I guess I can't avoid starting out by mentioning Christian Bale. More specifically, the things he's willing to do for a part. Apparently, the list includes what I can only imagine as starving yourself for a very long time. He looks absolutely emaciated. It's hard to look at him for any set amount of time, and I couldn't help but marvel at what it takes to do that to yourself in the name of your craft. And if he was going to starve himself, The Machinist was a good reason to do it.
There is something I've noticed with every Brad Anderson film, and the best way to describe it is there being a creeping tension and foreboding in all the atmospheric conditions he creates. It's almost identical in Session 9, and Transsiberian definitely has elements of it. Anderson is astutely aware of his characters' surroundings, and he populates them with people and things that can make you a little bit uneasy. And in The Machinist, everything is off somehow, but it's hard to pinpoint. Trevor Reznik(Bale) doesn't live in a super-creepy apartment building, there's nothing terribly upsetting about his job, and everybody else around him seems normal enough. Yet and still, something doesn't feel right. There's an inate quality that pushes the film more in the direction of horror, but without any of the genre conventions.
Bale plays a guy working at some kind of machine factory, and he's been there for, as far as I know, at least a little over a year. When the film starts, he's already a full-on bag of bones, so there's no real transformation happening. But the point isn't to see him transform; instead, it's about what he's become. What exactly that is, and why it's happened are two of the questions the film digs into.
And that's all I can safely divulge about the film without going into spoiler territory. I'll say this: if you're in any way interested in films about or pertaining to tragedies(Greek or otherwise) or the human condition, then give The Machinist a shot. As is also the case with Anderson's other films, it's not one you'll be popping in the DVD player once a month to get your fix. Rather, it's an experience that slowly makes its way around your brain and simmers a while, letting you soak up all the little details and nuances until you've taken away any and everything possible. That's not to say it's difficult to watch or hard to understand. It's quite the opposite, actually. It's a simple story, but the layers it has and the humanity it shows are both integral parts to the success of the actual storytelling. And to me, it succeeded greatly.
But how can a film successfully portray a character without making him well-rounded or at least showing more than one side of them? Apparently, very easily. If that's a genuine question of yours, then I can answer it by saying that not all great characters in film history are well-rounded, or even good people. The Machinist is a shining example of a talented filmmaker taking one aspect of the human psyche and putting it on full display for feature length. Not all of it is pretty, and not all of it is safe. The point, at least the way I saw it, was to take stock of yourself and understand how events have shaped the person you've become. Whether it comes from external forces or something inside yourself, if you can't recognize it you have no chance of overcoming it or living with it. Such is the dilemma facing Trevor Reznik, and it's one I think everyone should experience at least once.