‘The Machinist’: a haunting psychological thriller
December 7, 2004
Clearly things are not going well for Trevor Reznick. The central figure in “The Machinist” claims not to have slept in a year, and from the looks of his gaunt frame, it may have been just as long since the last time he ate. His only confidants are two women he pays to keep him company: the sensitive but frail call girl Stevie, and Marie, a waitress at an airport diner whom Trevor leaves unusually large tips. At the grim, industrial-age machine shop where he works, Trevor’s status among his co-workers has been downgraded from tolerable to suspect. To top things off, Trevor is being stalked by a big, bald dude with a menacing drawl.So we know Trevor is undergoing an existential crisis. What we don’t know is why; what we further don’t know is if we’re ever going to find out why. Director Brad Anderson’s film plops us right in the lap of Trevor’s problems, and all we can see is Trevor’s day-to-day existence (which is only getting worse). Trevor, played with convincing disturbance by Christian Bale, is a pure victim of circumstance: He doesn’t question how he got in his distressed state, but just waits for the next piece of the sky to fall on him. In this, Trevor is akin to a character out of Kafka (although what he actually carries with him is a copy of Dostoevsky). So, like Trevor, whose memory is clouded by his lack of sleep, we just watch and wait for the next steps into the abyss – which most assuredly come, one after another.
Neither Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) nor Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón) seems likely to lead to an explanation of how Trevor got where he is. Both offer a sympathetic shoulder – and perhaps the glimmer of a way out of the gloom – but no link to the past.The only thread worth chasing is the bald guy, Ivan (John Sharian). To Trevor, Ivan is a threat, always smirking, seeming to follow him. But to the film watcher, Ivan is even more suspicious: no one other than Trevor believes he even exists, and his constant lurking presence defies logic. And as Trevor gets hotter on Ivan’s trail, the connection between the two gets bigger, deeper and stranger.Like “Memento” or “Mulholland Drive,” “The Machinist” is a psychological thriller which spends more energy creating its own realities than in delivering an ending which you could never see coming, but makes perfect logic in the aftermath. Like, say, “The Sixth Sense,” or any other film by M. Night Shyamalan. “The Machinist” drops all kinds of symbols, hints and recurring scenarios: running red lights, cigarette lighters, toes and fingers. But this is not a film that challenges your ability to be clever by tempting you to figure out the ending. For one thing, it’s never clear that there is an ending to be figured out. For another, “The Machinist” is looser than that, more concerned with atmosphere and emotional landscape than plot.
In this, “The Machinist” will likely earn cult status. The way the film conveys its capital-‘S’ significance at every turn will probably deepen the appeal for some, but make it less accessible for others. Bale’s performance – his skeletal appearance alone – is unforgettable. The film’s bleached-out look, the sound and mood of the machine shop, the tone of Ivan’s voice are all perfect touches of noir cinema. And the themes, especially of guilt and what that emotion, unresolved, can bring a person to, are presented in a way sure to provoke discussion. And possibly nightmares.
“The Machinist” will show at the Wheeler Opera House Monday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Running time: 102 minutes. Classified: R (for violence and disturbing images, sexuality and language).Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org