***/**** Image A- Sound A Extras B
starring Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon, Michael Ironside
screenplay by Scott Kosar
directed by Brad Anderson
***/**** Image A Sound A
starring Daniel Craig, Rhys Ifans, Samantha Morton, Bill Nighy
screenplay by Joe Penhall, based on the novel by Ian McEwan
directed by Roger Michell
by Walter Chaw Sickness sweats out of every pore of Brad Anderson's The Machinist. It's leprous green, corpse flesh lit by sulphur light, marking the end of a progression that took Anderson from the sunny Happy Accidents to the sepia-inflected Session 9 to the bleak and subterranean--Plutonian, really--The Machinist. But like all of Anderson's work, the current film seems best described as coitus interruptus--congress interrupted at the moment of climax by the director's peculiar fixation on mendacity in favour of the supernatural. It's all about the tease for Anderson's genre explorations: time travel in Happy Accidents, haunted asylums in Session 9, and now--what, possession? Murderous blackouts? By plumbing the depths of human failings in a literal-minded fashion, one after the other (obsession, then greed, and finally guilt), Anderson ignores the possibility that genre is sharpest when wielded as metaphor for the same. Even the profession of machining speaks to the idea of precision and craftsmanship over flights of fancy or suspicions of otherness. It's a shame that The Machinist isn't ultimately more than an elaborate Rubik's Cube: not that hard to solve, not high on replay value.
What it is, though, is intimately, compulsively watchable. There are scenes of such indelible power in The Machinist that just the fact of them in isolation makes the picture's parts greater than its sum. Trevor Reznik (Christian Bale, skeletal after shedding a third of his body weight for the role), his name a possible mnemonic for Nine Inch Nails frontman Trent Reznor (the videos for whom the film's look apes), hasn't slept in a year. A bad thing at any time, possibly worse for a guy with a blue-collar job at a clashing industrial steel mill. (Indeed, co-worker Michael Ironside pays a pretty steep price for Trevor's encroaching dementia.) To fill the night-owl hours, Trevor visits an all-night airport dive for a cup of coffee, a slice of pie, and warm flirtation with waitress Marie (Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, fantastic)--when he's not visiting hooker with a heart of gold Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The Madonna/Whore of sexual awakening parrot each other's lines of maternal concern/wifely neutering ("Trevor, if you got any thinner, you'd disappear"), while a demonic father figure mutually manifests itself in Ironside's barbed goodwill and the suffocating familiarity of mysterious nobody Ivan (John Sharian). The Machinist, one gleans pretty quickly, is about duality and split personas, meaning that the central mystery of the piece is the amount of time it will take for Trevor to figure out what an audience savvy with like entertainments (Identity, Memento, Jacob's Ladder, Angel Heart) already knows.
Still, moments where Trevor's utilities are cut off and blood starts leaking from his freezer, or Anderson's long shots of a glowering grey sky (compare to Happy Accidents' wide-open panoramas and seascapes) oppress Trevor as he stumbles through his day-to-day, make The Machinist a striking accumulation of detail that, although it never really gets anywhere, stuns nearly every step along the journey. The film's other motif of puppets manipulated by unseen hands (carnivorous machines, funhouse mannequins, children's toys, Trevor's "Howdy Doody" nickname) finds allegorical reduction in the perverse hangman's game that forms The Machinist's central means of symbol-dispensation, provoking a slow-advancing existential dread. (Something in line with the appearance of Dostoevsky's The Idiot on Trevor's insomniac reading list.) Irritating the gross debasement of "normalcy" in the same way, as it happens, as the use of clocks and Happy Accidents-style time slippage, is the uncomfortable revelation that it's always half-past in The Machinist, and gaining speed on the downhill side. I wish it all added up to more than a stock morality play.
A fable of a different colour is Roger Michell's strange little number Enduring Love, whose title is less applicable to suffering love than to a love that surpasses any impediment. Michell brings his mainstream eye to another project (after the difficult The Mother) that buggers affection while inviting all sorts of uncharitable reads. Enduring Love flirts with homophobia, dances with a European intolerance for holy fools (and foolish holiness--see again: The Idiot), and in the end resolves itself with some brilliant Brad Anderson-like panoramas of its characters dwarfed not by a sheltering sky, but by a crushing, claustrophobic one. Its take on nature vs. man is different from The Machinist's in that it doesn't have overt references to the debilitating toll on spirituality represented by industrialization (the key to The Machinist'swoes appears to be a cigarette and an American muscle machine), more concerned as it is with the toll that man's attempts to comprehend the ineffable takes on his own ability to function, ironically, as a biological entity.
