It is this very concept of challenging traditional models and exposing not viscera but inconsistencies within societal constructs that makes The Machinist arguably one of the most horrifying films ever made.
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When Brad Anderson agreed to film The Machinist (2004), he wanted to do more than make a successful movie or box office hit; he sought to create “a movie that … [defied] people’s impressions of what a horror movie is supposed to deliver” by slowly building a sense of inescapable dread (Anderson). During the same year that The Machinist was released, films like Dawn of the Dead (Snyder, 2004), Saw (Wan, 2004), and Shaun of the Dead (Wright, 2004) earned top spots in the horror genre, and all for similar reasons: their success as horror films, like many, hinged primarily on predictable spectacle in abundance – disemboweled torsos, blood-slicked floors, and usually exposed feminine flesh. By this standard, one may not even consider The Machinist a horror film at all. But it is this very concept of challenging traditional models and exposing not viscera but inconsistencies within societal constructs that makes The Machinist arguably one of the most horrifying films ever made.
In the film, Trevor Reznik is a white, middle-class male who, according to him, “[has not] slept in a year.” It is revealed late in the film that this is due to a traumatic incident he experienced, which he does not remember until the end of the film because he has repressed the event; while distracted at the wheel of his car, he struck and killed a little boy, and, in a panic, drove away without claiming responsibility. Consequently, he has lost so much weight that he “looks like he’s right on death’s door” (Anderson). His job as a machinist in a factory relies on precision, composure, and focus, all qualities of his that have begun to erode since the aforementioned incident. Trevor hallucinates, seeing and speaking with a man named Ivan, whom he believes works in the factory as well. Soon enough, his deterioration affects his co-workers when, while hallucinating, he backs into a machine, accidentally turning it on and maiming a fellow machinist. Even his fellow male co-workers ostracize him when he becomes a liability and something with which they cannot identify. This begins his noir efforts to track Ivan as he blames him for his predicament. His paranoia grows, his sanity disintegrates, and his only source of comfort comes from the companionship of two women: Stevie, a prostitute, and Maria, an airport café waitress. But soon enough, his delusional state becomes even too much for them. By the end of the film, Trevor remembers who he is, the killer of the boy. He takes responsibility for the accident and turns himself into the police, where he is finally able to sleep, for the first time in a year, in a prison cell.
Very little has been written on this film, and what has been published deals primarily with Trevor as “a man who has been consumed by his own guilty conscience” (Anderson). This identifies Trevor’s “repetiti[ve]-compulsions” (“Beyond the Pleasure Principle”) as a means to disavow the traumatic origin. However, this myopic viewing itself disavows many components of a much more complex issue being presented to the spectator. The most important image shown consistently throughout this film is Trevor’s exposed, vulnerable torso. It is a body of “walking bones, with tatters of fungus-pale flesh stretched drum-taut over his organs. It’s a grotesque spectacle, one that makes an already unpleasant movie worse” (Murray). In horror, it is common for the tortured body to be female, or at least feminized, and as Carol Clover implies, the “female [ … ] in fear and in pain” allows men to identify with the role of victim (Clover 5). But it is highly uncommon for the male body to be visually presented as inadequate, especially in horror films, with the exception of “comeback” stories of weak kids gaining revenge on their bullies through some achievement. However, even then, in the end the “wimp” is empowered and masculinized to some degree – for example, in the film Lucas (Seltzer, 1986). In The Machinist, Trevor literally is inadequate in terms of his masculinity, without muscle, reduced to skin and bones. It is also important to note again that Trevor is white, and ironically “white male power has benefited enormously from keeping whiteness and masculinity in the dark” (Robinson 1). But this film exposes the white male “masculinity … as victimized by inhabiting a wounded body, and such a move draws not only on the pervasive force of corporeal pain but also on an identity politics of the dominant” (Robinson 6).
