The Machinist: Plot Analysis And Ending Explained. Boy, do I have an awesome treat for you guys today. In this world of mindjob movies, there are only just a few sites out there that have been searching and finding the absolute best crazy, and unexpected films to watch. Barry, over at ThisIsBarry.com has been at the forefront of this space for years now. I’ve always enjoyed finding out what movies he’s talking about – and I love the way he unpacks films. (I especially enjoy it when he crafts timelines and deeper infographics to explain things. So much goodness there!)
Anyway, prior to the holidays, I found myself reaching out to Barry, to see if he’d be interested in doing a cross post … thing. Or anything really! I was just curious to see if he’d be open to doing something of any sort or stripe together. And as luck would have it, he was even more game than I was! hahah. And I didn’t know that was even possible especially considering I didn’t even think he would have heard of our little humble home on the web here at THiNC. But sure enough, he had, and he was all for it.
So today – he asked if he could do a write up on The Machinist, and I couldn’t be any happier for him to bring this one to you guys. So from here on out – here is Barry’s take on the fantastic movie The Machinist. Take it away Barry!!
But first – if you haven’t seen The Machinist yet – you have got to watch before you continue on to Barry’s post… and luckily, you can do it online right here:
The Machinist is the 2004 psychological thriller in which Christian Bale transformed himself to look like a frail piece of twig. (Within less than a year he beefed up to become Batman!) The film, directed by Brad Anderson, follows Trevor, who has not slept a wink in an entire year. As he loses body weight, he realizes he might be losing his mind too. It’s a fantastic film with outstanding acting from Bale. You must watch it if you haven’t already—warning, spoilers ahead.
What is The Machinist about? The Spoiler.
In short, The Machinist is the story of Trevor, a well-to-do guy, who happens to be driving carelessly one day trying to light his cigarette. Failing to notice a red light, he runs over and kills a little boy. Seeing the boy’s mother distracted in shock and agony, Trevor makes a run for it. No one notices his number plates, and he gets away. But, because of the guilt, he’s unable to sleep anymore and takes up a machinist job that it is mundane and keeps him away from thoughts. A significant portion of the movie depicts how Trevor’s subconscious is trying to resurface his crime which is buried under layers of guilt and self-loathing. In the end, Trevor’s subconscious succeeds.
What is the significance of the time 1:30?
1:30 is the time of the accident when Trevor killed the little boy. We see this time at multiple points during the film – at the moment of the accident, at the Airport and on a kitchen clock. Metaphorically, time has stood still for Trevor ever since the accident. He can’t move past it.
The Real and the Imaginary Characters in The Machinist
These characters actually exist:
Stevie, the streetwalker who loves him.
Miller, and all his superiors and co-workers (except Ivan).
Mrs Shrike, the landlady.
And these characters are imagined by Trevor:
Marie, the waitress at the airport bistro.
Nicholas, Marie’s kid.
Ivan, the co-worker.
Let’s go through each of these imagined characters and understand why he’s projecting them.
Who are Marie and Nicholas?
Marie and Nicholas are the names that Trevor has conjured up for the two people crossing the road on the day of the accident a year back. Nicholas is the name of the boy he killed, and Marie is the boy’s mother. Of course, Trevor never knew them so he could have never known their names. Trevor has imagined Marie to be a charming waitress he loves having conversations with. She is a single mother in his fantasy whom he tips generously for her time.
The reality is that Trevor only orders coffee and sits there staring at it while imagining every single conversation with Marie. As far as the actual waitress at the bistro saw it, Trevor never spoke during his visits.
Why does Trevor go all the way to the Airport to have coffee?
This is Trevor’s subconscious fear of being caught. He mentions this: “Suppose I went to Danni’s, and suddenly I get an overwhelming urge to skip town. Could I do that just in any diner?” It’s his inner desire to run away from it all.
Did the trip to the zoo happen?
No and Yes. Trevor has been to the zoo as a kid with his mother. Marie and Nicholas are only part of his imagination. Like at the Airport, Trevor probably only went to the zoo, stood there imagining spending time with the mother and son, taking that ride, and taking Marie home. If you notice, Trevor transitions from Marie’s kitchen to his own in that scene. He’s imagined himself having wine with Marie at her place but was at his house the whole time. The greeting card he sees on Marie’s fridge is possibly a card he once gave his own mother long ago. This explains the matching handwriting pattern.
Who is Ivan?
Ivan is Trevor’s subconscious, Trevor’s guilt. Throughout the film, we see Ivan attributed to working with various characters in the movie, but he doesn’t exist.
The Machinist: Plot Walkthrough
The film begins with Trevor tossing a body over the cliff and being caught by someone with a flashlight. We later see him at home with a note on the wall that says, “Who Are You?”. We’ll get to this scene at the end.
Trevor has been doing the job of a Machinist for a while now. He suffers from insomnia and is continually losing weight. He hooks up with Stevie every now and then, and it appears that they like each other. Trevor also regularly goes to a bistro at the Airport and befriends Marie, a figment of his imagination. He tips her heavily in each visit, but that’s only in his mind. The note that he places is a $0 note, meaning, this transaction doesn’t take place.
We see that Trevor is reading Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, where the lead character is an empathic and self-aware person. It’s the opposite of Trevor, who ran away from the accident scene and is clueless of the crime he’s committed. There are many references to Dostoevsky’s work in the movie, but I’ll go into only one of those in a little bit.
