Insomnia takes place in the land of the midnight sun, where the sun shines into the darkest moment of the night. As the plot unfolds we discover this setting to be highly symbolic. It is the place where the soul can not rest until it comes to terms with itself in full confession and redemption.
Review by Simon Remark and David Bruce


This page was created on May 25, 2002
This page was last updated on May 17, 2005

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Directed by
Christopher Nolan

1997 Screenplay by Nikolaj Frobenius and Erik Skjoldbjærg
Screenplay by Hillary Seitz

Al Pacino .... Will Dormer
Robin Williams .... Walter Finch
Hilary Swank .... Ellie Burr
Maura Tierney .... Rachel Clement
Martin Donovan .... Hap Eckhart
Nicky Katt .... Fred Duggar
Paul Dooley .... Chief Charles Nyback
Jonathan Jackson .... Randy Stetz
rest of cast listed alphabetically
Jay Brazeau
Chris Gauthier .... Uniformed Officer
Larry Holden .... Farrell
Katharine Isabelle
Tasha Simms
Frank C. Turner .... Principal

Produced by
George Clooney .... executive producer
Ben Cosgrove .... associate producer
Broderick Johnson .... producer
Paul Junger Witt .... producer
Andrew A. Kosove .... producer
Edward McDonnell .... producer
Kim Roth .... executive producer
Charles J.D. Schlissel .... executive producer
Steven Soderbergh .... executive producer
Emma Thomas .... co-producer
Tony Thomas .... executive producer

Original music by David Julyan

Cinematography by Wally Pfister

Film Editing by Dody Dorn

MPAA: Rated R for language, some violence and brief nudity.
For rating reasons, go to FILMRATINGS.COM, and MPAA.ORG.
Parents, please refer to PARENTALGUIDE.ORG


CD infoInsomnia (Score)
David Julyan

CD info

Insomnia (Double Sided)
Insomnia (Double Sided)
27 in x 40 in
Original Movie Poster plain, or
Framed | Mounted
27 in x 40 in
Original Movie Poster plain, or
Framed | Mounted


Book infoInsomnia : A Novel
by Robert Westbrook

In a place where the sun never sets...
A famous Los Angeles detective and his partner have come to Alaska-where the summer sun shines 24 hours a day-to investigate a murder.
...darkness is about to descend.
But a local cop soon learns that there's more to this case-and these detectives-than meets the eye.


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From Director Christopher Nolan

DVD infoInsomnia
- Criterion Collection (1998)

This 1997 film from Norway and neophyte director Erik Skjoldbjærg delivers the goods with unsettling effectiveness. It's an intense, smart, and taut thriller if only because what it eerily implies is creepier than the film's reality. Opening with a churning, chilling murder of a young woman, Insomnia invites the viewer--as well as its protagonist, celebrated Oslo homicide cop Jonas Engström (Stellan Skarsgård)--into the mind and thoughts of a killer by making Engström fatally flawed himself. While in pursuit of the murderer, Engström makes a mistake; he accidentally shoots his partner and friend and covers up his deed in a panic. But he overlooks a minor detail: the real killer has seen him commit the crime. What ensues is a layered, complex, and unnerving descent into chaos, brought on by the inability to sleep in this land of the midnight sun. Engström suffers from insomnia, which warps his logic and resolve, and before long he's totally unraveled and unsure of his every move. But not before a twisty transference and countertransference occurs between cop and killer. The two play a game of high-stakes one-upmanship that surprises in the end. Insomnia is fresh and psychologically bent, full of Scandinavian despair and dark humor, and it boasts a film noir pulse beneath its blinding light. --Paula Nechak

Disgraced Swedish detective Jonas Engström (Stellan Skarsgård) travels to northern Norway to solve a brutal murder in Insomnia. Unable to sleep through the night of the midnight sun, Engström quickly loses his grip on the case and his mind. Erik Skjoldbjærg's debut feature is a deft amalgam of psychological thriller, morality play, and police procedural. Criterion presents the DVD premiere of Insomnia in a new widescreen transfer.

DVD infoMemento (2000)

Guy Pearce (L.A. Confidential) and Joe Pantoliano (The Matrix) shine in this absolute stunner of a movie. Memento combines a bold, mind-bending script with compelling action and virtuoso performances. Pearce plays Leonard Shelby, hunting down the man who raped and murdered his wife. The problem is that "the incident" that robbed Leonard of his wife also stole his ability to make new memories. Unable to retain a location, a face, or a new clue on his own, Leonard continues his search with the help of notes, Polaroids, and even homemade tattoos for vital information.