Superficially, Trevor is feminized and victimized as he is presented as inadequate, as in most horror movies. But further investigation proves that Trevor is in fact not completely feminized. He engages in many stereotypically masculine tendencies: he has sex with a woman, works in a mostly male profession as a machinist, takes a paternal role with Maria’s son, and enjoys the attention of flirting with the opposite sex, but he is also wounded throughout the film. He is “a character who is literally dying” (Canfield) and weakened by his insomniac condition. Furthermore, his feminine and masculine selves are presented as two physically separate bodies. Therefore, Trevor is a unique, decrepit form: an unbody. Paradoxically, Trevor is so pale, so weak and spectral that his presence is the registrant of his own deterioration; and yet, his presence is so phantasmal that his own existence and condition require the presence of other characters to be intelligible. Given this, what does this mean for a white male to be presented as wounded, sexually ambiguous, and almost illusory? What does this film purport causes such a condition? Why did Anderson particularly choose the horror film genre to display such a condition? What does this mean for the spectator to have the ability to both witness a physically and psychologically unique white male and his slow deterioration? Ultimately, The Machinist seems to claim that the greatest of horrors is the white male in crisis, unable to adhere to masculine norms. Consequently, this societally perpetuated ideal, that all white males are, or must be, heterosexual and masculine, is exposed as an inherently flawed yet indestructible societal construct, and the individual’s failure to achieve such a standard results in the redefinition of his identity and isolation from society.
In order to understand the nature of Trevor’s anxiety regarding his masculinity and unique physical form, other characters and their relationships and interactions with Trevor must be explored. The first is Ivan. He is, in many ways, visually grotesque and appears almost out of Trevor’s imagination. This is plainly because he does, for Ivan represents the grotesque ideal of normative masculinity that is both separate and yet a distinct part of Trevor. Even Ivan’s car, a 1969 Pontiac Firebird, is imbued with muscular strength and high performance. The particular model used in the film is the Firebird’s original body type, a classic example of a popular type of car known as a muscle car. Ivan is stocky in appearance as well, typically wearing sunglasses, boots and a leather jacket, and he smokes. In each scene in which he is presented, he walks with a limp as if seeming to imply the inherent flaw in masculinity itself. Yet he moves with a casual indifference regarding time and responsibility, even when Trevor is chasing him in a car. Furthermore, Ivan’s size and shaved head are notably phallic, but the most striking feature is his hand. To know more about Ivan, Trevor follows him to a bar where they sit, drink, and chat about life. This is where Ivan reveals his deformed hand. He apparently had an accident years prior and lost fingers. To repair the hand, they subsequently had to take “a big toe from [his] left foot and a pinky from [his] right. [This] is why [he] walks with a limp.” Ivan further admits that he cannot “shuffle cards like [he] used to, but the ladies sure like it,” while wiggling his finger in a sexually suggestive manner. In other words, Ivan sacrificed his gait to maintain his ability to please women. Trevor is shocked and speechless. He quickly takes a sip of his drink, not knowing how to respond. Ironically, Ivan remarks that Trevor looks like he has “seen a ghost.” However, it is Trevor who is spectral in this scene as his face is whitewashed under the florescent lights of the bar, surrounded by suspended cigarette smoke as transparent as his body. He has attempted to match Ivan’s masculinity by drinking with him at the bar, but he cannot seem to fully live up to Ivan’s standards after being confronted with stereotypical, heterosexual expectations. Immediately, Ivan does not take responsibility for his sexual comment and its unsettling impact on Trevor; instead, the issue becomes Trevor and his inability to conform, accept and respond to the suggestive remark. This, coupled with the aforementioned visual effects, are the moments that redefine the male body as an anxious figure that cannot comfortably exist outside of the binary of masculine norm and feminine other, so Anderson presents a male body that is physically and heterosexually barely present, not fully able to commit.
The other characters who are imperative in understanding Trevor’s anxiety are Stevie, Maria, and Maria’s son, Nicholas – all female or feminine. The important female roles in the film complete a binary of fantasy and reality. Stevie, with whom Trevor has sex, is imperfect and flawed, yet achievable for Trevor as he is presented as an insufficient male. She curses, is often scantily clad or nude, and is presented frequently as physically and emotionally bruised by “clients” and an obsessive ex-boyfriend. She routinely comments on Trevor’s emaciated body, saying things like, “If you were any thinner, you wouldn’t exist.” Because Trevor is also physically deficient, it appears as though the foundation on which their relationship is built is one of shared cracks, missing bricks, and mutual subjugation.
