Monday, July 28, 2008

I Love the Work of Jennifer Jason Leigh: The Machinist

"The Machinist" created a stir four years ago because Christian Bale starved himself, reduced his body to a barely fleshed skeleton, in order to play the role of Trevor Reznik, a machinist suffering from a year long bout with insomnia who is going insane.

As with "Margot at the Wedding", this movie felt like an actor's workshop, this time for Christian Bale. He's brilliant portraying Trevor's descent into madness and his descent toward the truth of what has kept him awake having paranoid delusions for a whole year.

But, when I finished viewing the movie, I wondered what would happen if I turned the movie around a bit and saw it as Stevie's story, as the story of the call girl played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Stevie, especially as played by Leigh, is the movie's central embodiment of desire and longing. She's tired of the call girl gig. She longs for a man she can rely on, who will free her from her life of prostitution.

She decides about half way through the movie that Trevor could be just the man for her. Over the course of the movie he buys time to talk with her, not have sex. He longs for her companionship, for more than a trick. Stevie likes feeling needed.

Seen from Stevie's point of view, the world of this movie is one soulless transaction after another. But Stevie's soul hasn't died. Her soul longs for union. She sees hope in Trevor.

Trevor, however, stamps out this hope when he suffers a delusion in Stevie's apartment just as they have begun to live together. He flips out in a violent rage, breaks a bunch of dishes, and fires crazy accusations at Stevie.

Stevie rages in return, kicks Trevor out, and sobs. She's devastated. If this movie could be seen as her movie, Leigh plays Stevie's vulnerability brilliantly when she offers herself as a real girlfriend to Trevor. When Trevor flips out, she is making him breakfast. She's light, enjoying the feeling of domestic union.

In a moment, Trevor shatters the whole thing.

Stevie's anger and inconsolable disillusionment expresses the emotional soul of this movie. Once we learn why Trevor can't sleep, can't love, can't eat we understand the power of guilt to erode all that makes a person human.

We also see how such guilt devastates Stevie. Trevor's guilt made him not only unreliable. It made him insane. Stevie suffers the physical expression of Trevor's guilt and insanity.

Having trusted Trevor,she ends up the focal point Trevor's unexpressed, unacknowledged guilt, shame, and self-loathing.

I found this aspect of the movie more compelling and more engaging than the main story line where the cause of Trevor's insomnia and insanity is ultimately revealed.

I cared the most about Stevie's story.

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