An interesting one for me personally this week, as this particular example of a film’s trailer affected the way I watched The Machinist, even though it wasn’t my first viewing. Initially, I saw the film at the cinema way back in 2005 when it was in theatres without having seen said trailer. Fast forward 7 years, and — having never seen the film since — I stumbled upon it during research for this very feature. The plot remains vaguely familiar; the twists almost totally forgotten; yet the unforgettable image of a strikingly frail and skeletal Christian Bale cemented in my mind forever.
Suffering from insomnia, Trevor Reznik (Bale) begins to question if what his experiences are real or a figment of his dream-filled imagination. As he interacts with various people in his life, he begins to query his own sanity as well.
*If you’ve not seen the film then the analysis that follows contains spoilers*
What the trailer reveals
The trailer offers a lot of things: intrigue, mystery, tension, as well as a creepiness surrounding a somewhat bizarre story central to Bale’s character’s plight. However, I can’t help but feel if I’d gone into it for a second time having not seen the trailer, I would have engaged with and enjoyed it even more.
As ambiguous and confusing as the bulk of the trailer is – it simply presents itself in a way similar to Trevor’s fractured, confused thoughts — it still manages to include some key moments and plot reveals that affect the way one watches the film. For instance, I was forever thinking about the post-it notes that frequent the short trailer. Making the re-occurrence of these stick (no pun intended) in your mind. The fact that during the film these mysterious hang man notes appear on his fridge, partially spelling out different words, is a rather integral part of the story and its conclusion.
The theme of the post-its provoke some common questions, such as:
- Who is leaving them?
- What is the game of hang man intending to spell?
- What does it all mean in the context of the film/story?
Yet we are given a strong indication that it might be himself playing this game of hang man because the trailer implies heavily that Trevor is losing his mind. What’s more, it also shows the various words (whether they are only partially filled in), including ‘miller’ and — one he appears to fill in himself — ‘killer’. It all insinuates that Trevor is involved in the weirdness that surrounds him, but also implies he has something to do with a murder (which he does).
Miller refers to Trevor’s co-worker (played by Michael Ironside). It also introduces the cast, including Stevie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and eerie associate Ivan (John Sharian), leaving little surprise in terms of new characters that enter the plot during the actual movie. What’s more, it suggests that Ivan is in Trevor’s imagination.
The reveal of Miller’s work-related accident is a little too explicit, as you’re now aware about said limb accident and are merely waiting for it to happen. Several intrigues and tensions are spoilt, and, whilst this is a chillingly apt trailer, it shows its hand rather than remaining completely confusing and ambiguous in the context of a teaser.
The trailer is undoubtedly well made and atmospheric; showing a clever depiction of a dream-like state (repetition, fractured ideas, unsubtle dialogue in the vein of ‘are you sure you are awake?’, as well as some subtle distortion). It just goes too far in revealing specific themes and important plot points that the film, as a whole, relies heavily on to generate the tension whilst watching the feature itself.
As a psychological mystery, it would have done itself more justice by keeping the post-it notes to a bare minimum, leaving the viewer totally baffled and befuddled, yet very much willing to see the finished film, devoid of any ideas about what might be happening, or indeed, what is ‘real’ or not.
Spoiler rating: 7/10