In contrast, Maria is an image of perfection. She is polite and endearing, usually smiling, fully clothed, and aesthetically attractive. Trevor seems romantically interested in Maria before this moment as he has been driving out of his way to merely talk with her. The two are first presented together after Maria invites Trevor to spend the day at the carnival with her and Nicholas. At the carnival, Maria asks Trevor to take a picture of her and Nicholas in front of the carousel. As Trevor raises the camera, the spectator too can see Trevor’s view through his lens. It is a warped, distorted version of the original image of Maria and her son. Furthermore, it is revealed later that this is a distorted image of a photograph that was taken of Trevor and his own mother years prior, but at this time, Trevor does not remember the photo, only that he has been here before with his mother.
In this scene in particular, Anderson uses multiple gazes and thresholds as a means to expose the complexity of masculinity through representation. First, there is the spectator’s gaze on the film, then the camera filming the film, then Trevor’s gaze, and here, the camera’s gaze which he is using. Finally, there is the image of Maria and her son as a means to symbolically represent the origin of femininity – Trevor’s memory of and relationship with his mother, or as Carl Jung would argue, his anima, a collection of all feminine or female figures which represents “Woman” (Neumann). This origin of femininity in Trevor is expressed as something he repressed long ago given his inability to identify the cause of his anxiety in this scene. This photo that Trevor is attempting to take is uncanny as his anxiety stems from “what is known of old and long familiar” (“The Uncanny” 340). Trevor’s view of Maria and her son resembles this feminine origin, but it is also different from his archetypal origin of femininity. Consequently, Trevor feels desire for Maria because the image of Maria and her son reminds him unconsciously of his own mother. It is this unconscious memory of his mother that is “projected upon the person of the beloved, [Maria,] and is one of the chief reasons for [his] passionate attraction [for her]” (Jung 198). Maria is a distant representation of his mother, or more generally, femininity itself. Therefore, it is implied that Trevor was forced long ago to repress and defer original femininity. Even the Holden Caulfield-esque background, a revolving carousel, resonates with Trevor’s unconscious cycle of repression and projection. This uncanny image induces a sense of horror within him as expressed when he subsequently lowers the camera without taking the photo, exposing a shocked and unsettled expression across his pallid visage.
The film’s gaze then moves in front of Trevor and aims directly toward him. But Trevor’s gaze aims just right of the film’s gaze, avoiding directly confronting the audience. If the purpose of the horror genre is to shock, scare, and or disturb the spectator, then here, Trevor avoids confronting the very origin of horror itself: the audience. Also, the film seems to address the spectator’s role in Trevor’s repetition of projecting the repressed image of original femininity onto others. The spectator too experiences the uncanny in viewing Trevor because the spectator projects his image of masculinity onto Trevor as Trevor resembles parts of the male form and yet, is deficient given his weakened, anxious, and frightened state. Therefore, the horror that the spectator experiences as in this scene is a result of Trevor’s uniquely disturbing male form and othered identity coupled with his inability to confront and embrace his femininity.
Furthermore, there is another level of anxiousness that the spectator experiences as a result of watching Trevor experience something uncanny and simultaneously experiencing the uncanny himself: a meta-uncanny moment. From the gaze of the spectator, Trevor’s uncanny experience can be considered a representation of the original uncanniness that the spectator experiences. This happens because the spectator is forced to confront not only the inability for a male to reconcile with his repressed femininity but also the spectator’s own faulty perception of what it means to be a man. Trevor’s frail, ghostly, dying body is then a mirror directed toward the male spectator, and in horror films and psychological thrillers especially, “mirrors and reflective surfaces are used … to hint at the unstable nature of identity” (Ruddell 61). His body is therefore a symbolic haunting of the inevitable alienation and deterioration of the repressed male psyche. The spectator can only wonder how much longer Trevor can live, what is keeping him alive, and when he will finally be at peace because the spectator too feels the anxiety and yearns for solace, a common experience in horror movies: the need for resolution.
