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Film / The Machinist

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The Machinist is a 2004 film starring Christian Bale, directed by Brad Anderson (of Session 9 fame). It's one part Kafka Komedy, one part psychological thriller, and two parts surrealist drama, playing on themes from (and, at times, directly quoting from) Crime and Punishment, Taxi Driver, Fight Club, and German Expressionism.

Trevor Reznik (Bale) suffers from a severe case of insomnia: He claims that he hasn't slept in a year. He spends his days ignoring his landlady and compulsively washing his hands with bleach. He enjoys his regular visits to a sweet prostitute girl named Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who absolutely adores him, and he finds a little bit of romance with airport bar waitress and single mom Marie. During the day, Reznik works at a factory where he sleepily operates heavy machinery. When the inevitable happens and a coworker's (Michael Ironside) arm gets torn off, Reznik ends up in a emotionally destructive downward spiral, and quickly starts losing his mind.


The film very deliberately references the stories that it's based on and aims to be a collage of different techniques and atmospheres. To achieve this, it combines Chiaroscuro visuals with a musical score and camera techniques that evoke the 1950's, creating a kind of Anachronism Stew of editing methods. Bale's performance is an absolute tour de force, and the end result is a haunting, gorgeous film that tells its story in a clever yet familiar way.

To play Reznik, Christian Bale famously lost 28 kg (63 lbs) to look like an emaciated shell of a man. He described the experience of near starvation as strangely peaceful. About six months after that harrowing experience, Bale bulked up to truly superheroic dimensions to play Batman (before losing weight again to appear in The Fighter.)


This film provides examples of:

