Drawing heavily from the recurrent theme of guilt and descent into madness that pervades the work of Dostoevsky, Brad Anderson’s The Machinist is more so haunting due to Christian Bale’s impeccable embodiment of guilt through his emaciated body. Trevor Reznik, a lathe operator, has not slept for one year for causes unknown to others and forcibly made unknown to him. The narrative pries open Trevor’s mind and then takes a slow but steeping journey into it in search of the memory of the unknown and the identity of a mystery man called Ivan.

The Machinist (2004) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis:

Trevor Reznik is a machine operator, but for reasons yet not disclosed, he is also suffering from insomnia. His insomnia has left him critically and repulsively emaciated. With an existence that is so acutely dreadful, the relationships Trevor shares with two women– Stevie and Maria– have therapeutic value. Stevie is a sex worker who has deeper feelings for Trevor. Maria is a waitress at an airport diner that Trevor frequents. When Maria repeats the exact same comment of Stevie on Trevor’s health, the film starts taking a menacing tone.

Trevor’s habits include keeping obsessive notes of his weight and daily chores on Post-Its. One day, outside the factory, a man named Ivan introduces himself as a new worker. He has recently joined as a replacement for another senior worker, Reynolds. Ivan’s menacing presence distracts Trevor at work, and he accidentally causes his fellow worker to lose his arm. Although an accident, the other workers develop considerable animosity towards Trevor following this incident. The same day, Trevor finds a mysterious post-it note that he does not remember sticking to his refrigerator. When Trevor tells everyone at the factory about Ivan, nobody is ready to believe him as there exists no Ivan. Subsequently, Maria invites Trevor to spend a day with her son, Nicholas.

Trevor follows Ivan into a bar. When Ivan leaves his wallet unattended, he finds a photo of Reynolds and Ivan on a fishing trip. With all these loose ends and the mysterious post-its taking their form day by day into a game of hangman, Trevor suspects these are signs that the workers have colluded to throw him out of the factory. What appears as a final hammer-in-the-nail for Trevor is his trip to the amusement park with Maria and Nicholas. Trevor and Nicholas take a dark ride called ‘Route 666’.

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The ride, which begins innocuously is replete with symbols and signs harking back to a time Trevor has chosen to repress. The tail end of the ride, suggestive of a highway and a past Trevor has been running away from, causes Nicholas to have an epileptic seizure. Soon, Trevor’s arm gets caught in a machine, and he almost loses it. Suspecting it as revenge for the workers against him, Trevor lashes out at them, which causes him to lose his job.

Trevor goes to Stevie to seek comfort, and Stevie expresses her desire to start a new life with him. One of the incomplete post-its causes Trevor to confront Miller, the co-worker who lost his arm. Trevor accuses him of almost killing him out of spite and takes on him. While leaving, Trevor spots Ivan again outside Miller’s residence causing him to think that the two are conspiring. Trevor chases Miller in his car, notes down its number but fails to follow it for long.

Trevor makes attempts at tracing the car. But hits a dead-end when a DMV official refuses and states personal information of this nature cannot be shared. The clause, the official states, requires a crime for information of that degree to be revealed. However, the same dead-end reveals an opportunity for Trevor to pursue his obsession. He uses it to his benefit as he throws himself under a car and plans to accuse Ivan of a hit-and-run.

Trevor then goes to report a police complaint with Ivan’s car number. However, when the officer tells him that the concerned car number is, in fact, registered under his own name, his world comes crashing down. Furthermore, the officer expands that nearly a year ago, Trevor himself reported it as being completely totaled in a wreck. He runs away from the police station and goes to Stevie’s apartment. Stevie bathes him and advises him to go to a hospital, which he refuses. The two come closer with a possible hint of a stable and emotional relationship. But that does not last long when Trevor finds the photo of Ivan and Reynolds framed at her home.

This turns Trevor violent as he accuses her of hiding the fact that Ivan is her ex-partner. Stevie, who is now both confused and furious, says the picture is of Trevor and Reynolds, but Trevor refuses to look at it. Refusing to negotiate with Trevor’s violent behavior, Stevie calls off the relationship and throws him out of her apartment. He goes to the airport diner in search of Maria. But he is shocked to find an older waitress who tells him that there is no Maria. She also reveals that in the past year of serving him, she has never heard him speak a single word. Trevor refuses to believe her as well and accuses everyone at the diner of being paid pawns of Ivan.

The Machinist (2004) Movie Ending Explained
Christian Bale in The Machinist (2004)

Trevor spots Ivan taking Nicholas into his apartment and decides to follow them. He goes into the bathroom and finds Ivan there, who tells him that Trevor is well aware that Nicholas is dead. Believing that he has killed Nicholas, he slits Ivan’s throat and kills him. When he goes to check the bathtub, however, he does not find Nicholas. Neither is he in the apartment. He opens the refrigerator, which has been oozing out blood, in search of Ivan’s body but finds rotting fish instead. The fish looks similar to the ones in the photo of Ivan and Reynolds.

Finally, when he takes a good look at the photo, he realizes that it has been him all along with Reynolds. Trevor hides Ivan’s body and takes it to dispose of in the ocean. When the rolled-up carpet with Ivan’s body uncoils, Trevor finds Ivan’s body missing. In the most twisted of events, Ivan appears from behind, flashing a torch and telling Trevor he has some explaining to do.

The Machinist (2004) Movie Ending Explained:

Who is Ivan?

Towards the film’s climax, the narrative reveals the psychological mooring as a series of flashbacks reveals the events Trevor has unsuccessfully repressed in his memory. As he stares in the mirror in his apartment, the big bulging figure of Ivan remains hovering beside him. Trevor suddenly seems to have realized who Ivan really is as he keeps reiterating, “I know who you are.” His firmly-held memory starts giving away as he remembers a road accident he had caused a year ago. In a flashback, the film shows that Trevor, who was in fine health then, mowed down a child resembling Nicholas while lighting his cigarette in the car.

The entire event was witnessed by the boy’s mother, who strongly resembles the woman Trevor’s memory had conjured up as Maria. Trevor did not help the child and fled the scene. This caused a considerable amount of guilt in him, which, however, he chose to repress. The guilt later showed up physically as his emaciated state would testify and through his insomnia and faulty memory. It is only when he negotiates with his guilt that Ivan, who is a figment of his imagination and a manifestation of his latent guilt, the guilt becomes less menacing. The filling in of the blank letter, which makes the word ‘killer’ on the Post-it, finally forces him to accept his truth.

Trevor gives up his apartment and donates all his belongings. Finally, he hits the road accompanied by Ivan. He heads to a crossroads where he briefly contemplates taking the road to the airport. However, Trevor, who is now much informed about his conscience, decides to turn himself in and arrives at the police station. He reports a case of hit-and-run against himself and gets an approving nod from Ivan. The police officers escort him to a solitary cell. Trevor, who has finally taken the burden from his chest, asks them to record his statement later since he wants to sleep first. The Machinist ends with Trevor falling into a spell of deep sleep for the first time since the incident happened.

Read More: 10 Best Christian Bale Movie Performances


The Machinist (2004) Movie Links: IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Wikipedia, Letterboxd
Cast of The Machinist (2004) Movie: Christian Bale, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Aitana Sánchez-Gijón, John Sharian, Michael Ironside
The Machinist (2004) Movie Genre: Mystery & thriller, Runtime: 1h 41m
Where to watch The Machinist

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