupted Los Angeles Police Department after her abducted “son” is returned, not the real one but an imposter. Single mother Christine Collins returns home from her job as a supervisor at Pacific Telephone to find her 9-year-old son, Walter, missing. The LAPD searches for the boy in order to save its reputation from mounting accusation of incompetence and corruption. Five months later when LAPD brings “Walter” back to Christine in front of the press; Christine insists that the boy is not her son. However, Captain Jones from LAPD vehemently disputes Christine’s claim and persuades her to take the boy home “on a trial basis.” But Christine continues to confront Captain Jones and insists that he resume searching for her real son. Accusing her of lying, delusional and shirking maternal responsibility, Captain Jones puts Christine into the police-run asylum without a warrant. The local activist Reverend Briegleb, who sees the case as his chance to expose corruption in the Los Angeles government, helps to save Christine from inhumane treatments at the asylum and brings her case to court.

In the second half of the movie, Christine’s story converges with a sub-plot detailing the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders—about twenty young boys were molested, tortured, killed and dismembered on a ranch in Riverside County by Gordon Northcott, who was arrested, trialed and hanged after his nephew Sanford Clark reveals the crime to Detective Ybarra from LAPD. In the process, Sanford Clark identifies Walter as one of the abducted boys. Though it is later revealed that Walter might have escaped from the ranch, he remains missing even until Christine’s death.

B. The reception of the movie

The central theme of Changeling, is mostly considered to be maternal love, which is powerful enough to carry Christine through her quest for justice and search for her real son. Very few critics, however, explore elements of corruption, deception, torture, etc. Some consider the social commentary and characters in the movie as “a sorrowful critique of the city’s political culture” (McCarthy). Some say that the film adds a “forgotten chapter to the L.A. noir” of those films, and that Eastwood’s melodic score contributes to an evocation of a city and a period “undergoing galvanic changes”, and that “[the] small-town feel to the street and sets... captures a society resistant to seeing what is really going on” (Honeycutt). Some regard the scene of Northcott’s execution as a protest against death penalty, since the hanging scene is “unbearable” due to its attention to detail (Blumenfeld 21). Others think that the movie inspires viewers’ contempt for psychiatry used as coercion (Denby).

C. Purpose and significance of the study

Nevertheless, all of them fail to see that elements like corruption, deception, torture converge at a more profound theme: the interplay of power and truth. An interpretation of Changeling with Foucault’s power theory proves that power and knowledge are involved in a mode of mutual production, which is localized in the use of news media, psychoanalysis, penal investigation and punishment shown in the movie.

II. Foucault’s power theory

A. Definition of power

According to Foucault, power is not an accountable force whose source can be pinpointed, but rather an omnipresent operation of political technologies throughout the social body; a general matrix of force relations featuring a given time and a given society: “Power is not an institution, and not a structure; neither is it a certain strength we are endowed with; it is the name that one attributes to a complex strategical situation in a particular society” (History 93). In this sense, power denotes a relation between different individuals and groups in society and exists only when it is being exercised. For example, a king exists only when he has subjects (O’Farrell 99).

B. Three modes of power relations

Power operates through the complex matrix of power relations, which can be categorized into three types: domination, government, and reversible power relation (Hindess 99-117). Domination denotes a kind of power relation that is stable and hierarchical and operates from top down, leaving the subject little room to maneuver. Government denotes a power relation that is the “conduct of conduct,” which means both the expected behavior and the act of shaping the behavior. It regulates the behavior of subjects by telling subjects how they should behave and therefore is “a way of attempting to give structure to the terrain of action of others” (Shiner 391). In reversible power relations, resistance challenges the original power relation and can even replace it with a new one.

Foucault considers government, the “conduct of conduct,” as the most pervasive and representative power relation. Instead of restricting freedoms, government allows incorporation of freedom into the mechanisms which guide people’s behavior in the social body (O’Farrell 106). The Foucauldian government mainly means two things: firstly, the institutions and knowledge which manage the population; secondly the preeminence of certain exercises of power based on administrative practices of governance. In short, government is the rationalization and systematization of a particular way of exercising political sovereignty through the government of people’s conduct (O’Farrell 107).

