Film / Insomnia

"A good cop can't sleep because he's missing a piece of the puzzle. And a bad cop can't sleep because his conscience won't let him."
Ellie Burr

Insomnia is a Psychological Thriller film directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank. The American film, released by Warner Bros. in 2002, is a remake of a 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. The remake was a financial success both in the U.S. and abroad, and it received high praise from critics.

"White Night" (or "The Midnight Sun") is a phenomenon in which the sun is still visible after midnight in settlements near the Arctic Circle — in some cases, it won't set for months at a time. It is during this season when the savagely beaten body of a local 17-year-old girl is found in Nightmute, a quiet Alaskan town whose only claim to fame is the title of "Halibut Fishing Capital of the World". The vicious nature of the killing and the meticulous manner in which the body was cleaned has confounded the local police, who soon realize that they need help.

Will Dormer (Pacino), a legendary detective from the Robbery and Homicide division of the Los Angeles Police Department, is flown to Nightmute to assist the locals in tracking down the girl's killer. With his partner in tow — and with the assistance of a local rookie named Ellie Burr (Swank) — Dormer uses his wealth of experience with violent crimes to find leads that could bring the case to a swift end. All is not right with Detective Dormer, however: an Internal Affairs investigation back home has put his division under pressure, and the threat of his partner cutting a deal could put his entire career in jeopardy.

The stress of the investigation, combined with an extreme case of insomnia brought on by the White Nights, begins to overwhelm Dormer; as he goes several days without sleep, the lines between fantasy and reality start to blur, leaving him to question the sins of his past and the bleak prospect of his future. Little does he know that the man he's been hunting is watching him closely, and one tragic mistake is all the killer will need to exploit the detective's weakness...

No relation to the Stephen King novel Insomnia, or the gaming/philosophy website, or the Legend of Zelda fanfic Insomnia.

This film contains examples of:

