Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Machinist

All right, the movie in which Christian Bale falls deeper and deeper into insanity. No, not American Psycho. The one where he lost a crazy amount of weight to look hauntingly cadaverous? No, not The Fighter. The one where Michael Ironside gives a subtle, nuanced performance? OK, that one doesn't ring a bell.

This is The Machinist (2004). Written by Scott Kosar (who wrote a couple of horror remakes) and directed Brad Anderson (who preceded this with the creepy abandoned asylum movie Session 9), The Machinist tells the story of Trevor Reznik (Bale), an industrial worker who hasn't slept in a year. I'd call him rail-thin, but he's not that big; he's practically a walking skeleton (Bale lost a crazy amount of weight, subsisting on a daily diet of an apple and one can of tuna, so this is no trick of the camera).  Physically, he's wasting away, and his sanity isn't far behind.

Trevor is fairly lonely, isolated. His only connections are hooker Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and waitress Marie (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon). Things start getting weird after he meets the bizarre Ivan (John Sharian) and an accident at the plant occurs involving co-worker Miller (Michael Ironside). Before long, Trevor can't tell what's real or who to trust.

The Machinist could be described as Kafkaesque. It's dark, paranoid, and weird. Trevor becomes convinced someone or some people are out to get him. While the movie is shot in color, Anderson drains a good deal color out of it, so much of this world looks gray and washed out, giving the film an alienating, desolate effect. Only a few items have a strong color, most notably a red car driven by Ivan that Trevor tries to keep up with but can never quite catch. Trevor becomes suspicious someone's been in his apartment when he find post-it notes with a game of hangman on it; ominous, no doubt.

The film also includes some nightmarish imagery: a severed hand spinning on a mechanical turntable, blood flowing out of a freezer, Trevor's decent into a dank tunnel underneath the subway. When Maria's son Nicholas has an epileptic seizure at an amusement park and Trevor runs carrying him, Anderson removes the sound and films in slight slow motion. Trevor calls for help, but of course, no one responds to his cries. Later, things get even wonkier, most notably when someone who is clearly killed returns in a way that is impossible.

I can't discount the craft of The Machinist, but I can't bring myself to get too enthused about it. These descents into madness usually help when they begin with some sense of normalcy, but Trevor's pretty weird from the start and his actions only become increasingly erratic, desperate, and self-destructive, making it hard to empathize with him. There is an explanation to the movie, which I will not divulge, but in retrospect, a good portion of what we witness turns out to have not happened. It's not bad on the level of High Tension, but it's an example of why unreliable perspectives can be troublesome.

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