Feelings of anxiety, guilt and terror would be enough to make a man lose sleep for days. Trevor Reznik, however, hasn’t slept for a year. His every waking moment has become a nightmarish world of confusion and paranoia. Christian Bale plays Trevor, a man going to pieces in Brad Anderson’s new film The Machinist.

Bale, who lost a reported 63 pounds to play the role, is mesmerizing to watch onscreen. In the opening sequence, moviegoers witness the horrifying vision of his scrawny frame moving languidly through a bleak apartment. It’s clear that the actor went to incredible lengths to portray a man on the edge of madness. Having consulted a nutritionist only once, Bale says, before losing all the weight, you can’t help but wonder if he went temporarily crazy to put himself through such health risks.

“I had what could be called a kind of stupid feeling of invincibility,” Bale says after a sip of water. “Like, ‘You know, I can do it. I can manage it.’ And I certainly did feel that if I was going to do this the one time, that I could. For me, there was the challenge of was I able to do that. I managed it more so than I expected. I feel that I proved that point to myself – that I could do it.”

Trevor spends his days toiling away in a grim machine shop, working side-by-side bulky men in iron masks. Electrical sparks fly through the air as the cacophony of saw blades rip through the bitter atmosphere. Trevor’s feelings of guilt and paranoia only increase as he accidentally causes a co-worker to lose his arm. And you wonder: Do machinists have existential crises? But don’t make the mistake of dismissing The Machinist, with its grim overtones and existential content, as a purely bleak psychological thriller.

“I find it very humorous as well,” says Bale. “I know that not everybody necessarily shares my sense of humor, but I know that Brad [Anderson] did. There are a number of scenes that show the ridiculous lengths that this character’s gone to, and I can’t help but smile at the same time to watch him go through this wretched period of his life.”

For director Anderson (Next Stop Wonderland), the challenge was casting someone who could not only perform the part, but someone who would completely immerse himself in the physical and psychological degeneration of a man who fades from the inside out.

“It wasn’t apparent to me how important his look was going to be until we started shooting,” Anderson says. In the end, though, Bale’s complete transformation served the dual purpose of keeping everyone on the set in check. “Anytime anyone in the crew had something to complain about, all they had to do was look over and see Christian. What are you gonna say? If anyone was making a sacrifice, this was the guy.”

The sacrifice for Bale came during months of fasting. “I would get temperamental at times at the beginning of dieting before I realized that I really had to change my entire life. But you get to a point where you do get past that,” Bale says, referring to his groaning stomach and lack of energy.

“I really did feel like I hit this point of enlightenment,” he continues. “It changes your mental outlook completely. I found myself almost unable to become angry or frustrated at almost anything. But I was a very happy person during that period, although people probably didn’t see me smiling too much because I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t want to waste the energy on that.’ [But] inside, I was smiling a great deal.”

The Machinist, like many of Bale’s films, will most certainly amass another cult following within a small but very appreciative crowd of people. “I think that it’s inevitably not going to be everybody’s cup of tea by any stretch of the imagination. But I do hope that the people who do appreciate it, really appreciate it,” says Bale.

“It’ll be interesting to see if anybody actually shares that opinion or not, or if it will just have my cult following,” continues Bale. “To me, The Machinist really is some kind of classic movie.”