Review: “The Machinist”

We finally got around to watching The Machinist, a movie where Batman (Christian Bale) loses like a hundred pounds, starts messing up on his day job as an operator of heavy machinery, and starts seeing things that may or may not be there. He also finds mysterious and threatening cryptic notes stuck to his refrigerator. (At the risk of providing a spoiler, if you’ve read my short story “You“, then you already know who’s leaving those notes.)

I wasn’t sure quite what to make of The Machinist at first. I thought it might be a dystopian science fiction flick, one of those films where it’s always dark and gloomy and everyone toils in hopeless servitude for some nameless mega-corporation; so when Batman (I’m going to keep calling him that because my wife, while she was awake, just kept staring at Bale, shaking her head, and saying, “That’s Batman?”) ventures out into the bright California sunshine, the effect was actually quite jolting. The contrast between the hellish factory where he works and the sunny world beyond was effective and, I’m sure, quite deliberate.

The film does a good job portraying Batman’s spiraling isolation and paranoia, and contains some powerful scenes, particularly when Batman chaperones a boy on a ride at a theme park that neither one of them has any business riding. The final few scenes, when we get to see (in a flashback) Batman before he lost all that weight are also very well done. The big revelation didn’t come as a shock to me, as I had figured it out ages earlier (as I mentioned, I already wrote this story ten years ago), but seeing it actually play out was affecting nonetheless. The contrast between a flush and healthy Batman and his gaunt, haunted future self was simply astonishing. (I’ve no doubt that Batman had a doctor following him around the whole time they were filming.)

The Machinist put my wife to sleep almost immediately; I think she barely lasted fifteen minutes. Perhaps she would have stayed awake longer if Batman hadn’t been so frighteningly thin. This film is pushed as a thriller in its trailer and its description, but it’s really more of a character study, and is quite deliberately paced. If you go in expecting a lot of chases and action (or Batman eye candy), you’ll be disappointed; but if you want to see some moody cinematography and good acting from Batman, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and a nearly unrecognizable Michael Ironside, then you might like it.

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6 Comments

  1. It held me because I was curious, and once the end came and I understood the reason for the grimness – and his thinness – I thought it ended up being a really insightful and intimate psychological exploration.

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  2. I remember viewing the trailer awhile back and not being too interested. The whole dark setting vs. light setting is also used in Dark City. As for Christian Bale being Batman…I could write an entire blog about why that pisses me off. Although I have to admit, he was a hell of a lot better in The Dark Knight, but he’s still no Michael Keaton.

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