Foucault argues that genuine power relations do not feature domination, which defines a binary of the powerful and the powerless: “power relations are not a series of binary conflicts, but a mobile network of struggle… less a matter of domination than of circulation” (Discipline 26- 27; History 92-93). Rather, genuine power relation “occurs in a field of struggle where various parties attempt to give structure to the action of others and the others in turn may comply, resist and/or themselves attempt to give structure to the same terrain of action” (Shiner 391).

Discipline is central to government’s operation. By discipline, Foucault means the micro-techniques of teaching the body efficient and correct behavior through carefully supervised training and carefully designed surroundings (Shiner 393). Discipline operates primarily on the body and aims at forging a “docile [body] that may be subjected, used, transformed and improved” (Foucault, Discipline 136). Discipline is consolidated through a claim to knowledge concerning the character of the docile bodies. The promotion and spread of this knowledge are localized in disciplinary technologies and institutions, e.g. schools, hospitals, prisons, factories, armies and various other social organs.

A special field of knowledge is instrumental to the practice of discipline, and the relation between power and knowledge is a major focus of Foucault’s power theory. Foucault contends that power and knowledge are not external to each other, but always in a mode of mutual production: “there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does not presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations” (Discipline 27). Power produces knowledge, “produces reality… domains of objects and rituals of truth…creates the idea of the subject, the rules of truth, and our modes of behavior” (Shiner 392). On the other hand, possession and promotion of a certain kind of knowledge heighten the possessor’s power to manipulate and mobilize the subject, which may in the end subvert old power relations and establish new ones.

C. Definition of discourse, a linkage between power and knowledge

To better understand and specify the relation and interaction between knowledge and power, we need to introduce another key concept in Foucault’s power theory—discourse. Discourse itself was originally a technical term in linguistics and rhetoric, meaning a reasoned argument, but in some usages it has now come to mean something equivalent to “world view.” Foucault first started to use the term in The Oder of Things but only in a very limited and specialized historical context to describe a particular process of using words to represent the order of things during the eighteenth century. Foucault gradually adopted the more familiar view of discourse as verbal traces left behind by history (O’Farrell 78).

The term refers not to language or social interaction but to relatively well-bounded areas of social knowledge. For example, “in any given historical period, we can write, speak or think about a given social object or practice (madness, for example) only in certain specific ways and not others” (McHoul and Grace 31). In general, Foucault uses the term to mean a certain way of speaking, as and to define the group of statements that belong to a single system of formation of knowledge, for example, clinical discourse, economic discourse, the discourse of natural history, psychiatric discourse, etc.

Discourse is a key link between knowledge and power, because it is both a manifestation of power relations, and a primal form of knowledge. As Foucault pertinently points out that, “there can be no possible exercise of power without a certain economy of discourses of truth, which operates through and on the basis of this association. We are subjected to the production of truth through power and we cannot exercise power except through the production of truth” (McHoul and Grace 59). No body of knowledge can be formed without a system of communications, records, accumulation and displacement which is in itself a form of power and which is linked, in its existence and functioning, to other forms of power. Conversely, no power can be exercised without the extraction, appropriation, distribution or retention of knowledge (Sheridan 134).

D. Three procedures of discourse control, means of power/knowledge interaction

Through observing the characteristics of discourse, like “what can be said” and “how it is said,” we gain valuable insights into the interplay of power and knowledge. Because discourses emerge and function within the relations of power, domination and conflict, hence it provides material for a potential analysis of discourse (even of scientific discourses) which may be both tactical and political, and therefore strategic (Sheridan 134). Three main sets of procedures of discourse control bring light to the mechanism of mutual production of knowledge and power (Sheridan 121-123): exclusion, principles of rarefaction and limitation, and rarefaction of the speaking subjects.

First is exclusion. In any society the production of discourse is at once controlled, selected, organized and redistributed according to a number of procedures whose role is to assist different parties in molding the discourses in ways conducive to assert their power (Foucault, Order 10-11). The three systems of exclusion include:

Prohibition, which defines what can be said and what is forbidden to mention—“we know very well that we are not free to say anything, that we cannot speak of anything when and where we like, and that just anyone, in short, cannot speak of just anything” (Order 11).