After Trevor’s uncanny experience, he returns to the illusion, Maria and Nicholas, and takes the photo. He remarks that the scene reminds him of his childhood, and it appears as though Trevor is happy for a brief moment recalling his mother and youth, but the moment is short-lived when Maria’s ex calls to wish her a happy Mother’s Day. To this, Maria chooses to speak with her ex on this pseudo-date and leaves Trevor in an adjuvant role to care for Nicholas, but he takes this as an opportunity to prove his paternal abilities to Maria and himself. The camera fades in and out of various phases of Trevor and Nicholas’ walk together, including a moment when they enter a tunnel, a motif used in the film to periodically express the journey and metamorphosis Trevor undergoes. Nicholas mostly asks Trevor questions on the walk, yearning for the guidance of a positive male figure that does not exist in his life. But it is in this brief scene in the tunnel that Trevor identifies with the boy when he reveals to him that his father left him when he was Nicholas’ age as well. The striking similarities between Trevor and Nicholas are not coincidental. Similar to Ivan’s function, Anderson means to create a sort of double to Trevor again. But unlike Ivan, Nicholas represents the feminine pole of the masculine/feminine binary. It was Ivan who represented ideal masculinity, and here, Nicholas represents innocence and vulnerability, but more importantly, he symbolizes male femininity because, not only is he prepubescent, but he also lacks a paternal figure, which results in him being raised by a woman – more specifically, Maria, femininity herself, according to the aforementioned interpretation.
Trevor too was raised only by a woman. Knowing this pain, he attempts to take the place of Nicholas’ father here, but only temporarily, which further defers Trevor from patriarchy. He is neither a blood-related father nor a stepfather. His patriarchal role in this scene is weak, barely visible like his physical form, and so far removed from paternity. In addition, if Nicholas is considered a part of Trevor’s identity, then Trevor here is ironically acting as his own father in an attempt to fill the void of patriarchal abandonment, but he cannot due to his inability to reconcile with his masculine identity. In fact, Nicholas senses his transience and asks if Trevor will be around his mother more often on this walk, conveying Trevor’s unconscious yearning for femininity. It is revealed later in the film that Nicholas is actually the child Trevor struck and killed, possibly an hallucination. For this reason, this film can merely be interpreted as a psychological portrayal of Trevor’s repression of the traumatic accident instead of a symbolic implication of sexuality and gender. It is therefore valid to assert that this created double is Trevor’s way of “coping with the repressed” (Ruddell 55), but it is more important to ask what is being repressed, not is Trevor repressing.
When Trevor tells Nicholas that his father left him too, he continues by telling Nicholas that, although it was difficult not having a father growing up, “[i]t made [him] realize what a wonderful mother [he] had” and that Nicholas would “realize that too someday.” As he speaks to Nicholas, he is symbolically offering his feminine self words of caution, that he would recognize the importance of his femininity one day, ominously foreshadowing the repression of those qualities simultaneously. Their voices echoe off the walls of the tunnel. Echoes are yet another important motif present in the film. This sound effect contributes in a similar way as Anderson’s earlier use of multiple gazes to the concept of representation. Like Trevor’s voice that weakens, changes, and becomes less and less like the original sound produced, the message gets lost, muddled, and distorted as he progresses farther down the tunnel. This film portrays the male body that undergoes the transformation as, like the echoes, a weakening process due to the recognition of his masculine deficiencies. The camera’s gaze is at the end of the tunnel watching both Trevor and Nicholas walking toward them; therefore, the spectator is again positioned as having already experienced this dark, short “tunnel journey.” Furthermore, it is an ominous foreshadowing of Trevor’s physical form, a waning, dying masculinity and subsequent disappearance. Ironically, it is simultaneously a reflection on original masculinity and a foreshadowing of the future of its non-existence. Soon after this, it becomes clearer that Trevor’s journey is not a strengthening, empowering adventure.
