The Machinist (2004)
Directed by Brad Anderson
Produced by Carlos Fernández
Written by Scott Kosar
Cinematography by Xavi Giménez
Music by Roque Baños
DVD – interlibrary loan (1:42)
The Machinist disturbs us from the very first frame and never lets up until the final credits roll, yet when you think about it, we’re really not off the hook even then. Much of what disturbs us is watching an emaciated Christian Bale, who lost 62 pounds for the role of Trevor Reznik, a machinist with a prolonged case of insomnia. The disturbing sight of Bale is a strong foundation for more things that will disturb us in the film, grounding the audience in elements that have one foot in horror and the other in noir. Part of what makes The Machinist so powerful is in how it maintains that balance.
Just one look at Reznik tells us something’s terribly wrong with him, beyond his emaciation and his insomnia. There’s something in his eyes that’s way beyond forlorn, something in his manner that’s almost completely defeated. He’s something of an outcast at his job as a machinist, initially manifested in a lack of interest in hanging out with his co-workers after work.
He finds some degree of comfort by frequenting an airport diner where a waitress named Maria (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, above) is kind to him, but finds his only real solace in the arms of a prostitute named Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), whom he hires frequently. Both women inform him that if he were any thinner he wouldn’t exist.
But there’s more going on with Reznik. He meets Ivan (John Sharian, above), a new guy at work who makes him uncomfortable during a smoke break. Reznik is so shaken by the encounter that he fails to pay attention to his work and is responsible for an accident that causes a co-worker (Michael Ironside) to lose an arm. Not only is he overcome with guilt, but Reznik also suspects someone is sneaking into his apartment, leaving cryptic post-it notes showing games of Hangman.
Of course if you’ve been around awhile, you’ve seen this type of thing before. Maybe you know where it’s going and maybe you don’t, but I doubt you’ve seen the game played this well before. You’ll no doubt notice elements of Hitchcock, Rod Serling, and David Lynch, but the way writer Scott Kosar and director Brad Anderson blend those elements together is simply masterful. The same can be said for the desaturated colors and the music, both of which are strong elements but not strong enough to distract from the whole. Combined with a heavy (but not too heavy) dose of symbolism, these elements work in concert because none of them ever outshine the others. I mentioned the film’s balancing act of keeping the horror and noir elements fairly even. The balance of cinematography, music, and symbolism is practically miraculous. With just a breeze too much of any of them, the film is destroyed. But that doesn’t happen.
The performances are superb. I don’t think I’m being hyperbolic by saying that Bale deserved an Oscar nomination for the role and not simply for losing the weight. I’ll bet he didn’t lose any weight in his eyes: that’s where the performance lives. The rest of the cast is tremendous as well. Again, you think you know these characters; you’ve seen them before in other films, but don’t be surprised when they don’t follow your exact expectations.
Also you probably shouldn’t analyze the film too much, at least during the first viewing. I say that not in order for you to give the film a pass, but to allow it to work on you as it develops. You can always go back and watch it again for analysis purposes, that is if you can stand to see Bale’s emaciated body (frequently shirtless) again.
And watching the movie again (or for the first time) just got easier. Paramount is reissuing the film on Blu-ray in just a few days. (I covered this and other new film noir and neo-noir releases for August here.) I highly recommend it.
Photos: DVD Beaver, The Agitation of the Mind