“The Machinist” fits very succinctly into that genre of film that focuses on the lost and confused protagonist whose reality may not be as it seems and whose past, present and future may be in fact be interchangeable. David Fincher is an expert at this type of plot, where the audience keeps guessing about what is real and what is actually happening. It is the ending, or really the twist, that really define the film, answering all the questions the film has been building up to. “Fight Club” and “Gone Girl” have twists that surprise you and require repeat viewings to fully grasp the intricacies of the story. Not only that, but the twist elevates the themes of the story. Even though repeat viewings may lack the suspense of the viewer’s first time, the twist keep the film theme’s relevant. “The Machinist’s” twist and ending are unfortunately lacking in this regard. What was a clever mystery for 90 minutes reveals itself to be a rather mundane story about regret, a rather one-and-done type of viewing experience. It’s a shame, especially considering the transformative performance by Christian Bale.
Written by Scott Kosar and directed by Brad Anderson, the film follows Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale), an industrial worker who hasn’t slept in a year. His body is withering away. As he writes himself little notes and tries to find some solace, he forms a relationship with a prostitute, Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), and a single mother who works as a waitress in an airport, Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón). As his paranoia ratchets up, events possible and impossible begin to work on his mind and his past and future catch up to him.
The film does a good job of building up the mystery, making little hints at what troubles Trevor’s psyche. The surrealism of the industrial plant, Trevor’s apartment and the carnival attraction ride are great cinematic sequences, creepy and unsettling. As the pressures on Trevor mount, the tension builds and the viewer becomes very invested in the story.
And then the ending ties everything together in a neat bow. It’s too simple, too on the nose for what the plot had been building. Instead of blowing us away, we are somewhat let down and for a film of this style, that is a disappointment.
Christian Bale demonstrates a remarkable commitment to the film and his role as Trevor really stands out, but that is what is most memorable about the movie. It should have been the story.