Upon exiting the tunnel, Nicholas notices a sign, existing out of sight of the gaze of the camera, of a ride in the park reading “Route 666.” When he asks Trevor what it means, Trevor carefully explains that it is a ride and that a Route is a road that one takes on a “long journey,” disavowing the 666 of the sign as if attempting to protect him in some paternal way. Because of this, Nicholas is intrigued and runs to the ride despite Trevor’s attempt to persuade him into waiting for his mother. The boy, unsheltered by and detached from his mother, is subjected to the horrors of the mature, masculine world. The two begin the ride and enter into another tunnel that quickly progresses from an exciting, childhood venture into a corrupt, adult nightmare, mimicking Trevor’s own dark, psychological journey. In carnivalesque fashion, the initial attractions they pass are seemingly innocuous, mostly a collection of fake zombies. But once they pass a Native American holding a hatchet and a severed hand, the demarcation between past and present, cliché and personal, melodrama and horror diminishes as seen through the expression that arises on Trevor’s face. The severed hand is a reminder of a mistake Trevor made in the machine factory. It also references Ivan’s deformed hand and the maiming effects of masculinity. As the ride continues, there is a “GUILTY” sign next to a hanging body. This ride of shame reminds Trevor of all his past mistakes and shortcomings, all of the ways in which he failed as a friend, coworker, son, and man. From henceforth, the attractions become more realistic and linked to Trevor’s specific dread and past trauma, including a burning car next to a dead body. Given the carnival in which this ride exists and the structure of the attractions on the ride, it is reminiscent of the traditional cinema of attraction, “a montage of spectacle” (Gunning 3) that displays Trevor’s fears, trauma, insecurities, and inadequacies. Anderson uses this early form of cinema as a means to objectify and expose Trevor as a man who inevitably is always exposed and under the scrutiny of the ride, the hegemonic masculine “machine.” Even the camera shots assist in conveying this examination when, on the ride, besides the attractions, all but Trevor’s frightened, pale face is in complete darkness as if under a spotlight.
Toward the end of the ride, there is a literal fork on the path. Despite Trevor’s insistence for Nicholas to take the light and literal right path, the direction marked “Road to Salvation,” he turns down the darker path, the direction marked “Highway to Hell.” Lights flash, smoke spreads, and images relating to Trevor’s car accident quickly flicker on the screen. The guilt he experiences from the accident is more than the literal guilt of running from the scene and the life he took. It is instead a constant reminder of the repression of his anima, which he currently disavows. Suddenly, Nicholas falls into a spell of epilepsy. The next scene cuts to Trevor holding Nicholas in his arms and running out of the tunnel into a crowd of people, but there is no sound for a brief moment. The deafening silence allows the image of Trevor’s inability to protect the boy to resonate louder than words and music. It also parallels Trevor’s physical state, stripped of mass and exposed as just the image of the male as insufficient and vulnerable, unable to control the situation, and “wounded by … patriarchy itself” (Shamir and Travis 207). Considering how already deficient he is before the ride as a paternal figure to Nicholas, this failure only adds salt to his gaping masculine wounds.
The majority of the film is spent depicting Trevor’s paranoia and delusions grow with every failed attempt to achieve manhood. It seems as though Anderson portrays Trevor as the source of his own misfortune. This is partially true as he attempts to become something that is unachieveable in Gatsby-esque fashion. When he fails at becoming the ideal male that society manipulates him into becoming, he retreats to Stevie, the imperfect female prostitute. She disavows the hideousness of Trevor’s physically weak body. During one particular sex scene with these two characters, Trevor lies on the bed while Stevie kisses his bony body. Then she slides down below the camera’s gaze, apparently performing fellatio. The spectator expects Trevor’s subsequent pleasure to be expressed verbally or visually, but instead, Trevor conveys an expression of pain. He cannot even seek pleasure in heterosexual sex. Maybe this is because it further unconsciously reminds him of his own inadequacies, or possibly because Stevie is masculinized, making it difficult for Trevor to accept pleasure from the very thing that causes him pain. Regardless, this places Trevor back in a position between the masculine and feminine binary, an uncomfortable position rejected by society. Therefore, the repression of feminine qualities changes the “possibility of pleasure into a source of ‘pain’” (“Beyond the Pleasure Principle”). It is this pain, however, that “the movie hinges on.” The spectator too seeks pleasure in his pain while “watching Trevor go through this [physical and] emotional torment” (Canfield). But instead, the male spectator, too, finds only inevitable pain with each failed attempt at masculinity and the resurfaced memories of femininity. This conveys Trevor’s inability to consummate with heterosexuality as Stevie, even in her name, is masculine. To have sex with the ideal female form, Maria (which he never does), according to heteronormative masculinity, is to adhere to its standards, which Trevor cannot. In fact, Trevor’s delusions and paranoia stemming from the guilt he experiences eventually ruins the only relationship he has, with Stevie.
