“If you were any thinner, you wouldn't exist.”
Trevor Reznik hasn't slept for a year. Something terrible is eating away at him, clawing down the walls of his sanity as cruelly as the flesh it rips from his bones. Reduced to little more than a walking skeleton he drifts through a blighted life that is becoming one long, waking nightmare. With the eyes of the haunted he stares at a world that is closing in on him, events tumbling out of control as his grasp on reality fractures, paranoia sketching a conspiracy here, a vendetta there. After an industrial accident leaves a co-worker crippled, Trevor finds himself at the centre of what he believes is a nefarious plot to hound him. Who is leaving cryptic Post -It notes of a hangman's noose on his fridge door? Who is the mysterious Ivan that has suddenly appeared at the machine-shop where he works? And why can nobody else see him? Is someone trying to drive him mad, or is it all in his sleep-deprived imagination? Take a walk with Trevor and you enter a maze of fear and deception from which there is no escape.
Whilst much of the hype surrounding Brad Anderson's nihilistic tale of guilt and madness centred around Christian Bale's incredible self-decimation to perfect the role of Trevor, it is actually the performance he gets from his star that assures The Machinist is no mere one-note novelty act. Having dropped an astonishing and, indeed, life-threatening, amount of weight to embody the tortured Reznik, the first impression of his emaciated form is one of itching distaste - pathetically gaunt with protruding ribs, matchstick arms and legs and a sunken face, he's hardly the hero we expect to see - but very quickly, Bale asserts a charisma and a strength that replaces the initial revulsion with something akin to wonder. Far from the vulnerability you would expect, his machinist is a quick-minded and confident individual, his physical fragility trounced by the sheer bulk of his mesmerising presence. As always, Bale holds the attention indelibly, literally stamping his raw persona deep into your mind. Rooting for Reznik is easy - he may be extremely odd, but he's also very likeable. And his delicate state is not without its humorous side - though that gangly run is totally, and sadly, authentic. You really believe that this guy has not slept, and that the world he perceives around him is a swirling kaleidoscope of images that he may, or may not be able to trust. But pretty soon, we forget to see the ghostly Holocaust-victim as we search for the key to his plight ... since we know that his condition was not always thus, and that someone, somewhere is playing a trick on him. A conundrum wrapped in a mystery and sealed within a puzzle, The Machinist is not so much a whodunit as a who-done-what, and why? The route to finding out will be painful and wrought with anxiety, but the palpable sense of dread created within this almost monochrome movie is wonderfully atmospheric, a concoction that is part Polanski's The Tenant, part Chris Nolan's Memento, but overwhelmingly Hitchcockian in execution. In its sly and insinuating manner, The Machinist takes you places that you would normally have no desire to go. But with such a compelling and instinctive guide as Trevor, you'd be foolish not to pick up the clues along the way, and follow.
“A little guilt goes a long way.”
With awesome backup from Jennifer Jason Leigh as the hooker-with-a-heart that Trevor can always turn to, a marvellous swagger from John Sharian as the hulking, shaven-headed Ivan, and the mighty Michael Ironside (a personal fave of mine since his portrayal of the nasty scanner, Darryl Revok, in Cronenberg's seminal Scanners) as victim of the afore-mentioned machine-mishap, the film benefits from meaty, and often malevolent characters, who all seem to have hidden agendas. But it is from Spanish actress Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, as the airport coffee-shop waitress with whom Trevor sparks up a delicate, fledgling relationship, that we find the necessary heart and soul that may provide some light at the end of the insomniac's dark tunnel. Watch out for the majestically filmed sequence at the Route 666 Highway To Hell fun-ride for a bravura set-piece that offers up as many twisted clues as it does haunting visions. In fact, there's so many clever references and red-herrings flung about the tale that it really does benefit from repeated viewing - fish-heads, a cigarette at 1.30, lots of nagging little elements that play almost subliminally on the mind, building up a strange foundation that eventually heralds a unique sense of deja-vu as the plot unfolds. That we only learn things at the same time as Trevor, and are forced to jump to the same conclusions he does, is the ace up writer Scott Kosar's sleeve. He is literally putting us in the same warped frame of mind, jumbling up the bigger picture in order that we, too, suffer the same dislocation and anxiety that Trevor does.
“Is someone chasing you?”
“Not yet. But they will when they find out who I am.”
Another wonderful touch is the eerie score from Roque Banos, which is pure Bernard Herrmann at his best, and most mysterious. Clearly intending to evoke the spirit of Hitchcock's Psycho and Vertigo, the music is a Theremin-laced slide through dementia, ominous and doom-laden, but not without moments of ghostly eloquence that tingle with slow-burn menace. The use of the Theremin is rare these days and captures here, aptly enough, a nostalgic flavour of The Twilight Zone, or Herrmann's own The Day The Earth Stood Still, with its otherworldly lamenting. And the use of Barcelona, standing in for what we take to be LA, creates a not-quite-right appearance that is, at once, familiar and strange. A disquieting fusion of what we often see and hear, relocated in body and spirit - much like the thoughts running through Trevor's brain.
“You know so little about me. What if I turn into a werewolf, or something?”
If there's a fault with the film, then it is perhaps the rather preposterous extremes that Reznik is prepared to go to in order to trace the elusive Ivan - which does shift the tone of the film into a vaguely unwelcome higher gear. But then again, if Bale, the actor, is prepared to take his devotion to the role to such a tortuous level, then perhaps it is fitting that Reznik, in the throes of his paranoia, would elect such drastic measures, himself. Still, the car and foot-chases seem slightly shoe-horned in, and don't sit too comfortably with all that has gone before. This is only a slight gripe, though. Brad Anderson, whose earlier chiller, Session 9, proved what a deft handler of a tightly-scripted nightmare he was, maintains an edgy, cold grip on the emotions throughout. Not a horror film as such - although it certainly leans quite purposely into that territory for much of the time - The Machinist walks a tightrope between the psychological and the truly heartrending. With some beautifully touching final scenes that seemed to confound and consternate many stone-hearted critics, I found the much-debated resolution utterly perfect, and no less of an emotional gut-punch than this difficult, and poignant, tale deserved. The outcome - I don't want to call it a twist - is logical and immensely powerful. I feel compelled to defend it here because I have read so much negativity towards it and want to set the record straight. Neither false, nor anti-climactic, as has been claimed, it begs you to dive in again and savour the bittersweet mystery and tragedy of Trevor Reznik's damaged world. A marvellous achievement.
“I'll see you around.”One more interesting facet - a mind-bending plot like Chris Nolan's Memento, and starring American Psycho's Patrick Batemen, himself. Bateman becomes Batman in Chris Nolan's awesome Batman Begins. There's some weird kind of symmetry here, almost like a dance.
Let's just hope that the music doesn't stop.
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