The Machinist Makes Me Want To Puke. And Puke, And Puke, And Puke, Until I'm Pretty.
First of all, I’ve seen Fight Club already, and I didn’t like it then, so I don’t see why I would like it now. It’s not that plot similarities are necessarily a bad thing, or that they’re in any way avoidable. Hell, everything I’ve ever written is a mix between Dave Barry and Michael J. Nelson, so who am I to quibble about cribbing? It’s just that I think that a reasonable amount of time should pass before you can start downloading your third act from Script-O-Rama. The Sixth Sense waited over thirty years before ripping off Carnival of Souls, The Blair Witch Project nearly that for the buzz off of Cannibal Holocaust to wear off, and Reservoir Dogs at least ran City of Fire through Babel Fish before remaking it without credit. The twist at the end of The Machinist is so tired, however, that it ruins all the good things the movie has going for it, chief among which is a chance to see hunky Christian Bale reduced to the punchline of an eating disorder joke.
Bale’s dramatic weight loss, which he accomplished by digesting nothing but an apple, a can of tuna, and a publicity stunt manual a day, is shocking, no matter how prepared you are for it. It’s enough to put you off your lunch, or convince you that you should lose a few pounds round the middle, tubby. Honestly, have you seen yourself lately? I mean, you still look good, you know, for a pink marshmallow with fingers like cooked hotdogs. It’s just that I’ve been thinking that you’re getting a little puffy around the cheeks, like a sweaty ham, and they’re going to sag when you get older. But enough about you fat you are, back to the movie. Bale plays the titular machinist, whose insomnia and weight loss have driven him to the brink of insanity. He begins having encounters with a fat, bald man with a disfigured hand and snakeskin boots, a terrifying image even without the psychological thriller context. Snakeskin boots have always set off my spidey-sense, since clearly someone with fashion sense that poor has nothing to lose. This is the same reasoning that has kept me from ever daring to instigate a conversation with a woman wearing those puffy moccasin-looking boots that look like a cross between a space-suit and a lambskin condom. Bale is accompanied on his journey through madness by Michael Ironside, a veteran character actor who has made a living by being mistaken for John Saxon, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, who plays a prostitute with the perfect mix of pathos and strength, though quite frankly, she could stand to lose a few pounds. I mean, I know that the Hollywood beauty myth perpetuated by fashion magazines and music videos is damaging to female self-esteem in a broad cultural sense, but personally, even the slightest hint of flab on a girl's body makes me think of a drowned corpse bloated with gas. I figure, better they throw up than me, right? After all, as a man, I'm required to do all sorts of things to make myself attractive to women, like shave almost daily and change my pants occasionally, so it's only fair that they reciprocate by starving themselves.
The film itself is very well put together, revelling in a pervasive creepiness highlighted by the dark green and steely grey colour scheme and recurring, distressing imagery. The soundtrack is unsettling as well, even when Ironside isn’t speaking with his voice like a metal file being drawn over a leg bone. However, the ending is just too irritatingly obvious. It’s not that it’s an easy call all the way, like when I called the end to Matchstick Men on the way to the theatre, but the few admittedly interesting surprises the film has in store are overshadowed by the big Fight Club twist. It’s just a shame that a clearly talented filmmaker like Brad Anderson would rely on a script that comes just too soon after a slew of similar stories. Hollywood is much criticized for its lack of originality, and this film doesn’t do anything to disprove that complaint, though due no doubt to a tax dodge, the film is technically Spanish. If only there were some way to purge the end of the film, allowing us to gluttonously devour the deliciously interesting aspects of the first two thirds of the film, I might have enjoyed it. But perhaps it's for the best. I have been feeling a little heavy lately.