Division and rejection refers to a principle that juxtaposes reason and madness. As a result, the discourse of the madman was not treated in the same way as that of the reasonable man. Often, the madman’s discourse is regarded as unimportant, untrue, or ineffective.

Opposition between the true and the false exposes the fact that truth and power reside not in what is said, but in who says it and how it is said. “True discourse…was the discourse spoken by men as of right and in accordance with the required ritual; it was the discourse that meted out justice…bringing to it men’s acquiescence and thus weaving itself into the fabric of fate” (Order 17).

If exclusion limits and controls discourse via outward forces and means, then the second set of procedures operate from within discourse itself, known as “principles of rarefaction and limitation.” This set encompasses commentary which makes new discourse by drawing on the multiple or hidden meanings attributed to the primary texts; author which is the unifying principle in a group of writings, the source of their significations, the focus of their coherence; discipline which makes new statements and propositions possible.

The third set of procedures that limit and control discourse denote the conditions in which it is communicated, the rules that bind those who communicate them, thus restricting access to them: in short, a “rarefaction of the speaking subjects.” The most prominent system in this set is ritual, which requires certain qualifications of the speaking subject, or defines gestures, behavior, circumstances, and the whole set of signs that must accompany the discourse. Religious, judicial, medical, even political discourses are inseparable from this ritual framework. (Order 46). Doctrines, which bind individuals to certain types of enunciation and, consequently, forbid all others, but they also use these types of enunciation to bind individuals together.

To conclude, power and knowledge are involved in a mode of mutual production. Discourse is a vital link in the process. By using the three spheres of discourse control procedures—exclusion, principles of rarefaction and limitation, rarefaction of speaking subjects—different parties spread their power and sustain their desired knowledge. A given power relation produces and spreads a certain kind of knowledge; in turn knowledge increases power and sustains the power relation. During this process, the control of discourse is instrumental to power struggles and strategies of different parties, which, through clever implementation of the means of control eventually spread the favored knowledge and heighten their respective power.

The movie Changeling exemplifies how power and knowledge interplay. The mutual production of power and knowledge and the vital role of discourse control are best seen and proven in the application of the following instruments in the movie: news media, psychoanalysis and medical examination, penal investigation and punishment.

III. Power-knowledge interaction in the movie: newspapers, radio, and other forms of media.

A. Captain Jones uses newspaper to establish his favored knowledge

As the most observable producers of discourse, newspapers, radios, and other forms of news media are applied by contending parties to convey and sustain their respective fields of knowledge. Five months after Christine reports a missing child case to LAPD, the police allege that they have found Walter. The mother-son reunion is arranged in front of a group of reporters at the train station. Though Christine disputes the boy’s identity as Walter, using his power and unquestionable authority, Captain Jones makes Christine take a picture with “Walter” by the press, who later spread the news as a proof of LAPD’s competence in combating crime. When Christine is asked by the press about the reunion with her “son,” Captain Jones jumps in and answers for her to protect his side of the story: “It was certainly quite a shock. At first she hardly recognized him. Perfectly natural, the boy’s been through quite an ordeal.”

The authority of Captain Jones gives him the privilege to perform the means of Discourse control known as author and ritual. Acting as the author of the facts and details of the case, Captain Jones also becomes the news source of all media reports. Possession of the required qualification as an authority in the matter, he is also able to perform ritual, which further adds credibility to his statement regarding the case. He announces to the press that LAPD has successfully fulfilled their duty by uniting Christine and her son, “the Los Angeles Police Department is thankful for …making this joyful reunion possible. The LAPD is dedicated to serving the public at all times.” Afterward, Captain Jones spreads his story by making Christine taking a picture with her son in front of the press, “he poses Christine and ‘Walter’ so she is holding the boy in her arms. Dazed, stunned, confused, she manages to smile for the cameras. Bulbs flash.” In the end, the power of Captain Jones successfully produces and spreads the knowledge he desires, namely the boy LAPD has brought back is Christine’s son.

