Background : Directed by Brad Anderson (Transsiberian, Vanishing on 7th Street) and staring Christian Bale, The Machinist is about a man with an extreme form of insomnia. Approximately 10% of Americans experience chronic insomnia (1), and due to increased stress, it has become much more common in recent years; some of its most typical of causes are stress (the most common), emotional discomfort, and even depression, while some of its most common symptoms are fatigue, irritability, depression, and problems with concentration or memory, and thus clumsiness (2). Recommended help with the struggle include a regular routine, doing non-stimulating activities (such as reading), making to-do lists, and avoiding alcohol (3). However, ultimately the only cure of insomnia is to overcome the main cause, the main factor that is causing it (4).
Yet, contrary to the world of The Machinist, sleep-loss causes the body to produce more ghrelin and cortisol (which leads to increased appetite), and make less leptin (which leads to decreased fullness) (5), so, in general insomnia more commonly leads to weight gain, not loss; though there are certainly exceptions as each individual is unique in their health. In spite of this top layer of interpretation, however, The Machinist is not about insomnia; rather, it is about fear, guilt, and the inner struggle of our blind selves.
Audience : This film is not for everyone; it’s dark, a little depressing, and genuinely abnormal. So, it is not for young audiences, nor would I recommend it for someone struggling with present depression or similar struggles.
Fallen Warning : As previously stated, this is not for everyone; it has fowl language, upper female nudity, disturbing and unsettling images, and Christian Bale’s disturbing weight: any thinner and he wouldn’t exist. He lost 63 pounds for this role, going from about 185 to 121, at 6′ 2”, so he is not always terribly pleasant to look at.
Brief Summary : A man who hasn’t slept for a year begins to question his own sanity and reality, which reveals that which had been hidden, bringing the truth of reality into the light.
Analysis : (Major Spoilers) At its heart, The Machinist is a mystery; every detail relates to the reality that must be uncovered, and the attention to detail is astounding, which, of course, gives the reality that we find even more pungency. Thus, given its mystery, if you have yet to see it, please refrain from any further reading as I will spoil the whole of it.
On his way home from a fishing trip with a friend, Trevor Reznik hits and kills a young boy while lighting a cigarette in his car. Instead of stopping and facing his crime, Reznik drives away terrified, later declaring his car totaled in a wreck and never turning back to the incident again, driving himself into a depressed madness. That is, until a year later when his guilt has finally crossed into the imaginary life that he has come to assume in his fear.
Trevor’s sleepless life is nothing more than Jonah in the whale. For, life is a path of many obstacles, like machines that can tear us apart, so too can our every responsibility and choice tear us into a mess; and, running from our sinful selves is a kind of insomnia, a disease that overtakes our lives — every sin another level of exhaustion to cause those machines to be that more difficult to operate. In accident he committed a crime, which brought him to a greater crime of running from justice, that which now he cannot face or admit guilt of; and, in thus, his guilt and forgive-less self have fallen apart and brought him into the belly of a beast of sin and suffering. We are always the better man in ourselves, and inside Trevor’s self he is charming, generous, sinless, and an all around enjoyable guy. Yet, in reality he is few of these things; he turns to a prostitute for comfort, becomes addicted to laws and regulations in his job (trying to find salvation in legalistic ideals) and thus is a pain in the neck to his coworkers, and speaks very little to others, though he creates a woman who he is terribly charming towards and who can, as it seems, read his mind and feelings, yet who turns out to be the mother of the boy he killed — only an imaginary version of her that is essentially Trevor’s sinless love: justice trying to speak into him. He runs and tries to lose his past, but always seems to stumble back upon the place he came from: his sins and broken self.
For, while he may hide in his beast of an imaginary life, the justice of God, the reality that he runs from is always tickling at his meatless ribs. His sinful self eventually makes an appearance in the form of a man named Ivan, a man who at times is a kind of devil and at others is the reality that he refuses to face. Trevor is killing himself, both health-wise and conscious-wise by not facing the justice of reality; he goes to all bounds to destroy it, to cover it up, to wash it off his hands, and even trying to kill it or blame it on others, but there is no road into hell that leads to heaven; a complete turnabout into the right direction is the only choice. Eventually he must face what he has done, he must turn himself into the hands of God, he must surrender to the justice of God, and only thus will he be forgiven evermore, only then will he be able to find the rest and peace he has been deprived of — the cause must be cured. For to accept our resurrection we must first face our cross.
“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.” – C. S. Lewis
Further Recommendations : You may want to consider Shutter Island, Get Low, Till We Have Faces, and the Book of Jonah.