J a n u a r y   2 0 0 5


Poster boy for the New Year's resolution
'The Machinist' carries some weight
by Mark Anderson

he arcane notion of New Year's resolutions may have found a proper poster boy in Christian Bale.

Stickman: Christian Bale lost more than one-third of his 180 pounds for "The Machinist." ["B_LE," by Mary Bergherr]

An emaciated Bale stars in "The Machinist," a recent thriller about a wafer-thin insomniac with endless problems that range far beyond eating disorders and an annoying lack of sleep.

Bale's character, Trevor Reznik, is hallucinating and having trouble distinguishing between reality and imagination.

He's accident prone, has lost his blue-collar job and is becoming ever more paranoid. He hasn't slept in a year, can't find his appetite and the walls are closing in.

Trevor is losing his mind.

Yet the most amazing aspect of this noirishly fascinating movie is that Bale dropped more than 60 pounds to play the part.

That's some resolution.

Such unusual methods, of course, carry little weight if surrounded by weak acting, bad direction or an inane script. But Bale didn't lose weight just to lose weight. He did it upon finding a role he really wanted and the payoff came when he used his shockingly thin body to turn in a riveting, nuanced, unforgettable performance.

"I didn't look at the script and think, 'Oh my God, I get a chance to lose weight for this movie. Yes!'" the 30-year-old Bale told the San Francisco Chronicle. "That would have been moronic. It was a matter of me liking the script so much that I wanted to achieve what I felt was necessary.

Mirror, mirror: Bale checks in.

"I eventually hit a point where the running wasn't working anymore," he said. "It was more like stumbling – the legs had atrophied to such an extent they looked comical."

In other words, Bale didn't shed more than one-third of his weight through surgery, bulimia, laxatives or designer drugs. He did it the old-fashioned way, using an incentive (the intriguing role), mind control (starving himself) and hard work to burn some calories (running).

Extreme? Yes. But a model of mind over matter that, by definition, is a New Year's resolution.

The film is filled with unforgettable moments, large and small – not the least of which is the irony of the only scene where we see Trevor eat a meal. He makes like a one-man pack of wolves devouring some kind of roadkill carcass while opening his mail.

Meanwhile, director Brad Anderson provides eerie shades of cobalt blue awash in creepy music. He follows Trevor's downward spiral until it becomes impossible to parse fact from fiction for Trevor and moviegoer alike.

Writer Scott Kosar's shrewd script provides Trevor with two friends – a hooker (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a waitress (Aitana Sanchez-Gijon), along with endless bit players who may or may not be out to get him. Everything exists somewhere in the netherworld between Trevor's deteriorating life and those danged paranoid visions.

Finally, at story's end, a plausible and satisfying explanation comes to the fore. At last, Trevor's paranoia, sleeplessness and hallucinations all add up.

Suffering for art: the easy explanation.

Which leaves one contemplating many things while exiting the theater. But foremost among them is this: Sure, Trevor's weight loss makes sense within the movie's context, but just how did the real-life actor drop all those pounds?

OK, Bale suffered for his art. That's the "easy" explanation. But is there anything for the rest of us to learn?

If the answer is yes, then what we need as we embark on yet another year of potentially flimsy resolutions at seemingly overwhelming odds, is to find the equivalent of our own plum role on this planet to provide that proper incentive.

We live in a world increasingly dependent on immediate gratification and superficial concerns. But the human mind, at best, is quite the opposite. It requires long-term goals and a satisfying depth of field to achieve full health.

Of course, resolutions always start with a full head of steam – even the ones that dissolve into nothingness. There are 24 hours each and every day that can scream of bad habits by name. But there's something to be said for surrounding oneself with positive routines, good hobbies and great friends in addition to finding that elusive incentive.

We have the capacity to accomplish a great deal more than we let ourselves believe. Sometimes all we're missing is the right direction.

Happy New Year's resolution.

E-mail Mark at andersonenterprises@hotmail.com, and see more tripewriter.

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