Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Machnist

By s. Sunday, October 9, 2011 , , , , , , ,
(101 min, 2004)
Director: Brad Anderson
Writer: Scott Kosar
Stars: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Aitana Sánchez-Gijón

Nightmares of the guilty.
“I am denial guilt and fear
and I control you
I am the prayers of the naive
and I control you
I am the lie that you believe
and I control you”

- “Mr. Self Destruct”, Nine Inch Nails

Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) is a lathe-operator who suffers from insomnia and hasn't slept in a year. Slowly, he begins to doubt his sanity as increasingly bizarre things start happening at work and at home. Haunted by a deformed co-worker who no one seems to think exists, and an ongoing stream of indecipherable Post-It notes he keeps finding on his fridge, he attempts to investigate what appears to be a mysterious plot against him and, in the process, embroils two women in his madness.

This could have been a great movie, but for me – it's only good. I don't like movies from my own country but when a Polish film dealing with the subject of crime and guilt (“Dług” - “The Debt” in English) tops foreign production – then believe me, it's bad. The movie failed in the crucial thing – the character. Trevor is brilliantly portrayed by Christian Bale, his character is very well developed. But I didn't care about him, at all. Why? I am an empathetic person and I can relate to many things in movies, but seeing an asshole who, out of sheer stupidity, kills a child and then runs away is something I will never (I hope) be able to relate to. I should be sad about what's happening to Trevor – he looks so harmless and sad, but when the truth is revealed I was a bit sorry his arm was rescued in one of the scenes. Killing someone by accident is awful, but understandable. Killing someone because you are not looking at the road while you are driving is not an accident – that kind of stupidity must have been growing for years. No, I definitely can't feel sorry for someone like that.

Trevor's guilt is signalized in first sequences when he is trying to get rid of at first unidentified body. This is not thanks to the script – it's Bale showing guilt so well, being so scared, destroyed and utterly freaked out by both his inside and what's going on in outside world. As usual with movies about weird things happening to isolated persona we have non-linear story telling. Why? I'm going to go ahead and say – so that we wouldn't be bored out of our minds. The writers know their story is not too strong and the character is not likeable so the audience won't care much. That's why they need two things – showing us in the first scene that Trevor is guilty and making us curious as to why and of course – the immortal twist near the end (Although I'm gonna have to say I loved it, mostly for the homage paid to “Angel Heart”). The moves were cheap, but at least they worked – even if I didn't relate or particularly cared about Trevor, I cared about the story.

Despite those two things the script is quite clever – there are some amazing scenes, like the ride in the tunnel in the entertainment park, the flashback scene etc. The connections of what's real with what's not real are outstanding – just as with “Mulholland Dr.” parallels between dreams and reality, here elements from both worlds are mirrored in a very plausible and impressive way. Those parallels sometimes work as foreshadowing, unfortunately making the twist less surprising – when Trevor kept trying to light a cigarette in the car not looking at the road few times, I immediately thought that such irresponsibility was probably the reason for something awful. And what's not often seen in the movies – the story makes sense – I didn't have any doubts as for what I saw and what happened. The movie is like puzzles, thrown in the air and then distorted but by the end of the film the puzzles come together, creating one, perfectly clear picture. There are theories floating around that Trevor was in purgatory – nice theory and the evidence given for it is huge, but it can also be explained as what it is in reality – he commits hit and run, escapes, then finally goes to jail.

Evil person haunting Trevor is called Ivan – I don't know if the character was supposed to be pathetic and annoying but in John Sharian's interpretation he certainly is. Every time he appears on the screen, I cringed. What's worse – apparently that's another similarity to “Angel heart” and DeNiro's ominous role there. Well, DeNiro was also eccentric and supposed to be disturbing, but he was not once annoying and pathetic. If what they went for was making Ivan Trevor's conscience – hideous conscience, that part of the actor is working well because he is repulsive. However, they should get better actor to play Ivan – this guy and my the lack of empathy for the title character were my two biggest problems with this movie.

“Angel Heart” is not the only movie “The Machinist” is borrowing from, but as with cliche moves at least it does it well – it steals from the best - “Repulsion”, “Se7en”, “Psycho” and “Fight Club”. Those are not the only connections – there are plenty to Dostoevsky's novels - “The Idiot” is even seen in Trevor's apartment, but the real connection here is to the most famous novel by the author “Crime & Punishment”- in the book Raskolnikov kills because he wants to see if he can get away with it, here Trevor kills because he is stupid and cavalier – not much of the connection but something else is – the guilt. Both in the novel and in the movie it leads to the confession that brings ease to the pain. But that person will never be free – blood won't come off your hands no matter what you do. There's also connection to music – the author of the film is Nine Inch Nail fan, so Trent Reznor's name became Trevor Reznik in this movie, as a sort of the tribute.

Christian Bale's best work is “American Psycho” and after seeing this I'm certain he will never beat his performance as Patrick Bateman. The whole force of that role was that he captured the essence of the novel in 2 hours of the movie, he understood character to the point he actually became him and he didn't need to change anything about himself. Here everything is the same except for the last part – Bale's 63-pound weight loss is said to be a record for any actor for a movie role. I'm not a fan of something like this, when actor risks his health, safety or life because of art. I guess it's brave, impressive and a token of true commitment. But for me it's also stupid, irresponsible and scary. If Bale or anyone wants to do it is fine, but since it's my review – I have to write I disapprove and it bugs me – more often than not it's just a cheap shot – if you look horrible you have better chance to get an Oscar. If his weight was 140 instead of 110 pounds, the performance would still be impressive. So watching him here in this movie I was freaked out not only because it looks horrifying but also because how disturbing it is that someone would actually do something like this to himself. Bale's performance was outstanding and the script of the film is very good, but was it worth his suffering? Was the film that good? Definitely no.

I enjoy movies about madness as previously mentioned “Repulsion” and “Mulholland Dr.” and “The Machinist” is about this too, it's just the madness is temporary and its origins lie in the guilt. The story is about going through hell in order to reach salvation. But the punishment will only take away the fear of being caught, the fear of being locked up and the urge to confess. The guilt will stay, because being in prison may help the criminal clear his conscience in the eyes of society, but not in the eyes of himself. He will always be a killer, but at least in the end of the film, he's done denying what he has done and he's starting to learn how to live with it.


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