26 April, 2005

Review: The Machinist -- Lose Weight Now, Ask Christian How

I'm having a cholesterol test this morning. Ever since I hit forty, my brother has been harassing me to have one done; I've two siblings and a parent currently on anti-cholesterol meds. For the past few years I've been watching my diet, which wasn't that bad to begin with; I tweaked up my consumption of fish and veg, and dialed down the amount of red meat, fast burning carbs (mostly potatoes), and I have cereal for breakfast with a helping of ground seeds for the omega 3 and 6 fatty acids, and a probiotic yogurt drink (except for today, I'm having to fast for the test). Questions on the forms I have to fill out of the ilk of "have you experienced weight loss?"


How does one experience weight loss? Short of, say amputation, extreme makeover local anaesthetic only liposuction, or spaceflight. Sure I could ask the shuttle astronaut daughter of my parents' friends, but I'm saving that particular hopeful cache for Canaveral launch day tickets. I'm only trying to review a film here. Christian Bale reportedly lost 63 pounds in order to play the title character Trevor Reznick of The Machinist. Surely he has an inside track on the experience of weight loss.


"If you were any thinner, you wouldn't exist," a friend confides in him. He looks like a survivor of a concentration camp. Any discussion of Bale's performance, shouldn't focus unduly on the weight loss (a kind of ├╝ber-method actor stunt), because it's an intense incredible performance that carries the film, ranging from grimly determined, warmly funny to cornered paranoia. But on the other hand, when he takes his shirt off showing his spine and ribcage horribly delineated, you want to say to him, "Dude, haven't you heard of CGI?"


Our first glimpse of Trevor is a gaunt frightened creature, in a dank coldwater apartment, rolling what appears to be a body into a carpet. He then tries to dispose of this off an abandoned industrial area dock.


You wouldn't be blamed for thinking that he's a serial killer. He seems to have the spare, loner lifestyle down, some sort of cleanliness thing that makes him wash his hands with bleach or lye, and take a toothbrush to the grout on the bathroom floor. He leaves himself post-it notes. But on the other hand, he banters amiably with his co-workers, he charms the airport eatery waitress he sees for pie and coffee every night, and he's such sympathetic client to Jennifer Jason Leigh's hooker that she considers a change of career for him.


But why hasn't he slept in a year? Why is he an emaciated ghost? Who is Ivan the deformed arc-welder that Trevor meets at work, but whom no one else seems to know? Who has been swapping Trevor's post-it mementos with a taunting game of hangman? Is Trevor really responsible for an industrial accident at work that maims one of his colleagues? Can Trevor answer the question on his own post-it, "Who Are You"?


The film plays out like a marriage of Hitchcock and David Lynch. Trevor Reznick is either the classic Hitchcock innocent caught in a shadowy conspiracy to frame him for an unnamed crime, or he is a paranoid madman who may be driven to extremes by his own dread and guilt. The film is shot in hyper-real washed out colors, light either harsh, or grimly low. It teases us with clues and questions. Did the "murder" at the beginning take place before or after the events of the rest of the film? Are the inconsistencies he experiences hallucinations caused by his lack of sleep or is he being gaslighted by his enemies?


Unlike Lynch's Mulholland Drive, the clues, and everything else, does add up. Thankfully, we're not just left with an artfully atmospheric recursive mystery. This well constructed film does repay Christian Bale's dedication with a satisfying ending (some may feel is slightly less than the build up, but what would you rather have, something that makes sense, or blows your mind with incomprehensibility?). And despite an intense atmosphere of constant dread, it's probably the safest and most edifying way to experience weight loss.


(Bonus smile: one scene features the most morbidly over the top carnival house of horror ride imaginable.


Sidebar: One hopes for Bale's sake that there isn't a sequel to this film, between the weightloss for this, bulking up for Batman Begins, and possible sequels, there could be serious damage to his health.)

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