One day at work, Trevor runs into Ivan, who claims to be a co-worker. Ivan shows up when Trevor is lighting a cigarette in his car, the thing which caused him to be distracted, leading to the accident. I suspect this was a trigger for his mind to project his guilt in the form of Ivan. We see Ivan driving away in a red Pontiac, later revealed to be the car that Trevor once owned. The next day, Trevor is distracted by Ivan, causing him to accidentally turn on a machine which causes his co-worker, Miller, to lose his left arm. But an inquiry at work soon reveals that no one by the name Ivan works there.
The Theme Park, Route 666
At home, Trevor sees a post-it with a game of hangman. He assumes there was a break-in. He heads off to the Airport to meet Marie. She tells him her plan to go to the theme park with her son and invites him to join. Now, the events of the park are happening inside Trevor’s head. Trevor feels a familiarity when taking a picture of Marie and Nicholas, as this is a moment from his own past – when he took a picture with his mother. Later we are shown this photo in Trevor’s old album.
Nicholas and Trevor end up taking a ride called Route 666. This ride’s name refers to the locket that hung from his Pontiac’s rear-view mirror on the day of the fatal accident. The ride is like a trip down memory-lane. We see the words “Guilty,” a car accident, and a corpse among many gruesome things. When they have a chance to take the road to salvation, they are unable to. This is a metaphor to how Trevor has avoided declaring his crime and thereby his road to salvation. Nicholas has an epileptic attack, and this is a reference to Fyodor Dostoevsky’s book, The Idiot, where the lead character has been getting treated for epilepsy. In a nutshell, most of what happens in the theme park is inside Trevor’s mind. Trevor’s fantasy plays out further as he sees himself going to Marie’s place to have wine.
Is it Reynolds? Tucker?
Trevor meets Ivan for a drink where Ivan reveals that he lost his fingers and had them replaced with toes. The metaphor here misses me. It would be great if you guys could throw a little light on the subject. Trevor goes through Ivan’s wallet (his own wallet) to find a photo of Ivan and another co-worker, Reynolds. Later it is revealed that the guy in the photo is actually Trevor.
Back in his kitchen, someone (Trevor) has been advancing the hangman game to end with the letters ER. Trevor thinks it’s possibly Tucker who’s been messing around with him (as it completes the hangman puzzle).
Is it Miller?
The next day, Miller shows up to collect his insurance settlement. He seems to have no hard feelings for Trevor and treats the incident as an accident. Besides, he seems to be very happy with his settlement amount. Soon after Miller leaves, a machine Trevor is cleaning turns on. He immediately assumes this was the doing of a co-worker and lashes out on everyone. He’s unable to find the photo of Ivan, and in his rage, he attacks Tucker and gets fired.
Trevor goes to meet Miller to confront him, believing that he was behind the machine turning on. After getting thrown out of the house, Trevor sees Ivan in the distance driving away. He tries to follow, but Ivan gets away.
The Red Pontiac and the Number Plate
Now, the fact is that like Ivan, the Red Pontiac exists only as part of Trevor’s psyche. Trevor knows the license plate number because it is his own car (the one he caused the accident with). Desperate to find Ivan’s address, Trevor walks in front of a random vehicle to report a hit and run. When the cops run the license plate, they tell Trevor that it is his own car which he reported as totaled a year back. They begin suspecting Trevor is up to something. Confused, Trevor makes a run for it and gets away using the sewers. With no other place to go, he lands up at Stevie’s home. She nurses him and gives him clean clothes.
Is it Stevie?
Trevor’s eyes fall upon a frame with Ivan’s photo. In reality this photo of Trevor happens to have fallen out of his wallet in an earlier trip to Stevie’s house, and she’s put it in a frame. Trevor alleges that Ivan is her ex and the two of them are out to get him. Stevie tries to tell Trevor that he’s the one in the photo, but he doesn’t believe her, abuses her and storms out. Poor Stevie.
There is … no Marie
Trevor heads to the Airport and finds out that there has never been a waitress by the name Marie who has worked at the coffee shop. And that all this time he has been ordering coffee and sitting silently staring at it. Confused and angry, Trevor returns home.
On the way back, Trevor sees the Red Pontiac and follows it as it goes to his place. Ivan surprisingly exists with Nicholas and enters Trevor’s home. Trevor attacks Ivan and kills him while Nicholas is nowhere to be found. Trevor wraps his guilt (Ivan) in his carpet and drives to a cliff to dispose of the body. This takes us back to the first scene where it is revealed that there is nobody inside the rug and the man with the flashlight is Ivan.
The Machinist: Ending Explained
The Machinist’s ending reveals the mysterious Ivan’s identity to be an alter-ego of Trevor, his guilt. Trevor has forgotten to pay his electricity bills, and his power has been cut. As a result, the fish in his refrigerator begins to thaw, and blood oozes out. As Trevor opens the fridge, he finally visualizes himself in Reynolds’s photo, not Ivan. Trevor’s past is revealed to the audience, as we see glimpses of the accident. Trevor is speeding recklessly, distracted trying to light his cigarette. He drives over a kid and watches his mother crying hysterically over her dead son’s body. Using the confusion to his advantage, Trevor leaves the scene. This is not shown in the film, but Trevor tosses his car over and reports it to be totaled. The hit-and-run is never traced back to him. However, Trevor’s guilt eats him from within, and he turns into an insomniac while burying the accident deep within his psyche.
As the memories come flooding back, Trevor breaks down. The Hangman puzzle is the world KILLER. As he packs up and drives with Ivan, Trevor sees the option to head to the Airport or Downtown. Downtown is the metaphorical “Road to Salvation” which we see in Theme Park ride, Route 666. Ivan waves farewell from outside the police station as Trevor enters to report his hit-and-run crime. He’s taken into custody, and with his guilt gone, Trevor is finally able to sleep.