In turn, this knowledge generates power to baffle Christine’s version of truth. When Christine tries to ask Captain Jones to resume searching for her real son, Captain Jones refutes her by producing the news picture which represents Christine’s acquiescence of having found her real son. When his power and desired knowledge are threatened, he again resorts to discourse control methods like prohibition and division and rejection. Performing prohibition, he tries to stifle Christine’s allegation that LAPD has failed to found her son by accusing her of shirking responsibility of raising her son:

“You know what your problem is? You want to shirk your responsibilities as a mother. You enjoyed being a free woman, didn’t you? Enjoyed not having to worry about a young son, you could do what you wanted, go where you wanted, see anyone you wanted. But then we found your son, brought him back. And now he’s an inconvenience. That’s why you cooked up this whole scheme, to try and throw him to the state, let the state raise him for you.”

Performing division and rejection, he juxtaposes LAPD and Christine in the respective position of sanity and madness, “…either you know you’re lying, or you’re not capable of knowing if you’re lying or telling the truth. So which is it, Mrs. Collins? Are you a derelict mother or just nuts? From where I sit, those are the only options.” Via discourse control techniques, the established knowledge of Captain Jones adds to his power and authority to refute Christine’s version of truth and further decide that she is either deliberately lying or delusional.

B. Christine Collins uses newspaper and radio to refute Captain Jones’ story

On the other hand, allies of Christine also cleverly usurp means of Discourse control like the media to establish and spread their knowledge to challenge the power of LAPD. The local activist Reverend Briegleb, who has long been hounding LAPD and the local government, sees Christine’s case as a brilliant opportunity to further his cause of exposing corruption. Through radio preaching, he tries to present Christine’s version of the story as the truth:

“We are told that the Los Angeles Police Department is doing the best it can to reunite mother and child, and I am sure that is true. But, given its position as the most violent, corrupt and incompetent police department this side of the Rocky Mountains, that’s not saying a great deal…Once the City of Angels, Los Angeles is now a place where our protectors have become our brutalizers...where to be the law...is to be above the law...where none dare speak truth to power. But we will not be silent. We will continue to put their offenses and their failures in full view of the public. We will not be intimidated.”

When in the later part of the movie, their knowledge gains momentum, it is able to generate enough power to mobilize Los Angeles citizens and spark a mass protest against LAPD’s wrong doing.

The final victory of Christine and Reverend Briegleb is to a large extent attributed to the use of the same set of discourse control techniques like Author, which creates their own version of the story; and ritual, which introduces their story to the public through another authoritative figure like Reverend Briegleb. Foucault’s comment on effective resistance further establishes discourse control as a key link between power/knowledge productions: resistance is more effective when it is directed at a ‘technique’ of power rather than at ‘power’ in general. It is techniques which allow for the exercise of power and the production of knowledge; resistance consists of ‘refusing’ these techniques. But the unearthing of power techniques in their modern configurations requires conceiving of the social body as a multiplicity of force relations (McHoul and Grace 86).

The above examples serve as testimony to the fact that the application of discourse control techniques facilitates the transformation between power and knowledge. “Discourse, far from being a transparent or neutral element in which sexuality is disarmed and politics pacified, is one of those privileged places where sexuality and politics exercise some of their more dangerous powers. Discourse may seem to be of little importance, but the prohibitions to which it is subject reveal soon enough its links with desire and power” (Foucault, Order 11-12).

VI. Power-knowledge interaction in the movie: psychoanalysis and medical examination

A. Dr. Tarr helps Captain Jones and baffles Christine’s story using medical examination and psychoanalysis

Compared with the media, the scientific discourses represented by medical examination and psychoanalysis in the movie is a field which witnesses more effective discourse control thus stronger power/knowledge interaction. This is mainly because of the fact that science has long been privileged as a superior configuration of knowledge in Western societies. “Science has set itself up as the ultimate form of rational thought since the Enlightenment, with scientific reason becoming the privileged way of accessing truth. For knowledge to acquire value as truth, it had to constantly strive to become scientific” (O’Farrell 88).

