Who are you? (The Machinist: movie review)

Holy Belsen-survivor, Batman, it's Christian Bale, or at least the skeleton and the skin of what used to be him, in "The Machinist", directed by Brad Anderson.

Image © Paramount Classics.

There should be a special Oscars category: The Academy Award for the Best Dramatic Performance by a Preying Mantis. This guy would be a shoo-in.

(Aside: I had a mate in my early days who was almost this thin. He'd drink beer, eat pizza, chips, you name it and while I ballooned, he stayed skeletal. I had to fuck him off; he was too depressing.)

However, once you get over the extreme gauntness of Bale, if you can do that, this a seriously interesting psychological movie and Bale is excellent. Sometimes a little mad, obviously obsessed by something, obviously hiding something from himself (and us) yet searching for the truth of who or what he is, sometimes just a nice guy lost in a confusing reality.

The reviewers' references are to Polanksi's "The Tenant" (can't comment - haven't seen it ) and Chris Nolan's "Memento" (loved it), Hitchcock in general and "Psycho" in particular - Bernard Hermann's score! - and no surprise to me, to a lot of David Lynch. I note some of the solipsism of Ralph Fiennes character in Spyder, as well.

But let's look at the obvious fact: Trevor Resnick (Bale) is Kafka's Starvation Artist come to life, non-eating himself out of existence. Someone even says that! "If you were any thinner, you wouldn't exist." Bale lost 63 lbs (maybe 65) for this role, allegedly eating only a can of tuna and an apple every day. Severe method. I tried that once, for lunch. Most people of a healthy cynical attitude would consider Bale to a complete fucking fruit-loop for taking a fucking MOVIE so seriously as to risk severe damage to himself. Idiot. Most of us agree that actors take themselves too seriously in general - read Martin Amis interviewing Peter Weller while he was playing Robocop2 in "Visiting Mrs Nabokov."

"I just didn't eat," shrugs Bale in a video interview on the movie's web-site. "I'm not going to take that to stupid lengths, I'm not gonna do it for the sake of it. It's only worth doing if you're... if it's for telling [foretelling?] a really great story."

Most would say he went to those stupid lengths, but it is a great story.

Be that as it may, Bale's extreme approach works very well. Even his tongue seems thinner. I've always noticed a marginally annoying speech impodiment in Bale, one that I first heard in American Psycho and then again in Reign of Fire, whereby his tongue would hit the lateral edges of his mouth every now and then and thicken up and he'd spit whatever he was trying to say. I hardly hear it all in this movie - maybe a bit. (Picky aren't I? On my card it says "E@L: Character Assassin For Hire") He is rivetting to watch as he stretches his ribs, bends his spine, flexing his tendons over prominent bones, as he mimes a dancing insect... It's like watching a a whole body X-ray.

Back to the movie and Resnick - he hasn't slept for a year. This in itself is unlikely - you need REM sleep in order to dream, for in dreams begin... a reassessment and benign completion of the day's half-finished emotional disturbances. The difference between a dream's reality and awake reality is very small (the same parts of the brain are used!) but the difference is crucial and the inability to tell them apart is by definition, madness. Stay awake for too long and the abililty to discriminate actual reality and trance or dream reality fails. You go blurbityblurb, crAY-ZEe! (That's why I always stop blogging at 4 am, no later! Right, Mr Rabbit? Sure, E@L )

Resnick is habitually dropping off for an instant here and there (getting some REM sleep?) These micro-naps may or may not be portals into his dreams or his fantasy world. But in anybody's world this guy is thin. He is still losing weight dramatically. He has an obsession with cleanliness, brushing his bathroom grouting with a toothbrush, washing his hands with lye. He has a thing for post-it notes. Then one day, he starts seeing a scary-looking dude (Ivan, played imposingly by John Sharian) that no-one else sees, in cars that don't exist anymore. Is this a clue? Is this madness - induced by his sleeplessness (but what's stopping him from sleeping?) or is there some e-Ville plot, people trying to make him THINK he is mad? Well, duh! "It's a plot!" he tells his girlfriend/hooker. We are not so sure. Though reality, and what can only be fantasy are blended imperceptibly in the film. Maybe it is just a plot (screenplay by Scott Kosar).

Working as a machinist in a metal-works factory, as what we used to call a Fitter and Turner in Australia, the sleeplessness and weight loss are starting to affect his work. He becomes a safety risk. After an accident he caused inadvertently his former buddies, his co-workers, no longer trust him. They certainly don't like his appearance - "I think you look like toasted shit, Resnick," says his boss. He lacks the grotty fingernails and oil-stained hands covered in small cuts of a true machinist, I note. (Who had that right? There was a recent movie where the working class guy's fingernails were terrifically filthy. It'll come to me. Maybe it was Fiennes in Spyder?) [Update: Eureka moment. It was Joseph Fiennes with his inky nails in Shakespeare in Love.]

Resnick likes to read: Kafka and Dosteyevski references figure like conventional product placements. The first Dosteyesvki book they show clearly is "The Idiot" - perhaps because "Crime and Punishment" might have been too obvious a hint. (Update: One IMDB.com reviewer notes quite a few Dosteyevski plugs.)

He has two main women is his life: the steady hooker/girlfriend Stevie, played by a reassuringly chubby Janet Jason Leigh and, as the Madonna counterfoil to Leigh's whore, Airport Cafe waitress and single-mum Marie (what other name could you expect!) played by Aitana Sánchez-Gijón. Marie keeps offering him a slice of pie ("Mmm great pie" says Jeffrey Beaumont in "Blue Velvet") with his coffee. He always leaves it - you just want to scream at him: "Eat something Bale, you dumb twit! It's only a stupid movie!" He tips her $20 - outrageous, is he feeling guilty about something? These girls both have mysterious ex-boyfriends - could palpably evil Ivan be either of their ex's? (Say that three times fast!)

More Lynchian clues to the unreality of Resnick's perceptions. The clock in the cafe always shows 1;30, ticking backwards and forwards between 02 and 01 seconds, as does the one in Marie's kitchen. The mysterious Ivan only reveals his deformed hand AFTER Michael Ironside's horrible accident. (Is Ironside at risk of getting typecast as the one-armed man - ref: Starship Troopers! I think we are entitled to ask.)

There are other subtle tributes to David Lynch (as I read them) scattered: the preoccupation with fish imagery hearkens back to the fishing obsessed town of Twin Peaks: " Fellas, don't drink that coffee! You'd never guess. There was a fish in the percolator." Resnick's pause at the start of a corridor in Marie's house is reminiscent of a darkened hallway in Lost Highway.

There's no doubt more to discuss, more references, more allusions, but I've only watched it the one time. It's that sort of coffee-shop discussion "did you see that bit" type of movie. I enjoyed it.

And like most of Lynch's movies, Kosar and Anderson's "The Machinist" certainly is a different kettle of fish.



Posted by: expat@large on Apr 16, 05 | 3:38 pm | Profile


Note the contrast with my picture in post below. I have a keg belly; he doesn't have six-pack abs but instead the cardboard packing the six-pack came in!


Posted by: expat@large on Apr 20, 05 | 9:02 pm


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