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Insomnia (2002)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

“This is why I did that…it wasn’t so bad.” Insomnia, another fine piece of work directed by Christopher Nolan, cunningly explores self-justification from multiple angles. How do we hide? What happens when a strong and constant light is cast upon our motivations? Can we trust ourselves? Are we really as good as we think we are? The detective story context of Insomnia could come off as a stock backdrop for such questions, but the interaction between plot and context makes it come off very strongly instead. As opposed to being a heavy-handed analogy for the film’s exploration, it merely keeps the themes of tension, hiding, and truth-seeking at surface level throughout. The constant sun is the overarching metaphor of a constant, probing light.

In general, the filmcraft is excellent. Nolan’s pacing of the film maintains constant momentum, Al Pacino’s acting is superb, and Robin Williams’ performance escapes all humorous connotations that his other roles might bring to mind. The real strength of Insomnia is the power and subtlety of the questions it places before us. Attentive viewers may become uncomfortable with a moment’s reflection on their own justifications and rationalizations. Insomnia challenges us to think clearly and, should we choose to rationalize our actions, to be bothered deeply with the possibility that unexpected light may shine upon us. Insomnia is well worth the time, and works well at the plain ol’ detective story level as well.

Will Dormer, a renowned police detective from LA, and his partner Hap are called to small town Alaska to assist in a murder investigation. Ellie Burr, a fresh and eager detective wannabe on the small town police force, is very excited to work with him. But Will and Hap have left a story behind them in LA, to which they must soon return: LAPD Internal Affairs suspects that not all of Will’s and Hap’s investigations have been so clean. Events bring Will into close relationship with the murderer, who claims that he and Will are not so different after all. Running time: 118 min.

The event that sparks the plot is that a woman is murdered and, as she is examined on a table in the morgue, we see her nude breasts. On foot police chases involve peril, gun play, blood, and death. There is notable language, but it is not pervasive.

  • Director: Christopher Nolan
  • Screenplay: Hillary Seitz based on 1997 screenplay by Nikolaj Frobenius and Erik Skjoldbj√¶rg (it is said that Christopher Nolan did the final draft of the screenplay)
  • Leads: Al Pacino, Robin Williams, Hilary Swank
  • Cinematography: Wally Pfister
  • Music: David Julyan

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