The weekend has come to a close, and with a new week comes a new discussion. This time around we're going to dive into Brad Anderson's The Machinist, a taut little thriller from 2004 that represents something new for the Movie Club. Unlike most of Anderson's films, I found myself horribly upset with the way The Machinist carried out its big twist. It was eerily reminiscent of Haute Tension, though Aja's horrible wreck of a film gave didn't wait until the end to sucker punch us. We got that a little over halfway through the film, leaving us with another half hour to wonder what the Hell Aja was smoking when he wrote it. The Machinist, thankfully, manages to keep us entertained until this point. Let's explore all of this.
Before we delve into the film's flaws, let's look at its positive attributes. Despite my misgivings, the film still managed to be an incredibly tense affair. I didn't expect anything less, as this is Anderson's modus operandi: the utter frailty of the human condition. The overall tone of the film is reminiscent of Session 9, employing a stark minimalism in terms of visuals, focusing heavily on muted colors. The sound design was impeccable, instilling in the viewer an incredible sense of dread with sharp, tense cellos and a myriad of other spooky sounds.
Christian Bale played Trevor Reznik perfectly, imbuing in the character a disturbing sense of realism. This, of course, has pretty much everything to do with Christian Bale taking method acting to an entirely new - and dangerous - level. Despite my distaste for the big "twist," the closing moments of the film, which features Reznik finally getting a chance to sleep, albeit in a prison cell, was a perfect way to end the film. John Sharian plays the mysterious Ivan, the antithesis of Reznik: fat, jolly, and completely aware of everything that's going on. One of the most appealing aspects of the film is the characters, all of which carried with them an astonishing level of depth in spite of the horrible twist.
So the big "twist." I really can't say that I hate movies where it turns out the protagonist was "imagining everything the whole time." After all, Session 9, which I adore, employs a similar tactic, albeit in a slightly more believable way. But The Machinist managed to do it in a way that made the entire 100 minutes beforehand seem like such a waste of time. Throughout the entirety of the film, I was sitting on the edge of my seat, eagerly awaiting to see how everything would be wrapped up, but was punched in the gut with an utterly contrived twist, one I should have realized as soon as Trevor learned the car Ivan was driving was his own. It ends up being such a easy way to tie up everything. I can picture writer Scott Kosar hunched over his computer in graduate school, furiously banging out page after page until he reaches the end and realizes he has no idea where to take it. What better way to end it than make it all a figment of his f**king imagination? To me it just seems lazy.
But I ask you: is there something I missed? Was my attention distracted just enough to prevent myself from fully absorbing the message? One of the aspects of the film that bugs me the most is Ivan. Nothing is really said concerning his past, and although seemingly Trevor's alter ego (alternate personality? conscience?), no information is ever given concerning why it's Ivan. I understand completely that this is sort of a moot point given the ending of the film, but it still gets under my skin. Beyond this, how could he forget he hit a kid? Yes, it can be explained away by the insomnia, however tenuous it may be, but would you think that at some point he would remember he hit a kid with his car, thus inspiring his insomnia? It all just seems so illogical to me.
So what say you? I'm clearly in the minority with this film, but that seems to be the norm. Is my distaste for the film unfounded? Or is The Machinist nothing more than tired convention?