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
1997 Screenplay by Nikolaj Frobenius and Erik Skjoldbjærg
Screenplay by Hillary Seitz
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
Chris Gauthier .... Uniformed Officer
Larry Holden .... Farrell
Frank C. Turner .... Principal
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
Rated R for language, some violence and brief nudity.
For rating reasons, go to FILMRATINGS.COM,
Parents, please refer to PARENTALGUIDE.ORG
: A Novel
by Robert Westbrook
a place where the sun never sets...
famous Los Angeles detective and his partner have come to Alaska-where
the summer sun shines 24 hours a day-to investigate a murder.
is about to descend.
a local cop soon learns that there's more to this case-and these
detectives-than meets the eye.
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Director Christopher Nolan
- 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
to find respite from the relentless Midnight Sun or his own distorted
judgment, the dangerously sleep-deprived detective finds his stability
By David Bruce
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).
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.
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.)
= THE INNER VOICE OF CONSCIENCE.
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.
= THE OUTER VOICE OF REASON.
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.
Her quest for truth [based on logic, and reason within scientific
method] will push her beyond personal loyalties. She ultimately
must become "blind justice.")
MOMENT OF TRUTH. THE FOG LIFTS.
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
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
NEW VOICE OF CONSCIENCE.
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
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.)
OUR WORDS AND DEEDS ARE RECORDED.
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.
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.)
DEATH AS THE FINAL REST --INSOMNIA DEFEATED.
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.
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.
graduated from Trinity Western University where he studied film
under prolific screenwriter Ned Vankevich. He prefers independent
and lower-budget films.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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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