Christian Bale is a ridiculously talented, under-rated actor. This is the guy who was able to bring Batman to life and make a serial-killer compelling and pitiable. I’ve enjoyed his movies since I first saw his haunting performance in Empire of the Sun back in junior high.

I finally sat down and watched The Machinist (El Maqinesta in Spain, where the film was made). Everyone has heard about his concentration-camp weight-loss. The real question is: why? I had put off watching the movie because I thought it would be dark, depressing and ultimately leave me with nothing. I should’ve trusted the abilities of Christian.

The movie is far different from what I expected. It is a movie about guilt, shame, perhaps even a bit about self-honesty and self-responsibility. It is not a movie about industrial accidents or separate personalities, even though it keeps being compared to Fight Club. (Trevor’s (Bale) mental personification of himself is crude, maimed and leering. But he does not have separate personalities, a la Tyler Durden.) The movie also gets compared to Hitchcock, with good reason, although I don’t know if Hitchcock would’ve delved quite this deep into one of his characters.

The pacing of the movie seemed to get the most complaints. As someone who has bouts of insomnia lasting for days, I can assure you the pacing is perfect. That is exactly how I feel plodding through those days, in limbo, not awake and not dead. This is also the reaction of someone suffering from a soul-shock. You suddenly realize you are somewhere, not really sure how you got there. Everything is the same. Due to his year-long insomnia, Trevor begins dreaming while awake. Not being able to distinguish between his waking dreams and reality, his mind tortures him with his own personal Hell.

The “twist” in the movie is predictable if you understand that Trevor’s outside appearance is a reflection of his inner turmoil. He is fighting to forget something a part of him wants to acknowledge. The conflict is eating him alive. He doesn’t allow himself to sleep until he comes to terms with what happened. I’m not giving away any of the plot. Anyone who keeps industrial-strength cleansers by his sink instead of soap is dealing with some serious guilt issues.

His sub-conscious even goes so far as to create a horrific accident at work in an effort to awaken him. This only sends his spiral deeper as he now has something surface and new to obsess about. His over-reaction to the accident is a confession that he denies. (I love the Post-it notes; although it’s obvious which word he gets wrong in the Hangman game.)

Even though it’s not difficult to figure out what’s eating him, what kept me watching was the power of the performance. The issue of “what happened” was not the focus of the movie. What was the focus was Trevor’s self-imposed Hell. What was he going to do next? How much longer can he fight himself? Was it simple cowardice that caused him to react the way he did and start this whole process? Is the price he pays what he deserves? Why does his conscience function only after it was needed? He is the walking Damned, and he is no more or less innocent than any of us.

The movie is disturbing, no doubt about that. In the end, though, what is remembered is the terrible pain of this man. Does he finally get rest? I think so. Does he stop hurting? I hope so, but I’m not sure.

Watch The Machinist at night. Preferably on a night you can’t sleep.

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