Foucault’s approach is aimed at breaking down the power that science exerts, showing that it is not the only means of accessing truth. According to Foucault, scientific disciplines do not mark the emergence of a pure disembodied truth conquering the errors of myth, superstition and political intrigue. Rather, they are produced in conjunction with a variety of political, social and historical factors, which all form an essential part of their makeup. These economic and political mechanisms demand the constant production and circulation of truth, consumed and regulated via educational institutions and the media, and it also forms the object of political debate and social struggle (O’Farrell 94). In this sense, science exercises considerable power in terms of excluding and invalidating other forms of knowledge and propping up particular social relations and hierarchies and forms of exclusion and inclusion (O’Farrell 90).

In Changeling, psychoanalysis and medical examination, as examples of scientific discourse, are controlled by the party in power to produce a specific knowledge of the body, endowing its creator more power to control and manipulate the docile body. Facing Christine’s challenge of the boy being Walter, Captain Jones tries to preserve the established knowledge by arranging a child specialist Dr. Tarr to confirm the boy’s identity. Dr. Tarr cleverly uses psychoanalysis to explain Walter’s physical transformation and dispel Christine’s doubt. To account for Walter’s decrease in height, Dr. Tarr explains that due to the traumatic experience of being abducted, it is possible that Walter’s spine shrinks: “Trauma can affect the growth of children. Given the stress of the last four months his spine may have actually shrunk. It’s uncommon, but within the realm of possibility.” To remove Christine’s doubt of the boy’s false identity because he has been circumcised while Walter is not, Dr. Tarr says that the abductors may have performed the circumcision and “Walter” chooses to submerge the traumatic memory: “Very likely his abductor thought it [circumcision] appropriate. After all, circumcision is hygienically sound. Must have been quite traumatic at the time—no wonder he’s submerged the memory.” He further questions Christine’s ability of being objective since her intuition and emotion disable her to make as fair a judgment as scientific psychoanalysis does: “You’re in no position to be objective. You are looking through the prism of extreme emotion at a boy who has changed from what you remember…A mother’s heart, driven by intuition and emotion rather than logic, sees these changes and rebels, insists that this cannot be your son. But that doesn’t change the facts.”

Dr. Tarr here exposes another discourse control technique used by Captain Jones—doctrine, which binds him to base all his diagnoses of Walter and Christine in line with Captain Jones’ side of the story. Dr. Tarr is what Foucault calls a “specific intellectual,” who understands a specific scientific discipline and is enlisted by the authority to present privileged forms of knowledge as truth (Downing 4). Therefore, the knowledge presented by Dr. Tarr is saturated with power. All his judgment is made under the direction of the figure in power, Captain Jones. All his explanations of Walter’s physical change and Christine’s mental status are formed for the purpose of supporting Captain Jones’ established knowledge and preserve his power. This is proven when he confirms Captain Jones’ story in front of the press: “In the course of my examination, I found nothing to dispute the findings by the LAPD.”

The specific knowledge produced by Dr. Tarr’s psychoanalysis in turn generates more power and justifies the desired power relation. Techniques of discourse control like division and rejection, opposition between the true and the false are frequently used in the practice of psychoanalysis, thus making it a more powerful form of scientific discourse. A patient’s psychological condition is totally prone to the judgment of the medical staff like a doctor or a psychiatrist, whose words have the power to define a patient as mad and reject his accounts as false. As is shown in the movie, Dr. Tarr helps to suppress Christine’s dispute and sustain Captain Jones’ authority by providing ill accounts of Christine’s psychological condition. In this case, control of the discourses provided by psychoanalysis, the making of the modern self as a subject of and as subject to interrogation, knowledge and classification, exemplifies a potent combination of knowledge of power localized on the body (Hindess 110).

B. Captain Jones controls the discourse of psychoanalysis and confines Christine in the asylum

As a disciplinary institution, the asylum produces individualized knowledge of the patients and preserves power relations that operate by controlling the body. After Captain Jones presents the knowledge of the boy being Christine’s real son, and dictates Dr. Tarr to back him up, he is challenged by Christine’s counter evidence provided by Walter’s teacher and doctor. As the doctor proves that the boy is different from Walter in some physical characteristics: “Walter’s upper front teeth were separated by a small muscle. Made them sit about an eighth of an inch apart. The boy in that room has no such gap…which can never come together without an operation to sever the muscle, and I can tell you right now that he [the alleged Walter] has never had such an operation.” Walter’s teacher also supported Christine’s story, “Mrs. Collins, if that [the boy found by LAPD] is your son, I’ll eat my yardstick. Not only will I put that in writing, I’ll swear to it in a court of law and in front of President Calvin Coolidge himself if I have to.”