  • Accidental Murder:
    • Will Dormer accidentally shoots his partner Hap while they're tracking Kay's killer through the mist, but he covers it up because he had a motive for killing him. Towards the end however, not even he is sure whether it was an accident or not.
    • Subverted with Kay's death. Walter Finch claims that this is how Kay died, but he's just making excuses. When she died, rather than panicking, he meticulously and calmly prepared her body to remove any evidence. Dormer also reveals near the end that the research shows that he would have to have taken around 15 minutes to beat her to death, making it anything but accidental.
  • Affably Evil: Walter Finch is very polite and friendly towards Will, viewing him as a similar mind.
  • Asshole Victim: Randy, whom the two men discuss setting up for Kay's murder. He didn't kill her but was certainly abusive.
  • Berserk Button: Walter Finch beat Kay to death because she pushed his. When she came to him for comfort after having a fight with her boyfriend, he came onto her. She laughed at him, and he reacted with violence.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Detective Dormer pulls this off almost immediately after arriving in Nightmute which consequently tips off Finch that he's not just dealing with "backwoods locals" any more.
  • Braids, Beads and Buckskins: A mechanic and police constable, both Native American, have long braided hair.
  • Broken Pedestal: Ellie's view of Dormer.
  • Deal with the Devil: Finch, having witnessed Dormer accidentally shooting his partner, offers to remain silent on the matter if Dormer agrees to help clear him of the girl's murder.
  • Endless Daytime: The film takes place under the midnight sun, as does the Norwegian orignial.
  • Fille Fatale: Katharine Isabelle's character.
  • Film Noir: A hard-boiled yet angst-ridden cop with a Dark and Troubled Past he's trying to escape. Moral complications galore.
  • Foreign Remake: Of the eponymous 1997 Norwegian thriller.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Dormer's sin, which he is concerned IA will discover. Also, Finch's rationale for framing the dead girl's boyfriend.
  • Has Two Thumbs and... Loves Blowjobs?: Said by one of the Sheriff's deputies.
  • The Hero Dies: Dormer himself at the end. It straddles the line between downer and bittersweet. He redeems himself for his sins and kills Kay's murderer, and he ensures that Ellie Burr maintains her integrity. On the other hand, by doing so Dormer ensures that a large part of his life's work will be undone when his dishonesty gets out.
  • The Insomniac: Played in realistic fashion by Will Dormer, as well as Finch, who sympathizes with the detective in a series of taunting phone calls.
  • Large Ham: Surprisingly averted by both Al Pacino and Robin Williams, who both give very restrained and understated performances.
    • Though Al Pacino has some short but memorable moments when he raises his voice.
    Will: This is where your best friend's naked body was found...WRAPPED UP IN GARBAGE BAGS !!
  • Let Me at Him!: Invoked by Detective Dormer, who is being blackmailed by Kay's killer for an incident in which he accidentally shot his partner. During the interrogation the actual killer tries to steer the cops to suspect Kay's abusive boyfriend with a "smoking gun" piece of evidence. Dormer has to get out of the interrogation room so he can find the weapon before the cops search the boyfriend's apartment, so he aggressively questions and tries to hit him so his colleagues will think he's overworked and let him out for a while.
  • Light Is Not Good: Most of the plot twists in the film occur because Dormer is literally and figuratively unable to step out of the light and/or cover his actions due to the prevalence of daylight.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Walter Finch.
  • Meaningful Name: Played ironically. Dormer's name is a cognate for the word "to sleep" in several Romance languages.
  • Na´ve Newcomer: Ellie Burr is a rookie cop and wide-eyed idealist, who thinks of Dormer as an infallible hero and role-model. As the film progresses, she begins to learn that things are not always as clear-cut as she first thought.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer made it look like a serial killer movie in the vein of The Silence of the Lambs and even went so far as to add a line (naturally not found anywhere in the movie itself) that claimed the killer kept his victims for 3 days before killing them,
  • Not So Different: Finch attempts this on Dormer several times throughout the film. At one point, he mentions that he's always had a great deal of respect for cops, and wanted to be one himself, though he couldn't pass the physical exam.
  • Pet the Dog: Walter Finch is a cold-blooded murderer and a literal example who owns two labrador retrievers. When Detective Dormer tracks him down to his apartment the killer is forced to flee, but calls back to make a deal with Dormer and asks him to feed his dogs if he's there anyway.
  • Reassigned To Alaska: Dormer and his partner.
  • Redemption Equals Death: Dormer's sins keep accumulating throughout the film. First he is living with the guilt of betraying his own ethics to get a criminal behind bars, then of shooting his partner possibly intentionally, then of helping another murderer get away to protect his legacy. He atones by turning against Finch, but dies in the shootout shortly after killing Finch.
  • Shoot the Dog: In the original version, a dog is shot to provide key evidence. In the remake, Al Pacino shoots a dead dog.
  • Skeleton Key Card: When Dormer first enters Finch's apartment, he picks the lock using a credit card.
  • Stargate City: Though the story is set in Alaska, much of the movie was filmed in Vancouver and smaller towns in British Columbia.
  • There Are Two Kinds of People in Alaska: Those who were born there and those who come there to escape something. Upon hearing Dormer's confession, his landlord says this - and that she wasn't born in Alaska - to tell him You Are Not Alone.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else: Walter Finch, as played by Robin Williams.
  • To Be Lawful or Good: How Dormer initially sees the choices he make.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Implied between Dormer and Eckhardt, as questions arise as to whether it was truly an accident.
  • Villain Protagonist: Heavily downplayed compared to the original. In the original Norwegian film, the protagonist was far more of a dirty cop, who gets progressively worse as the film goes on. In the remake, Pacino's Dormer is more of a good cop whose past mistakes are coming back to haunt him in his sleep-deprived state.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Many of Will's actions were done out of a genuine belief in Justice and to make sure guilty people get caught.
  • Worthy Opponent: Finch views his relationship with Will like this. Will, however. thinks he's no more intelligent or special than the innumerable killers he's dealt with before.