Because of his condition, Leonard essentially lives his life in short, present-tense segments, with no clear idea of what's just happened to him. That's where Memento gets really interesting; the story begins at the end, and the movie jumps backward in 10-minute segments. The suspense of the movie lies not in discovering what happens, but in finding out why it happened. Amazingly, the movie achieves edge-of-your-seat excitement even as it moves backward in time, and it keeps the mind hopping as cause and effect are pieced together.

Pearce captures Leonard perfectly, conveying both the tragic romance of his quest and his wry humor in dealing with his condition. He is bolstered by several excellent supporting players, and the movie is all but stolen from him by Pantoliano, who delivers an amazing performance as Teddy, the guy who may or may not be on his side. Memento has an intriguing structure and even meditations on the nature of perception and meaning of life if you go looking for them, but it also functions just as well as a completely absorbing thriller. It's rare to find a movie this exciting with so much intelligence behind it. --Ali Davis

Don't close your eyes
From acclaimed director Christopher Nolan (Memento) comes the story of Will Dormer (AL PACINO), a veteran LAPD detective who travels to a small Alaskan town with his partner Hap (MARTIN DONOVAN) to investigate the disturbing murder of a seventeen year-old girl.

Under the glare of the region's perpetual daylight, Dormer and Hap close in on the primary suspect, reclusive novelist Walter Finch (ROBIN WILLIAMS). During a tense stakeout on a rocky, fog-shrouded beach, Finch slips into the mist and out of Dormer's grasp. As he makes his escape, shots ring out.and Hap is killed.

As he struggles to cope with his sense of responsibility and remorse over his partner's death, Dormer is forced into a psychological game of cat-and-mouse by the brilliantly malevolent Finch. The stakes escalate as Dormer contends with an unproven but perceptive local cop (HILARY SWANK) and becomes increasingly entangled in Finch's web of manipulation.

Unable to find respite from the relentless Midnight Sun or his own distorted judgment, the dangerously sleep-deprived detective finds his stability gravely threatened.

By David Bruce

Click to enlargeInsomnia is set in Alaska, the land of the midnight sun. The midnight hour has often been thought of as the time of Final Judgment. It is the last hour of the day. It is the final deadline of the day. High Noon also has this same sense in our culture. Gary Cooper's High Noon and dozens of other westerns play on this deadline/judgment theme. Insomnia takes place in the land of the midnight sun, where the sun shines into the darkest moment of the night. As the plot unfolds we discover this setting to be highly symbolic. It is the place where the soul cannot rest until it comes to terms with itself in full confession and redemption.

Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is a master detective sent by the Los Angeles Police Department to Alaska with his partner Hap (Martin Donovan) to investigate the brutal murder of a young seventeen-year-old girl. As they arrive in the small Alaskan town they are joined by an inexperienced, yet perceptive, local police officer, Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank). She has been an admirer of the legendary detective Will Dormer. The interplay between these three characters gives the story its depth. In a very profound and interesting way this threesome shifts a third of the way through the story when Hap is replaced by Walter Finch (Robin Williams).

Click to enlargeTHE FLAWED HERO IN A FOG.
Will Dormer is a highly ethical and just man, or so he thinks. He has a strong moral code by which he lives. He is self-righteous. Somehow we like him. We are on his side.

(Spoiler: The director, however, gives us mysterious flashes of a former crime scene where evidence is being altered. These quick inserts are hints of a unsettling memory. Will has blood on his hands, literally. Something is amiss, but we don't know exactly what it is. We are kept in the fog just as Will's self-righteousness obscures his inner reality.)

Will's partner, Hap, supplies the voice of conscience. Hap is part of an internal investigation that the LAPD is conducting against Will. At the beginning of the story we are sympathetic to Will, not Hap. The story gives us little emotional connection with Hap, he seems like a betrayer. We don't like him. Thusly so, the human condition is such that we don't always like the inner voice of conscience -the voice of the spirit.

Ellie Burr supplies the outer scientific voice of evidence and reason. She has a passion for logic and reason. She wants to be master detective as her hero Will Dormer is.

(Spoiler: Her quest for truth [based on logic, and reason within scientific method] will push her beyond personal loyalties. She ultimately must become "blind justice.")

There is a scene in the film of intense fog. Will and his partner are on the heels of the murderer. The fog makes it difficult to see. The murderer shots and wounds an officer and Will pursues him in the thick fog. Shots are fired and as the fog lifts we learn that Hap is dead. The murderer escapes with another homicide to his credit.

(Spoiler: Unfortunately Will is the one who killed Hap. It was an unintentional accident due to mistaken identity in the midst of fog and gunfire. The conflict in conscience comes as Will tries to conceal what really happened.)

In a brilliant piece of writing, Hap --the voice of conscience-- is replaced by another voice of conscience --Walter Finch, the murderer himself. Will begins to struggle with Walter as he does with his own conscience.