To sustain or even impose his power/knowledge, Captain Jones enlists the disciplinary institution, asylum, to incarcerate Christine on the ground of paranoia, in order to stifle her version of knowledge. Again, with his absolute power to control the medical discourse and relevant institutions, Captain Jones gained more power in the sense that he has successfully thrown Christine into the police-run asylum.

Apart from the common disciplinary techniques like organization of living space, daily timetable and activities of the patients, the asylum employs a more powerful technique—control of the body through medical examinations. As soon as she is confined in the mental hospital, Christine is forced to go through a series of body examination like blood test, and is turned into a medical case. According to Foucault, the medical examination is both a ritual of power and an acquisition of knowledge; it permits both surveillance and a normative judgment. At one and the same time, examination distinguishes individuals by virtue of their performance and generates a set of comparative data for the study of populations (Shiner 394). Through the intrusive examination of her body, the mental hospital obtains a knowledge of Christine’s body. For example, her physical and mental status, whether she has contracted syphilis and whether she is sane or not. As a result, she is individualized into a medical case, and “a mass of documents that capture and fix her in terms of her conducts, performances and symptoms is generated” (Shiner 394).

The grasp on medical discourse and the possession of this whole bulk of knowledge gives the medical staff power and absolute authority to describe, judge and control the patient. Christine’s best friend in the asylum, Carol Dexter, ironically comments on the asylum’s absolute authority over the patient’s condition “If you smile too much, you’re delusional or stifling hysteria. If you don’t smile, you’re depressed. If you’re neutral you’re emotionally withdrawn and potentially catatonic.” The knowledge/power of the mental hospital successfully makes them compliance in Captain Jones’ scheme of sustaining power.

V. Power-knowledge interaction in the movie: penal investigation, and judicial process

A. LAPD establish Northcott as the murderer through private investigation

The judiciary may be the grandest arena of discourse control and the mutual production of power and knowledge. The control of discourse and circulation of power/knowledge is so pervasive and systemic that they become more or less invisible to the public. Foucault penetrates this veil of “justice” by exposing the absolute power and right of judgment of the legal system.

Penal investigation, controlled and carried out by the authority, produces the desired knowledge, which is to be confirmed by the required confession of the accused and be used to reassert state power through public execution of the criminal.      

The authorities possess the power to establish an accusation and to verify it through private investigation. This process, according to Foucault, produces for the authorities a specific kind of knowledge concerning the accused. It follows an extremely elaborate code of procedure, requiring evidence, proof, and so on. And the accused was totally removed from these proceedings, which were held in secret (Dreyfus and Rabinow 145): “Written, secret, subjected, in order to construct its proofs, to rigorous rules, the penal investigation was a machine that might produce the truth in the absence of the accused” (Foucault, Discipline 37).

“Up to the point of court hearings, the criminal procedure had remained secret, hidden not only from the public, but from the accused himself, who was aware neither of the charge, nor of the evidence. Knowledge was the absolute privilege of the prosecution. The judges met the accused only once, in order to question him before passing sentence (Sheridan 140).

Foucault further contends that the function of judicial torture was to extract the truth, and that of the public execution was to manifest and publish it. “It added to the conviction the signature of the convicted man. A successful public execution justified justice, in that it published the truth of the crime in the very body of the man to be executed (Sexuality 48; Discipline 44)”. The public execution was a political spectacle in another sense: in it the main character was the spectators, whose real and immediate presence was required for the performance. The spectator was not only a witness of the spectacle, it also took part in it, insulting, sometimes attacking, the condemned man (Sexuality 64; Discipline 60-1) (Sheridan 141).