  • Accidental Child-Killer Backstory: Trevor Reznik is slowly going insane from hallucinations tormenting him and accusing him of having committed a heinous crime. The audience ultimately learns that Trevor accidentally ran over a little boy with his car and then fled the scene of the crime. Turning himself in and coming to terms with his actions finally puts him on the road to salvation.
  • Amusement Park of Doom: When Reznik takes Marie's son Nicholas into the Route 666 "funhouse," which is mostly a terrifying display of criminals being executed for their crimes. Eventually, Nicholas suffers an epileptic fit, and Reznik has to abandon the ride to drag him out of there.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Miller, continuing the odd tradition of Michael Ironside losing limbs.
  • Arc Number: 1:30. And at 1:30, a major plot twist is revealed.
  • Arc Words: Arc conversation; "You okay?" "Don't I look okay?" "If you were any thinner you wouldn't exist."
  • Bittersweet Ending: A rare example when putting an entirely sympathetic character in prison for a long time doesn't make the ending a downer one, since this very act allows him to finally come to terms with what he did and begin on the long road to psychological recovery, and fall asleep for the first time after a year of guilt induced insomnia.
  • Black Comedy:
    • Stevie says the bruises she got from her abusive clients were "occupational hazards."
    • The film opens with Reznik attempting — and utterly failing — to dispose of a corpse in a river.
  • Bloody Horror: We see a refrigerator overflowing with blood. When opened it only turns out to be rotten fish inside.
  • Body Horror: Reznik's horrifying thinness, Ivan's disfigured hand, Miller's gruesome accident...
  • California Doubling: This movie is ostensibly set in Los Angeles, but is actually shot in and near Barcelona, Spain.
  • Carpet-Rolled Corpse: Reznik kills the monstrous Ivan after he finds that he killed a little boy in his bathtub. He wraps Ivan's body in his carpet and drives it out to sea to dump it. When the carpet rolls open by accident Reznik finds that the body is missing, the answer only being revealed later on.
  • Cat Scare: A curious subversion. The blood dripping out of Reznik's freezer gets built up for about the last half an hour of the movie. When Reznik finally opens it - it's full of dead fish. This, however, leads to an even more shocking reveal than the audience was expecting.
  • Central Theme: The truth will set you free, no matter how awful.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: Ivan does a particularly disturbing rendition of this trope.
  • Color Wash: All scenes in the present are colored greenish/blue.
  • Conveyor Belt o' Doom: When Miller gets his arm ripped off.
  • Corner of Woe: Reznik assumes this position after The Reveal hits him.
  • Desk Sweep of Rage: Trevor goes into a rage and wipes dishes from a kitchen table when finding a suspicious photo at Stevie's place.
  • Door Handle Scare: There is a moment of tension when the land lady lets herself into Reznik's apartment and the camera goes into a close-up on the door handle.
  • The Ending Changes Everything: Reznik never actually talked to anyone in the airport cafe. Makes you wonder which ones of the events were real.
  • Enemy Without: Ivan is Reznik's representation of his evil side, the monstrous man he images himself to be after accidentally running over a small boy.
  • Epileptic Flashing Lights: The lights at the tunnel of horror flicker for dramatic effect which causes Maria's son to go into spasm.
  • Epiphany Therapy: The end, where Reznik finally accepts having killed a boy in a car accident, turns himself in to the police and at the very end is seen sleeping peacefully for the first time in a year.
  • Failsafe Failure: A textbook example: a worker is repairing a broken machine when someone accidentally leans on the On button (which is only possible because the workshop has No OSHA Compliance whatsoever). Hammering on the Off button does absolutely nothing, the repair worker is dragged into the machine and loses his arm. It's not clear what was wrong with the machine to start with, but it might have been a good idea for someone to disconnect the power before sticking his arm in there. It was made clear that the machine was supposed to be locked out, but the manager had previously reprimanded employees for taking too much time to get equipment fixed. That kind of pressure is definitely illegal, but happens more often than you'd like to think (especially in small shops with narrow profit margins). The reveal that the main character is insane and frequently hallucinating might explain it, however.
  • Fan Disservice: Christian Bale with his shirt off is usually a wonderful sight. When he's so horrifyingly emaciated he looks like he can barely support his own miniscule weight and generally looks like a walking corpse? Not so much.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Car cigarette lighters almost cause Reznik to get into an accident and once killed a boy in a hit-and-run because of this.
    • Reznik's second conversation with Maria, particularly "A little guilt goes a long way."
    • Maria's son has an epileptic attack while on an amusement park ride. Reznik runs out, carrying his limp body and screaming for help, but only Maria comes. Reznik is hallucinating both of them.
    • The theme park's tunnel of horror depicts scenes from Reznik's pivotal car accident.
    • The license plates. See Freeze-Frame Bonus.
    • The clock jumping at 1:30. It's a representation of his mental state stuck in that time when he accidentally killed a boy.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: When Reznik follows Ivan in the tunnel, he spells the license plate "743 CRN," to report it later to the police. Then he almost smashes into a camper, and slows down. His own plate is briefly seen: NRC 347, foreshadowing Ivan is himself.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Stevie.
  • Groin Attack: Miller gets tired of Reznik's accusations rather quickly. Reznik limping across the street, while clutching his testicles is one of the more amusing scenes in the film.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Stevie.
  • How We Got Here: Of the stealthy type. The opening scene of Trevor carpet-rolling Ivan is actually happening chronologically after the rest of the plot. It's not spelled out to the viewer but when we finally revisit the scene we have gained a better understanding of what was going on in that scene.
  • Imaginary Friend: The giggly, bald Cajun guy, turns out to be a figment of the protagonist's guilty conscience. And the airport waitress / single mother the protagonist chats with, turns out to be a manifestation of the mother, whose son he recklessly killed with his car, and fled the scene. The son of the "waitress" is a manifestation of the boy the protagonist killed.
  • The Insomniac: Reznik. He finally manages to sleep after confessing to his crime.
  • Kafka Komedy: And Kafka Drama.
  • Meaningful Echo:
    • "I'd like to report a hit and run." When Trevor finally regains his memories and comes to terms with his crime.
    • Trevor has the exact same conversation with Stevie (a call girl) and with Maria later on. This is a clue that Maria doesn't exist and only in his imagination.
    Stevie / Maria: Are you okay?
    Trevor: Don't I look okay?
    Stevie / Maria: If you were any thinner you wouldn't exist.
