After his chilling horror "Session 9" Brad Anderson continues his journey exploring the darkest depths of the human mind with "The Machinist". This review is not meant to just show the aesthetic and structural qualities Anderson's movie has, but also to distance it from the impression of being a "Fight Club rip-off". The review CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS on both The Machinist and Fight Club and should only be read by people who have already seen these two movies.
Those who are familiar with Aristotle's view on art and specifically the mimesis and catharsis theories will find similarities here, or should I say an exact match to his idea for a "tragedy". "The Machinist" mimics the real world. It is not a supernatural or fantasy story, but something possible in the context of reality keeping to the "mimesis" theory (art should be something that imitates life, stays close to the rules on what is possible). The protagonist, a machinist, is plagued by insomnia and weight loss, the reason for this suffering isn't explained from the start, but later on. We sympathize with him, with the problems this man, Trevor Reznik, has. Why should an innocent, suffer like that, we ask. Why should he be punished if he hadn't committed a crime? The tragic catharsis, writes Aristotle, is the moment when the protagonist's sin is revealed, when we, the audience learn that the punishment he has received isn't unjust, when we know that innocence isn't subjectable to punishment, sin is. Scott Kosar wrote a Greek tragedy, Brad Anderson brought it to life.
The atmosphere? A bleak, nearly colorless look, sadness and dread combined. The gloomy melancholy, jitters the mind. Christian Bale's dedication to his craft is outstanding he takes it to a whole new level. What he underwent for this role, the performance, a range of emotions ranging from fear, shock, paranoia, regret,sorrow. It was more than Oscar-worthy, it was unreal. Director Brad Anderson creates tension and unease at places you wouldn't think it was possible, he delivers surprise after surprise in what may seem more like a hellish roller-coaster ride, then a traditional thriller. A low key musical score, perfect choice, for the tone. Quite a catching opening tune.
"The Machinist", it seems, ends with questions unanswered. The main plot line has been completed but some mechanisms that lead towards the conclusion are a bit fogged out of perception. Nonetheless they are there. The movie is, of course, open for interpretation and the following is simply my take on some of the sub-plots and characters.
On the opening scene. The opening scene is as we've learned, not a chronological first, but a sequence taken from the latter stage. Why? It exists as: a stylistic approach to create tension, to grab the audience's attention from the start. an early tip for the mystery the movie has (note Reznik's reaction, the shock in his eyes when dumping the body and when "someone" flashes him with a flashlight).
On the insomnia, weight loss and Ivan. The insomnia and Ivan are the reasons for "The Machinist" being a "Fight Club" ripoff argument. There were movies that used such ideas before Fight Club, Lynch's Lost Highway for example, it's nothing all too original. What these elements represent that is what's important. In "The Machinist" they are the punishment Trevor's guilt inflicts on him. We've all experienced guilt at one point or the other, and we know it can have an effect. Here that effect is taken to the extreme. Fight Club on the other hand had the Narrator's insomnia and split personality, Tyler Dyrden, created from frustration, his inability in adapting to the status quo, he can't sleep because he cannot see a reason for his existence, he makes Tyler who gives him a reason. Ivan is not a split personality, he doesn't take control over the protagonist's body like Tyler, no one except Reznik has seen or heard of him, he is a manifestation like Nicholas or Marie, he is the projection of sin and Trevor in the past. The Trevor who caused the accident, he will repeat it again in order to guide Bale's character to the truth.
On how Trevor Reznik lost his memory about the accident. During the sequence at the theme park where Trevor and Nicholas are walking through the dark tunnel, Trevor notes the similarities between his childhood and Nicholas's current life. Both lacked or lack a father-like figure in their life both are in a good relationship with their mothers. This is not an accident, since Nicholas is merely one of the manifestations in Reznik's subconscious mind there is little doubt that he is also a mirror image of Trevor as a young boy living with his mother. His subconscious guilt fills the gaps and fleshes out the two fictional characters using bits and pieces of his past life. This is done in order to make the two manifestations become believable to Trevor's now doubtlessly distorted perception. If Nicholas is in fact Trevor then what happened to Nicholas during the ride through "Route 666" is what actually happened to Trevor shortly after the accident. Epileptic shock as explained by Marie causes loss of memory "he will forget it ever happened". And indeed Trevor forgot, partially, in his subconscious the memory still existed.
Complex but structurally sound "The Machinist" is the dark, modern reincarnation of a Greek tragedy. Twisted and disturbing, sad but liberating, Scott Kosar, Brad Anderson and Christian Bale create a work of high caliber. Not something that can be enjoyed the way a Hollywood Blockbuster can be enjoyed, it is exhausting, yet pleasing in its own way.
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