According to Foucault, Punishment is not just as part of the legal machinery, but as a political tactic, as a technique for the exercise of power. The forms of power at work in such institutions and, increasingly, in society at large are imbued with social and psychological knowledge, but equally, those forms of knowledge are permeated by power relations (Sheridan 138).

In the later part of the movie, Walter is suspected to have been abducted and killed by a murderer named Gordon Brown at his ranch. Detective Ybarra from LAPD carries out the investigation of the Chicken Coop Murders totally privately with the suspect Gordon Northcott at large, and bases his judgment primarily on the accounts of Gordon’s teenage nephew Sanford Clark. Ybarra establishes Gordon as the murder suspect just because his minor nephew accuses him of killing kids on his ranch in Wineville, “Me and Gordon, we...we killed some kids...he made me help him, said if I didn’t he’d kill me, too.” Later Ybarra leads Clark back to Gordon’s ranch at Wineville where they have excavated remains of children, and officially establishes Gordon as the murder.

As Foucault has commented, in the penal system, there were degrees of proof: full proof, approximate or semi-proof and distant proof or clues. They were governed by precise rules: thus a full proof might lead to any sentence, a semi-proof to any of the heavy penalties except death, while mere clues could lead only to the issuing of a writ, a fine, or a deferment for further inquiry. Moreover, they could be combined according to prescribed arithmetical rules: two semi-proofs could make a complete proof, several clues could add up to a semi-proof, but never to a full proof (Sheridan 140). So even though no direct evidence points to Gordon as the murderer, this private proceeding based on Clark’s accounts and the excavated remains establishes a truth that is primarily decided by the police force, which shows the government’s absolute control of the legal discourse.

B. Confession and verdict affirm Northcott as the murder

To better ground the knowledge produced by private investigation, the law also demands a confession from the accused. As Foucault puts it, “the confession, an act of the criminal, responsible and speaking subject, was the complement to the written, secret preliminary investigation” (Discipline 38). In the movie, when Gordon Northcott at first refuses to plead guilty to his charges of “three counts of murder in the first degree, with an additional seventeen counts under review by the district attorney’s office,” all the attendants at court seem to be flabbergasted; this indirectly proves that a confession from the accused is absolutely necessary to confirm the truth produced by police investigation.

After the knowledge of the accused is established through a verdict, it gives the penal system power to execute the criminal. Through the public display of execution, the power of the authorities is reasserted. Foucault comments that the public display of execution of the criminal not only inflicts pain, but mostly importantly, the pain inscribed on the criminal body helps “validate the truth of the justice of the torture and the truth of the accusations” (Dreyfus and Rabinow 145).

C. Public execution of Northcott confirms LAPD’s verdict

The detailed and vivid execution scene of Gordon Northcott hardly gives the witnesses peace despite the fact that “justice is done.” Rather, it reveals the power and violence involved in the penal procedure, the scale and multitude of which can even exceed the evil nature of the crime. The movie director Clint Eastwood explains that the execution scene is intended as a critique of the death penalty: “Crimes against children would be at the top of list for justifications of capital punishment, but that whether one were pro- or anti-capital punishment, the barbarism of public executions must be recognized” (Blumenfeld).

 VI. Conclusion

In the movie Changeling, social organs like the media, human sciences like psychoanalysis and medical examination, institutions like the asylum and the penal system—all of them are proven to be sites where power and truth interact, especially through the control of discourse. An interpretation of the movie with Foucault’s power theory reveals that power and knowledge are never external to each other, but constantly interplay and reproduce each other.

Works Cited

Blumenfeld, Samuel. “Clint Eastwood, dans les ténèbres de Los Angeles” (in French). Le Monde. 12 June  2008: 21-22. Print.

Changeling. Dir. Clint Eastwood. Prod. Clint Eastwood. Perf. Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich. Universal Pictures, 2008. DVD. 

Denby, David. “Troubled Sons.” The New Yorker. 27 October 2008: 17. Print.

Downing, Lisa. The Cambridge Introduction to Michel Foucault. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge UP, 2008. Print.

Dreyfus, Hubert L., and Paul Rabinow. Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago, 1983. Print.

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Pantheon, 1979. Print.

---. Language, Counter-memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1977. Print.

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