  • Meaningful Name: The main character's name is Trevor Reznik, which subtly invokes both Trent Reznor (who records dark and creepy music), and Darryl Revok (a character in a different dark and creepy movie). In fact, the actor who played Revok, Michael Ironside, is in The Machinist. He plays another machinist. "Reznik" also means "butcher" in several Slavic languages.
  • Mental Story: About half of the movie is revealed to be this.
  • Motifs: The left-hand and right-hand paths. Might be symbolically relevant considering this.
  • No OSHA Compliance: A literal example; when the shop manager chews a coworker out for taking time to lock out a machine for maintenance, Reznik quotes the regulations to him, and the manager tells him to "write your Congressman." Later, the same coworker is fixing a machine, when Reznik accidentally turns it on and it rips his arm off. Truth in Television all too often, especially for small shops with tight profit margins looking for ways to cut corners.
  • Note to Self: The sticky notes, including the hangman game, which he should have written himself.
  • Nothing but Skin and Bones: Reznik has become a walking corpse over the past year due to repressed guilt slowly driving him insane.
  • Oedipus Complex: Very subtle example, but it's hinted that Trevor had a somewhat complicated relationship with his mother.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: It's implied that Reznik's compulsive hand washing WITH BLEACH (and later, lye) is due to repressed guilt.
  • Pet the Dog: Trevor appears to have a soft spot for kids. Which only serves to make The Reveal even more painful.
  • Platonic Prostitution: Stevie. Early on in the film he pays her, but later on it becomes this trope.
  • Plot-Driven Breakdown: When Reznik pursues Ivan in his car, his Dodge breaks down after the tunnel, preventing him from finding out where Ivan was going.
  • Recycled IN SPACE!: Crime and Punishment IN LOS ANGELES!
  • Red Herring: Literally! At one point blood is prominently flowing from a refrigerator, implying that the main character has killed someone and placed the body in there. The source is just some fish due to the electricity going out and the fridge failing. It has no real bearing on the plot. Almost a Stealth Pun put in by the screenwriters...
  • Red Right Hand: Ivan's deformed left hand.
  • Retraux: Roque Baños' score is noticeably anachronistic, owing a lot to Bernard Herrmann in particular.
  • The Reveal: Happens gradually throughout the film, instead of all at once: Reznik once killed a young boy, drove on instead of stopping to help, and is now going insane with repressed guilt. Maria and her son Nicholas are his mind's representations of the family he destroyed this way. Ivan is his view of himself.
  • Rewatch Bonus: Many foreshadowings are only apparent on repeated viewings.
  • Rule of Three: Trevor fills in the game of Hangman twice before finding the right answer. Additionally, on three occasions Trevor is faced with a choice between turning left and turning right: The first two times he turns left, the last time right.
  • Sampling: Reznik's line in the bathtub ("You know so little about me... What if I turn to a werewolf or something?") was used in the Manic Street Preachers song "Peeled Apples."
  • Sanity Slippage: Although Trevor Reznik had been acting odd ever since he killed the boy, when he starts harassing and assaulting everyone around him in a paranoid conviction that they are all out to get him, you can tell he has finally completely cracked.
  • Seinfeldian Conversation: The locker room banter. Used to establish Reznik's increasing detachment from society.
  • Shout-Out: To Chuck Palahniuk and Fyodor Dostoevsky. It's that kind of film.
    • "No one's ever died from insomnia" is a direct quote from Fight Club.
      • Also, Reznik using lye on his hands.
    • The closeup of a coffee cup at Marie's bar is an obvious Shout-Out to Taxi Driver, which has many things in common with The Machinist. (Criminally insane insomniac falls for a woman, messes up, then tries to rescue a pretty young prostitute from her job.)
    • And "Trevor Reznik" intentionally sounds like "Trent Reznor."
    • Reznik is reading Kafka's The Castle in one scene and Dostoevsky's The Idiot in another.
  • Slashed Throat: Reznik kills Ivan this way.
  • Special Thanks: To Bale's wife Sandra "Sibi" Blazic, presumably for not trying to have her husband committed, and just generally standing by her man while he disappeared before her eyes.
  • Stopped Clock: Throughout the movie Trevor will notice when it is 1:30. At the airport the "local" clock is frozen at 1:30, and flickers back and forth between seconds. The reason is revealed in a flashback sequence towards the end, when we see that the fateful hit and run happens at 1:30 PM. The frozen clock time is a symbol for Trevor being stuck in the past since this traumatic event.
  • Theme Naming: In a way. Some characters' names are shoehorned to fit the hangman's game.
  • This Bed of Rose's: Trevor Reznik is cared for by Stevie, the hooker whom he frequently visits, after his paranoia becomes too much. Unfortunately, he eventually believes that she's out to get him as well, and drives her away. Although after The Reveal and the ending, this seems to be for the better.
  • Throat-Slitting Gesture: Ivan does the kill gesture to Reznik at work which distracts the latter enough to accidentally lean against the ON button. The gesture foreshadows Ivan's own death towards the end of the movie.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Not a full example, as the ending rationalizes much of the film.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: When disposing of Ivan's rug-wrapped body, it unrolls and is empty. Trevor then remembers that "Nicholas" was actually a nameless boy that he had killed in a hit-and-run himself a year ago, and Ivan is the part of him that he imagines responsible for it.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The solution for the hangman's game, while not exactly hard to guess, was casually shown in the trailer.
  • Trauma-Induced Amnesia: Trevor Reznik is psychologically and physically decaying from a past incident which he has mentally suppressed. He accidentally ran over a small boy with his car, but fled the scene to escape the consequences. He has since become an emaciated husk and suffered a psychotic break due to the guilt driving him mad.
  • Unreliable Narrator
  • Turn the Other Fist: When Reznik verbally assaults Miller at his home due to his paranoia, Miller looks like he's struggling to keep his composure and turns away only to turn around and punch Reznik in the groin and tell him to leave.
  • Wham Shot:
    • The dead fish in Reznik's fridge.
    • The photo with Reynolds and Ivan morphing into the actual photo of a younger and healthier Reznik with Reynolds fishing.
    • Ivan reappearing even after Reznik slashed his throat.
  • What Do You Mean, It's Not for Kids?: In-Universe, the amusement park ride, which depicts mutilated corpses and silhouetted sexual acts. Subverted as it's all a hallucination.
  • You Look Like You've Seen a Ghost: Ivan mentions this to Reznik when they are at the bar. It prompts Reznik to ask Ivan why nobody at work seemed to know him. Ivan is the representation of Reznik's conscience urging him to turn himself in.
  • Your Mother: Reznik delivers a "your mother" punchline at the locker room.
    Co-worker 1: Who! Hotty duty, he ain't get no booty.
    Co-worker 2: Maybe he has got a date by the name "tuck jobs".
    Reznik: No, your mother said she couldn't make it.