A spacious expanse of green, a red hot air balloon untethered, and a band of strangers trying to save the child trapped in its basket by hanging on, fruitlessly, to the rim--Enduring Love's opening is breathless. Symbol, allegory, cinema: this prologue is testament to the fact that Michell is a wonderful technical filmmaker. Among the strangers is bookish author, our everyday Joe (Daniel Craig), and becalmed Jesus freak Jed (Rhys Ifans), the former stricken by his inability to save a doctor from falling to his death, the latter by what he's interpreted as a moment of transcendent love that passed between he and Joe as they knelt down in prayer together over the splattered M.D.. Genuflecting before the death of science and healing, the two find themselves constantly crossing paths in their daily discourse until Joe gradually understands that Jed might be the Glenn Close to his Michael Douglas--spiritually-speaking, of course.
Claire (the remarkable Samantha Morton), Joe's long-suffering sculptor girlfriend, refuses--until she relents--to sculpt her lover's face for the distance that art requires. It's a telling condition of Claire's art that she recognizes representation as objectification: Jed's false idol (Joe) becomes the curious subject of his devouring scopophilia. Though 'Peeping Tom homosexualized with a good healthy dose of gay peril' is the obvious way of looking at Enduring Love (Jed's at the scene of the tragedy looking for his dog, for fuck's sake--do you know where your boys are?), there's more at work in the margins of the piece. Emotionally and spiritually wasted, the picture details the parallel descent into dementia of Joe and Jed, who are afflicted with doubt and the existential need for a discernible design to the universe. Joe's thesis (as well as the subject of his book) is that love is a chemical reaction betwixt two selfish cells while Jed's is that love is indefinable and, only consequently, something that dare not speak its name. Enduring Love really breathes in its confrontations, especially in a dinner scene that goes horribly off the rails as matters of romance and responsibility collide with the difficulties of communication, real attachment, and overreaching purpose. Where the picture loses its way is in a conclusion (not unlike The Machinist's) that gathers with the predictable intensity of a rape-revenge exploiter.
Yet its atmosphere is one of Roman Polanski formalism. As in The Mother, the audience is invited to peer through doorways and around corners--we glide through the lives of its characters as sinister and ingratiating as a scalpel through flesh. A triumph of cinematography and design, Enduring Love creates a universe as imagined by Jonathan Edwards: a crushing of godly hands at once capricious and perversely curious. It wants to see its charges gasp and squirm (butterflies in a killing jar), rendering the opening and closing shots of the characters diminished by the limitless arbitrariness of nature a statement of at once how little the world cares and how much we want it to. Though it's frustrating when they fall short by trying too hard to tie up their ends, The Machinist and Enduring Love approach nihilism with a certain degree of hopefulness, replicating by that instinct the struggles of their protagonists to make sense of the senseless--to bear up under a sea of nothing and wish in vain to not be consumed by the rising tide of nothing. Call it the new cinema of faint hope, hand in hand with the new trend to fold the hand and succumb to the bleak embrace of the futile. Originally published: October 29, 2004.
by Bill Chambers Paramount's hot streak with regards to their DVD transfers of recent titles remains unbroken by The Machinist's handsome 2.32:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation, an optimal platform for Xavi Gimenez's monochromatic cinematography save the occasional surge of edge-enhancement. Similarly stark, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio boasts of appropriately dreamy panning between the discretes and some surprisingly articulate factory ambience. On another track, director Brad Anderson drones on about production minutiae, and virtually every item of interest here resurfaces in the more stimulating "The Machinist: Breaking the Rules" (25 mins.), an intimate account of the picture's Barcelona shoot. Much of the focus is of course on Christian Bale's astounding weight loss, which Anderson says was never explicitly demanded of the star. Bale, despite maintaining his American accent in interviews, comes off less like a Method actor than like a masochist in a co-dependent relationship, even going so far as to refuse protective footwear while filming a chase through Barcelona's sewer system. ("I enjoy destroying myself," he says.) The hurdles the production faced in trying to pass off Spain as Los Angeles are also explored, with Anderson sassing his homeland in such a way as to make up for screenwriter Scott Kosar likening his Ehren Kruger-ish script, sans irony, to Hitchcock. Rounding out the special features: eight deleted scenes, two of them supplemented by optional Anderson commentary in which he basically justifies all of these elisions in noting of one that it asked more questions than it answered; The Machinist's trailer; and previews for Mean Creek, Enduring Love, Suspect Zero, and Schultze Gets the Blues, each of which cues up automatically in a block upon insertion of the disc.
Enduring Love comes to DVD from Paramount in an exquisite 2.30:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. The ubiquitous complaint that daylight exteriors look overexposed ignores the visual unity between the sterile interiors and shimmering exteriors. (Director Roger Michell favours just such a "clean" aesthetic.) The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is equally elegant, if beholden to a dialogue-driven affair in the wake of the masterfully-mixed balloon sequence, with only rainfall making aggressive use of the rear discretes thereafter. Like most of the studio's "Paramount Classics" titles, the disc is exceedingly light on supplementary material: Trailers for The Machinist, The United States of Leland, Love Me If You Dare, Intimate Strangers, I'll Sleep When I'm Dead, and Mean Creek are all that rounds out the platter. Originally published: July 5, 2005.
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