(Spoiler: Will had accidentally shot his partner and had covered up his deed in a panic. What he now learns is that Walter Finch had seen him commit the crime. Walter confronts Will with his own evil. "We are both the same," he tells Will. In certain ways Walter is correct. It is a difficult thing to come to terms with our own sin. None of us are better than any other. We all have a shadow side. Will has moved from denial to acceptance of this own stuff.)

There is the belief that somewhere in heaven all of our words and deeds are recorded and these will be the basis of the Final Judgment that we all face. Walter represents the conscience of Walter that comes back to haunt him.

Final Judgment or not, all of our words are recorded on our conscience. Moreover, our words do come back to haunt us. In Insomnia Walter records the words of detective Wall and his words haunt him.

Click to enlargeClick to enlargeTHE FOG LIFTS ON JUSTICE.
The fog clears and Ellie Burr uncovers revealing evidence that changes everything. Ellie represents the fact that people can never completely cover their trail; that there is ultimate justice. As the Bible says, our sins will find us out -- And so it is in Insomnia. Various kinds of evidence ultimately speak against the boyfriend of the murdered girl, her girlfriend, Will and even Walter. (Spoiler:The evidence that Ellie uncovers forces Will into a final confession.)

Click to enlargeSpoiler:
In the final moments of his life, Will encourages Ellie not to destroy the evidence against him. This is his final confession and it leads to the redemption that brings the soul’s rest that he had so desperately needed, finally permitting him to live up to his family name (Dormer = sleep in French). A clear conscience brings rest. Will has finally made peace with the searching presence of the midnight sun.

This film is loaded with important symbolism. The story is a declaration of profound truth. It is one of the best films of the year. It is important because of its deeper symbolic currents.

Review by

Film Reviewer
Simon graduated from Trinity Western University where he studied film under prolific screenwriter Ned Vankevich. He prefers independent and lower-budget films.

Click to enlargeThings are never as they appear in Christopher Nolan films. Just when you think you've got a character figured out something happens that changes your perception of that character entirely. In Memento it isn't until the final moments that we see what type of person Leonard Shelby (Guy Pierce) is, and in Nolan's first film Following Cobb's deceitful scheme isn't uncovered until the last scene. At times the line between cop and killer are blurred in Nolan's most recent film Insomnia but again in the final scene we get a clearer picture of the nature of each of the characters.

Click to enlargeNolan, one of the most talented new filmmakers, has looked at the nature of truth and our perceptions in each of his first three films. The cleverly constructed Memento revealed more of each character with each backward moving scene; for example, when we first meet Carrie-Anne Moss's character she appears to be a pleasant warm friend to Shelby but when we see the preceding scenes we realize how dark and deceitful she actually is. And we also discover that Shelby's true persona is quite contradictory to the one he presents throughout the picture. Pacino's character in Insomnia mirrors these other Nolan characters inasmuch as he is sort of an enigma until the film's closing moments.

Click to enlargePacino plays Will Dormer, a tough Los Angeles cop who is brought to a small Alaskan town along with his partner to help catch the killer of a local high school girl. However, Pacino is also being investigated in his own department by internal affairs for suspected tampering in a recent case. We are therefore unsure of what type of cop and person Pacino really is, and after six sleepless days, due to it always being light (it's that time in Alaska when the sun never sets), Pacino isn't sure what type of person he is either. He begins to question his motives, actions and integrity.

Click to enlargeWhile most psychological thrillers rely on eerie music and dark exteriors Insomnia's tension and conflict are driven by character. The beautiful Alaskan (Canadian?) backdrop is juxtaposed with the dark content of the film, a paradox that reflects the contrasting dispositions of the film's characters; the dark interiors penetrated by shooting beams of sunlight also highlight the inner turmoil of our protagonist, the light and dark contrasts may be symbolic of the inner struggle between good and evil.

Click to enlargeBut Insomnia isn't so much a thriller as it is a morality play. Through much of the film we wonder if there is in fact much difference between Finch, the killer played by Robin Williams, and Pacino's Dormer. Both are tortured by a guilty conscience, but a question Dormer poses is whether or not the means justifies the end, and this is what separates the two. The young do-gooder local cop played by Hilary Swank gives us some insight into Dormer's insomnia when she reminds him that he once said there are two reasons why a cop can't sleep, the first being a piece of the puzzle missing and the second a guilty conscience. We assume the latter is what's keeping Dormer up.

Robin Williams shows that he is much better in serious dramatic roles and Pacino proves he's still one of the elite. And after cleaning up at the Independent Spirit Awards for his last film Memento, Christopher Nolan again proves to be a brilliant director. While his first two films were innovative and original, Insomnia covers no new ground but the intelligent way in which the material is handled makes it a great film. And like all great films it examines various aspects of the human condition.

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