(I had started writing this post literally months ago but sorta gave up so this is a super simplified version…)
Ever since taking a “Gothic American Literature” course in college, the idea of the uncanny has been one of my favorite literary themes. The idea comes from Sigmund Freud’s essay “The Uncanny.” The best way I can summarize the idea of the uncanny is: the familiar becomes unfamiliar. For example, you look into a mirror and you don’t immediately recognize it as yourself.
Another one of my favorite literary themes is the physical manifestation of psychological phenomenon. This is nothing unique or special, I realize, but I love it nonetheless for two reasons: I tend to think that a lot of illness is somewhat psychosomatic, or, at the very least, affected by your mental/emotional state (i.e. if you are feeling sad about something, you may be more susceptible to a cold or something like that); and since I view truth as a subjective matter, of course I would believe that a person’s psychological state could somehow manifest itself in their notion of reality.
All that said, I loved that The Machinist combined these two elements.
Without giving too much of the movie away, I’ll just say that understanding the idea of uncanniness and physical manifestations are key to this film. Or, rather, they make it much more rewarding. Christian Bale’s character has a mysterious past which is manifested in paranoia and insomnia (which indirectly results in the extreme thinness that, more than anything, got lots of publicity for the movie).
I liked The Machinist as a psychological study. The twist at the end isn’t much of a twist (or wasn’t for me, at least), but this is one of those movies where the ending matters less than everything that comes before it.