Guilty As Charged
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” That is Proverbs 28:13 from the Bible.
By dictation of law, breaking the rules would mean committing a crime. Robbery, murder, battery, the list goes on. In the eyes of divine law, breaking the rules means committing a sin. How guilty is the conscience? How much sin is one guilty of? How many good deeds have to be done to balance out the evil ones, in the name of salvation? The truth is, nobody knows the answer to such subjective questions, and not many can confront their wrongdoings like a head-on collision. “Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.” That is according to Bruce Lee, just another individual. Ill at ease, The Machinist is a documentary on Trevor Reznik’s final days, before the claws of this psychological thriller lead to his end. It is dark, yes, but it is also a stern warning to those who are hiding their sins; even when nobody knows, there is also someone who knows.
Insomnia. That is what Trevor Reznik suffers from and that is where the audience realizes a flaw in the protagonist. The reason behind that is relatively unknown. To the audience, there is no room to ask why because he appears to lead a normal life, apart from looking like an anorexic. His edgy persona brings added pressure to the plot; work accident involving a colleague and ostracism from society. All in all, the film starts dark, and ends even darker, upon understanding the chronology of Trevor’s psychosis. This feels like a Darren Aronofsky film, since The Machinist feels like a remnant of Requiem For A Dream or Pi, every twisted person’s go-to for a downward mental health spiral.
Huge props to Christian Bale for his commitment to the project, where he reportedly shed 60 pounds for the role of Trevor Reznik. As far as method actors go, few can lay claim to what Bale pulls off, and his chilling performance pumps life (not literally) into a troubled character. Through the narrative discourse and depressing cinematography, Trevor’s character development is riddled with concerning symptoms.
A classic spread of themes, symbols and motifs, makes The Machinist effective in the way it is. Being a psychological thriller, when compared to Aronofsky’s works, Brad Anderson’s masterpiece can stand proud of what it tells. It is dark because of the impossibility of salvation, guilty-as-charged banging on the door to remind Trevor and the audience that no matter how fast he runs, there is always someone lurking. If there is something to recognize about this wave of film, it is that the expression of the self and society’s cruel judgement render everything that much more complicated.
With a deteriorating health and even worse appearance, not many people are willing to get close to Trevor, understandably. One day, while at work, a distraction by virtue of Ivan, causes Trevor to lose focus, leading to a work accident and poor Miller losing his arm. Of course, Ivan is many things; a reincarnation of Patrick Star from the beloved cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants, a pretty funny guy on his best day and most importantly, non-existent. What is more plausible? All his colleagues being blind to the jovial worker skirting around the heavy machinery, or a complete figment of Trevor’s imagination? At work, Trevor is branded as a lunatic, and rightly so. The only bit of solace he can find is in Stevie, a prostitute that actually cares for him, and in Maria, a waitress at an airport cafe who he seems to think is worth making the long drive to.
There are a lot of contradictions to what Trevor and the audience are led to believe. In addition to his nightmares and recurring imagery, it appears that someone is playing an incessant game of hangman on post-it notes with him. More and more weird events begin to take hold of his life, and when he attempts to woo Maria, it becomes evident that he is some kind of omen of death and destruction. Trevor accompanies Maria’s son, Nicholas, on a horror ride but it seems that a series of flashing lights does more damage than a bunch of cardboard cutouts can; Nicholas suffers an epileptic seizure. Paranoia starts to take over Trevor’s mind, as he begins to think that a conspiracy theory against him is taking shape.
From here onwards, clues are uncovered. The most notable clue has to be the picture of Ivan fishing in Ivan’s wallet, which he leaves unattended at a pub. In his quest to find reality, Trevor lambasts and disintegrates his relationships with everyone around him.
I know who you are.
In the end, it is revealed that all of the weird stuff happening is due to his guilt, a very overdue one at that. Cue the flashback, where he was involved in the hit-and-run of a boy, identical to Nicholas. The kid’s mother, a woman identical to Maria, runs to her lifeless son in slow motion, and out of fear of prosecution, Trevor escapes the crime scene. The protagonist is decent enough to feel ashamed about it, and this guilt-ridden journey spawns insomnia, cadaverousness, and a repressed memory. If it was not obvious enough, Ivan is indeed, just an idea materialized by the frail-minded Trevor. Finally, he answers the last letter of the hang-man mystery, and the audiences realizes that he is what he spells. Killer. While escaping the judgement of the law, Trevor attracts the judgement for his sins, hence a no-win situation. The choices are simple; continue living outside the bars of a jail cell, and be barred in by guilt, or living within a jail cell, and live without that same guilt. After a turbulent year, the choice has become glaringly simple for Trevor Reznik. He drives to the police, confesses to his crime and is escorted to a jail cell. No problem. This is the first time in a year that he manages to get some shut-eye.
Just want to sleep.
The Machinist is a strong candidate for a psychology student to study, since a lot of the film’s intrigue comes from why Trevor looks so messed up. Guilt is the driving force behind his mental malaise and it governs the illness plaguing his mind. There is this disorder, and suddenly another disorder, which begs the question again. How guilty is the conscience? Trevor’s connatural neuroses do complete U-turns. The act of compulsively washing his hands, is another way he tries to wash himself clean of the sin he committed, the blood on his hands removed essentially. Honestly, he could be a psychiatrist’s prized patient for all the overt problems he displays.
It is common knowledge that 666 shares a connection with the devil, so the “Highway to Hell” ride is a good motif that parallels Trevor’s failures. In his hallucination of Nicholas’ epilepsy, Trevor does the right thing by bringing the kid to the hospital, unlike the cowardice he pulled a year ago. There are so many more motifs that the film uses to foreshadow the reveal. The license plates of Ivan’s and Trevor’s cars are actually the same, inverted. The hang-man game is actually him playing against himself, and when his conscience can no longer take it, he remorsefully writes “K-I-L-L-E-R”.
Films such as Gerald’s Game and The Perfection hog the spotlight on Netflix for a long time, maybe due to the fact that people crave the abnormalities that imagination can conjure up. Fight Club and Vertigo. Oldboy and Black Swan. Today, The Machinist is not as celebrated as other psychological thrillers. However, it remains a documentary film dedicated to asking why people become the way they are, putting on the extreme case of Trevor Reznik’s futile attempt at redemption. It is grim and rife with gloomy undertones, which certainly help establish the appropriate mood for a tormented man. The human mind is complex, and sometimes, it can be the downfall of even the strongest people.