December 29, 2009

The Machinist


The Machinist is a film in which the work of the cinematographer is obvious. The film is all grey slates and slats. The film is deliberately industrial- we are seeing not merely a machinist's story but a machinist's life. Machinery metallically grinds against itself. Christian Bale has even turned his body in this performance (he lost sixty pounds from a fit frame to play the title character) into a machine, you can see the bones as they jut into each other and connect just as you can see the inner workings of the machines on the factory floor. The rain glances off the truck (and it must be a truck at that) and renders the world outside grey. The inside of Trevor Reznick's flat is grey, metallic and dark. He reminds me more than anything of John Hurt in 1984, the same wizenned frame, the same haunted eyes, the same bony body. As in 1984, the way that we know that the leading male character is sick in his head is by comparison with the female characters. When we first see Christian Bale he is in bed with a prostitute played by Jennifer Jason Leigh called Stevie: Stevie's normal stomach contrasts with Bale's bony contours and renders the shot even more terrifying. We see this film through Trevor's eyes and through his eyes it is significant that only the two important female characters, Stevie and a waitress in an airport cafe, have anything that ressembles beauty or softness- the rest of the world is grey and dull.

In some senses it does not really matter what has rendered the world grey and dull for Trevor and I will not unfold to you the plot. It is important to note here that Trevor, like Leonard in Memento, slowly reveals that he cannot see the world in the same way that others do. So for example, he believes that there is a man on the shop floor called Ivan that none of his co-workers can see and his bosses say doesn't exist. Ivan is the reason that Trevor was distracted and by mistake committed a hideous error with a machine. Slowly we grasp that Trevor's world is different and distinct from the worlds of others: his co-workers draw away from him, he alienates his friends if they exist. Either the world is a vast conspiracy motivated to get Trevor for some reason, or there is something wrong in the way that he perceives the world. What matters here for the film is not which of those options is true, though we do find out, but what Trevor makes of this. His wizenned appearance, his gaunt face are responses, replies to a world that he cannot quite believe in. He cannot sleep and has not slept for over a year, he does not trust anyone bar Stevie and his experience is fractured, as is the film, into shards. Trevor's world is rendered to him in a series of events, stochastically, rather than in a stream.

Whatever happened to Trevor has changed his attitudes to his world as well as changing his world. He becomes aggressive. The kind of worker who knows his rights and is ready to object when they are touched. His aggressiveness carries over into imagining conspiracies so for example he accuses the victim of his accident of instigating it in order to destroy Trevor's world. He finds it difficult to extend human sympathy- whatever happened to Trevor destroyed his sense of empathy. One of the crucial differences between Trevor and the sympathetic female characters is that he lacks what they have, a basic interest in other human beings. His aggressiveness carries into blaming others for the world in which he exists, lost in the darkness of this world, Trevor turns that darkness outwards. As he becomes increasingly distressed, he becomes increasingly violent, increasingly angry that whatever it is that is happening is happening and around him everyone becomes increasingly repelled. Trevor causes his condition to deepen and his condition causes him to hate further causing his condition to deepen yet again.

The resolution of what is happening to Trevor is believable and links to the plot. In a sense we realise the film is an exaggeration and possibly an unrealistic one. The central point though is not about the cause or explanation of whatever is happening but it is Trevor's sense of impending darkness. The film's power comes from that rather than from the explanation.

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