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THE MACHINIST – Horror plays on the mind

Christian Bale on a psychological journey in The Machinist

 

THE MACHINIST – Horror plays on the mind

Starring: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh
Director: Brad Anderson
Rated: M15+

THE Machinist is a tour-de-force portrait of madness and the disintegration of a personality.

Screenwriter Scott Kosar has written horror films up until now, and the influence can be seen in this psychological horror portrait.

However, he has moved on to a deeper level of human experience — conscience and guilt. He invites us into the mind of Trevor Reznik, a machinist in a large factory.

 

Trevor is profoundly disturbed, destroying himself from the inside out. We soon realise that he is paranoid and delusional but we do not quite know what is real and what is not.

He seems to be living a desperate nightmare even though he cannot sleep.

Audiences need to hold on to their uncertainty as to what is actually happening to Trevor and what he is seeing in his fearful fantasies.

There is a satisfying resolution and explanation, and a realisation that we have been offered clues all the way through if we have been alert enough. It is the kind of film that repays a second viewing to appreciate what has gone on, even if the experience is quite gruelling.

American financiers baulked at making the film so Kosar and his director, Brad Anderson (Next Stop, Wonderland), found support in Spain. You won’t pick it while you watch the film as it seems authentically American, but it was all filmed very effectively in Barcelona.

Anderson has created a striking visual style with his cinematographer, Xavi Gimenez, and an offbeat mood with his composer, Roque Banos, who has scored the film in the multi-instrumental, orchestrated style of classic Hollywood psychological dramas.

All of these contributors mention Hitchcock in their interviews.

Widescreen is exploited well for both naturalism and for paranoia. The colour style is limited palette, again partly natural but mostly suggestive of the subjective perspectives of Trevor.

Promotion of the film led to many interviews with star Christian Bale about his loss of weight for the role to make him look skeletally gaunt. (He did control his eating and lost 29kg).

His physical appearance and his skill in looking insane one moment and normal the next form the basis for a completely convincing while puzzling characterisation.

Also in the cast (as real characters or figment characters) include Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Anna Massey and Michael Ironside.

Critics have been busy finding names to suggest how the film works and the impact it makes — Hitchcock, David Lynch, Michael Powell (Peeping Tom), Christopher Nolan (Memento), Roman Polanski (especially his films about madness, Repulsion and The Tenant).

The experience is referred to as Kafkaesque. The main clue is on screen with a copy of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. More to the point is Kosar’s reference to Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Double’.

Actually, The Machinist has absorbed these influences within its own originality.

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