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:: The Machinist

Only a short way into The Machinist, styles, imagery, themes and characters from a collection of films and director’s work, begin to percolate through the viewer’s mind. In fact, quotes from Variety and Loaded Magazine emblazoned on the DVD jacket direct attention to The Machinist’s derivatives, inviting comparisons before so much as the opening credits begin.

The central character, Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) - the machinist of the title - moves through his days in a semi-sedated fashion owing to chronic insomnia. His muted, sleep-deprived state is well-expressed through a palette of grim, colourless frames and hazy grey–green vistas. The character and story set-up is long and slow, allowing for lengthy immersion in Trevor’s world. We quickly become acquainted with his routines and rituals and watch as physical expression is given to his gradual mental decline through rapid weight loss. As he changes from sinuous to emaciation he documents the change on post-it notes. Barely able to operate the machinery at the factory where he works this soporific, calm-before-the-storm drudgery is broken with the appearance of a menacing presence; a grinning larger-than-life aggressor who starts to invade his terminally wakeful life. Unable to distinguish between reality and the figments of his addled mind, an horrific work accident followed by a string of inexplicable events (freakish messages on post-it notes, blood-leaking fridges and spooky fairground scenes) begin to turn him against himself; a fugitive running from his own thoughts.

It’s difficult to set aside the similarity The Machinist bears to more widely celebrated films (like Memento) and the work of directors like Lynch. Several classic thriller settings make an appearance including fairground carousels, ghoulish tunnel rides, deserted train stations and dank underground sewers. Likewise, well-worn themes crop-up such as memory loss affecting sanity, the purity of motherhood being threatened and an individual unwittingly stumbling into perilous situations that the audience knows are loaded with danger. These motifs appear in The Machinist without unexpected twists and disappear without suspense. But like blood seeping from a body, the full force of this film spreads well beyond its 90 or so minutes. Throughout, most viewers will nurse a hunch that all is not as portrayed. And, once the true state of affairs is revealed, (albeit with taunting ambiguity), it is difficult not to replay pivotal moments long after the film has finished, examining new angles to reveal deeper meaning.

Consequently, The Machinist becomes one long lesson in perception. Several scenes reference schlock horror but rarely follow through to an anticipated bloody conclusion, begging the supposition that the character of Trevor and the film’s primary purpose is far more complex than first appears.

Just as Trevor tries to see through the fug obscuring clear thought, the audience must make sense of the moments we witness as they happen and re-examine them well after the film is finished. By playing with what’s real and not real, what’s conscious and unconscious and what’s present and what’s passed, the writer has created a compelling statement about the power of our minds to betray our own sanity. He raises an interesting proposition that negative past experiences lay like psychological time bombs ready to be detonated by the heightened states of hysteria, insomnia, paranoia, desperation and fear. And these time bombs coupled with the propulsion of intense feeling will access and distort the wealth of horror imagery in our collective unconscious.

DVD Extras

Photo Gallery
Behind the Scenes
Scene Selection