I definitely sympathize with insomniacs. Wrestling with the biological need to sleep versus the intellectual, existential concerns of unconsciousness? That’s my jam. But honestly, it doesn’t take too much to miss some sleep; maybe it’s just a fun new video game, a night out with friends, or an early meeting. And it’s amazing how quickly, once some sleeplessness takes hold, that all your priorities can shift and suddenly some bed time sounds like the greatest thing in the world. That’s been my experience not getting a lot of sleep for like, a week. In The Machinist, Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale) hasn’t slept in a year.
Reznik works in some factory where he is, go figure, a machinist. I’m not really sure what they’re working on, it doesn’t really matter, I guess. The important thing is that not sleeping for a year has left him looking like a skeleton, pale and shockingly thin. He clearly relies on routine just to get through the day: Reznik goes to work, where he’s pretty quiet but liked well enough, he visits a prostitute (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who is quite fond of him, and he goes to an airport cafe where he always orders coffee and pie and flirts with the waitress (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, who looks familiar but I don’t know why). Every day.
Of course, to this sleepless bastard, days have very little meaning. He drifts through days and nights, work and leisure, company and solitude, with little care. The Machinist‘s dreamlike style is its greatest strength, I especially felt the jarring use of slow fades, often coming at weird points and leading to surprising scenes. Have you ever been sleepily reading a book, and then you realize your eyes are closed and you’re actually not reading anymore? This movie feels like that.
Eventually Reznik meets some weirdo (John Sharian) in the parking lot outside work. That same weirdo catches Reznik’s eye later, when he should have been focusing on helping Michael Ironside repair a machine. This leads to an horrific accident which results in ol’ Ironside losing an arm (that dude’s always losing limbs in movies). The delicate balance that was Reznik’s life is now shattered, as he quickly loses his job and becomes obsessed with finding that weird guy. What’s worse is that Reznik starts finding weird sticky notes all over his apartment, suggesting this conspiracy might be bigger than he thought.
Thriller movies like this risk losing a ton of their impact on the subsequent viewings, and I bet that’s the case with The Machinist. It doesn’t have the cleverness of Memento or the demented darkness of Mulholland Drive, the mystery actually unravels in a fairly predictable fashion. Of course that’s made up for by the movie’s effective style and the performance of its leading man.
It’s so talked about that I probably don’t have to bring it up, but Christian Bale lost an insane, dangerous amount of weight to star in this movie. I’ve read horror stories of him surviving on literally an apple a day and having lost so much body fat that his muscle tissue started to get eaten away. It’s insanely disturbing to see how thin he is, and it lends so much to this movie. Then he went on to look super fit in Batman Begins less than a year later, that dude’s insane.
In closing, the name Trevor Reznik is deliberately similar to Trent Reznor. This character is named for the Nine Inch Nails guy, isn’t that weird? Especially because the music in this movie is noticeably bad. Don’t name your movie characters after real people, filmmakers of the world!