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Monsters come in many forms. Some are created by the hand of
twisted science, others are hatched in government laboratories for sinister
military purposes. Some rise from beyond the grave, and a few arrive from
beyond the stars. However, some monsters are of the human variety, with the
very worst lurking in the reflection in one’s own mirror.
The sad tale of Brad Anderson’s 2004 film THE MACHINIST
centers on factory worker and tortured soul Trevor Reznik, played to perfection
by Christian Bale. Through a series of strange flashbacks and odd clues that
infiltrate Trevor’s thoughts day and night, he begins to suspect that something
terrible happened to him one year ago. Something so terrible, in fact, that we learn
Trevor hasn’t slept a single night for the last year.
As we are introduced to the pitiful Trevor and his lonely
existence, we witness his growing fear that others are tormenting him for some
reason he cannot fathom. With every character he meets, all of Trevor’s
relationships become plagued with an unreasonable distrust, as he constantly
wonders who is out to get him and why. As Trevor’s paranoia grows, it is a
taunting game of hangman that he plays with an unknown antagonist that furthers
his downward spiral, ultimately resulting in a surprising and painful twist.
All of this makes Trevor all the more sympathetic, but also
begs the viewer to wonder: What event could be so horrible as to give a person
endless insomnia? As we ponder this intriguing question, we are drawn further
into Trevor’s dark and queasy world, joining him in his discovery of each
strange clue left by his mysterious adversary. These signs lead to a series of
frightening visions, which Trevor fears may be memories. Increasingly doubtful
of the people and the world around him, and exacerbated by his yearlong battle
with insomnia, Trevor’s suspicions begin to turn inward, tormented by thoughts
and fears of what he may have done. He is an island of pain and confusion, as
secrecy and denial turn to all-consuming guilt, which continue to rob him of
both his sleep and his sanity.
Ultimately, THE MACHINIST both asks and answers the
question, what would happen to your mind if you didn’t sleep for a year?
Trevor’s long bout with sleeplessness not only weighs heavily on his soul, but
utterly transforms his physical being to reflect his inner turmoil, caused by
the stress of the guilt he’s both avoiding and hiding. Unlike most horror films
that rely heavily on grisly makeup or CGI for scares, the single greatest
special effect in THE MACHINIST is Bale’s disturbing appearance, the result of
the most chilling physical transformation ever committed to film. The actor
usually sports handsome good looks and a chiseled form, but fans who know Bale
for his muscular physique in AMERICAN PSYCHO, REIGN OF FIRE and the rebooted
Batman franchise will cringe at the sight of the skeletal Trevor, who more
resembles a concentration camp survivor than a man who hasn’t slept in a year.
The unique visual style of THE MACHINIST comes complete with
weird imagery, tilted camera angles and uncomfortable close-ups that often give
the production a somewhat retro quality, akin to a classic TWILIGHT ZONE
episode. The creepy violin strains of Roque Banos’ eerie music, the dark yet
intimate cinematography by Xani Gimenez and the crisp writing by Scott Kosar
combine to brilliantly convey Trevor’s bleak, lonely and nightmarish world.
In Trevor’s mind, it is the fear of discovering that he has
committed a monstrous act that drives his pain—a pain that he wears like the
clothes that hang so loosely from his emaciated form. The viewer ultimately
learns that Trevor’s subconscious has unsuccessfully tried to hide a crime from
everyone around him, including himself; his realization of the truth is the
moment when Trevor knows he is indeed a monster, making him a tragic and
pitiful figure—a reluctant monster at worst.
Throughout THE MACHINIST, two characters spout the same line
to Trevor: “If you were any thinner, you wouldn’t exist…” After the film is
over and the viewer begins to process the work completely, it’s interesting to
realize how key this line really is to Trevor’s actual goal. When looking back
on his dramatic weight loss, it appears that in an effort to pay for his crime,
Trevor’s subconscious wish was to get thinner and thinner, so that he will no
longer exist and have to face the nightmare of what he has done. THE MACHINIST
is a superlative work that irresistibly draws you in, ultimately demonstrating
the high price of guilt, and proving that sometimes not all monsters are
monsters at all.
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