By the end of their relationship, he mistakes his own image in a photograph for Ivan, the masculine ideal. He believes Stevie is cheating on him with Ivan. Despite Stevie attempting to convince Trevor that the photograph is in fact a picture of him, Trevor cannot recognize himself in the photo. He is insecure and physically cut and bruised from having been hit by a car earlier. Emotionally and physically, he is the weakest form of himself thus far. He breaks down into tears and calls her a “fucking whore.” Stevie slaps him, kicks him out, and immediately, Trevor’s feelings of rejection turn to anger because the only woman who had accepted him, a woman who is portrayed now as more masculine than he, has taken the dominant role in the relationship. This realization sends Trevor into his final downward spiral before his epiphany at the end.
Trevor retreats to the airport café to see Maria at work for comfort. This time, an older woman greets him at the counter. She reveals that Maria does not exist and that she has been his waitress for the past year. Outraged, Trevor slams the counter and wonders “if everybody [is] in on it.” Not only does this imply that society has contributed to his current state but that there is a stigma attached to talking about the male’s necessity to disavow femininity in order to fit in and be accepted as a man. As he leaves the cafe, making a scene in front of people waiting for their fights, the many gazes of the passengers in the terminal look with shock and horror at the spectacle he is creating: “Let’s all laugh at Trevor,” Trevor yells in a fit before leaving.
In the parking garage of the airport, he spots Ivan and follows his car to Trevor’s own apartment. Much to his horror, Trevor watches Ivan exit the car with Nicholas, whom Trevor now believes has been kidnapped. Theoretically, Nicholas has been kidnapped. It is because of Ivan, ideal masculinity, that Trevor has been forced to repress his feminine self; heteronormative masculinity has hijacked his identity. Trevor, in heroic fashion, barges into the apartment only to confront Ivan in his bathroom shaving with a knife. They engage in a scuffle for the blade, and Trevor mounts Ivan’s back. As he does this, Ivan remarks, “[m]ake sure no one walks in. They might get the wrong idea.” Ivan frequently comments on or mocks Trevor’s manhood in an effort to weaken him and instill insecurity, even as Trevor takes the dominant role in the fight, threatening the masculine identity itself. In one quick movement, Trevor grabs the knife and cuts Ivan’s throat. Despite Trevor’s effort to presumably kill masculinity, it is an illusion. Shortly after this, Trevor rolls up Ivan’s body in a carpet and brings it to the sea for burial, but upon unrolling the carpet, Ivan’s body is gone. “Who are you,” a voice beckons from the night behind Trevor. It is Ivan again, pointing the flashlight directly at Trevor, who is again under the laughing scrutiny of masculinity.
Following this scene, Trevor looks at a Post-it on his refrigerator. For the entire duration of the movie, Trevor has been finding Post-its that he has not remembered writing. He had thought it was Ivan, but now, he realizes that he, himself, has been writing them. Finally, he can answer the hangman riddle: K I L L E R. In a cathartic flood of emotions and memories, he recalls the accident, the boy he struck (Nicholas), the boy’s mother (Maria) running toward her son, and Trevor’s former self in the car, which he thought belonged to Ivan – the 1969 muscle car. He ran from the scene of the crime without claiming responsibility for hitting the boy. In the end, Trevor turns himself into the police. Finally, he sits in an all-white cell and falls asleep. Although this seems to be a moment of redemption for Trevor as he finally takes responsibility for his crime and gains peace as a result, is he truly at peace? Before he enters the cell, he sees Ivan outside the prison pointing to Trevor as if to say, “I’ll be waiting for you.” There is no escape from the pressures and presence of masculine expectations. Ivan forces Trevor to take responsibility for the death of the boy, but Ivan never claims responsibility himself, for it would mean that the white, patriarchal hegemony would be examined. Trevor is placed under scrutiny in order for the ideal to maintain its unexamined existence. The problem that exists in the end is that Trevor and Ivan are depicted as one. Ivan’s muscle car, job, clothes, and image in the photograph are inevitably all revealed to be Trevor. They are not separate. Therefore, it is logically the collection of the two who are at fault for the destruction, paranoia, ruined relationships, and disavowal of femininity. However, Nicholas is also a part of Trevor. The separation of Ivan, the masculine identity, from Nicholas, the feminine identity, leaves Trevor in the middle as a shell of his former self when stripped of both. It is this male form that is scrutinized and demonized. The male body must be presented as either feminine, masculine, or both, like Stevie, for lacking both feminine and or masculine characteristics, as seen in the end, results in the male’s separation from society and reconstructed identity.
By and large, the camera’s gaze seems to sympathize with men and the expectations placed upon them. It allows the spectator to see Ivan, Nicholas, Maria, and all other hallucinations and psychological manifestations. Moreover, Ivan and the other characters are not merely hallucinations as they have a profound, palpable impact on Trevor. Ironically, Trevor is conceptually present and yet physically waning and illusory. Ivan is physically present and yet conceptually illusory. Actuality, therefore, exists as the character of Trevor and the effects Ivan has on him. But it is not until the end that the spectator knows why Trevor is in this state, as if Anderson means to force the spectator to experience the repression and disavowal of femininity with Trevor. By the end, there is the epiphany that the spectator experiences too, the horror of what he, and we, has done. In this way, The Machinist “isn’t … a story that actually happened, it’s … more of a cautionary … fable” (Anderson Twitch).
Christian Bale lost roughly sixty-three pounds to capture the character of Trevor. This visual of the wounded male was instrumental in conveying the torment and disintegration that occurs to males struggling to be accepted. It is as if Trevor’s body is “a type of stage of production – [a] statement against normative expectations of what ‘health’ looks like” (Brouwer 115). Interestingly, Bale accepted the role of Batman directly after this film and was forced to gain the weight back as muscle to “bulk up” for the part, to look more like an heroic, athletic male. Batman’s character relies on a sort of duality very much like Trevor’s. Batman is Batman for two primary reasons: revenge and a need to overcome childish fears that apparently make men weak. Both identities, Batman and Bruce Wayne, are masculinized and their characters disavow femininity, whether it be Bruce’s playboy lifestyle or Batman’s heroics in the street. Therefore, the problem that seems to be wrong with normative masculinity is that men have been forced to adhere to such standards for so long that when they fail to achieve the societally constructed ideal, the anxiety becomes too much to bear (Shamir and Travis 206). Whether merely a coincidence, an unconscious desire, or the passion of an exemplary actor to fully become the character, Bale too returns to his masculine identity for this role. So where does the cycle end, when does it break, and what will it take to allow the male to just exist free from muscle, sex, and form?
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Brouwer, Dan. “The Precarious Visibility Politics of Self-stigmatization: The Case of HIV/AIDS Tattoos.” EBSCOhost. Text and Performance Quarterly, n.d. Web.
Canfield, Dave. “Brad Anderson: An Interview with the Director of Session 9 and The Machinist.” TwitchFilm. N.p., 15 Oct. 2004. Web. 03 May 2016.
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Freud, Sigmund. “IV. Sigmund Freud. 1922. Beyond the Pleasure Principle.” IV. Sigmund Freud. 1922. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 May 2016.
Freud, Sigmund. “The Uncanny.” The Uncanny. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.
Gunning, Tom. “The Cinema of Attractions Early Film, Its Spectator and the Avant-Garde.” Columbia (n.d.): n. pag. Web.
Jung, C. G. The Collected Works of C.G. Jung: Complete Digital Edition. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 198. Print.
Murray, Steve. “Dead Man Walking Gets a Chilly Interpretation.” The Atlanta Journal-Constitution 24 Nov. 2014: n. pag. Print.
Neumann, Erich. “Anima/Animus.” Anima/Animus. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.
Robinson, Sally. “Marked Men: White Masculinity in Crisis.” Barnes & Noble. New York: Columbia University Press, ©2000, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.
Ruddell, Caroline. “The Besieged Ego.” – Caroline Ruddell. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.
Shamir, Milette, and Jennifer Travis. “Boys Don’t Cry? Rethinking Narratives of Masculinity and Emotion in the U.S.” Barnes & Noble. New York: Columbia University Press. 2002, n.d. Web. 03 May 2016.
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The author would like to extend a special thanks to Scott Combs.
Note: All images are screenshots from the film.