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Insomnia is a Psychological Thriller film directed by Christopher Nolan (Memento, The Dark Knight) and starring Al Pacino (Scarface), Robin Williams (One Hour Photo), and Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby). The American film, released by Warner Brothers 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 Capitol 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 combines with an extreme case of insomnia (brought on by the White Nights) and 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...

Not to be confused with the Stephen King novel Insomnia, or the gaming/philosophy website, or the Legend of Zelda fanfic Insomnia.


This film contains examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Walter Finch is very polite and friendly towards Will, viewing him as a similar mind.
  • Asshole Victim: Randy whom the two men set up for Kay's murder. He didn't kill her but was certainly abusive.
  • Bluffing the Murderer: Detective Dormer pulls this off almost immediately after arriving in Nightmute which consequently tips off the killer 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: The killer, 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.
  • 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.
  • He Also Did: For once Christopher Nolan directs a story that starts at the beginning, plays out in chronological order, features only a minor plot point, and has no Michael Caine. Still got the "psychologically disturbed guy haunted by his past" protagonist though.
    • This is because the film (and the Norwegian original) was made before he started to employ any of those conventions, except for non-linear narrative and mind screw. However Dormer's planting of evidence is told in something of a call-back to Nolan's preferred narrative style.
  • The Insomniac: Played in realistic fashion by Will Dormer, as well as the killer who sympathizes with the detective in a series of taunting phone calls.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Walter Finch.
  • Meaningful Name: Played ironically. Dormer's name is a cognate for the word "to sleep" in several Romance languages.
  • Naive 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.
  • Fille Fatale: Katharine Isabelle's character.
  • Not So Different: The killer 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.
  • Playing Against Type: Robin Williams at his most evil, with no Freudian Excuse whatsoever.
  • Stargate City: Though the story is set in Alaska, much of the movie was filmed in Vancouver and smaller towns in British Columbia.
  • They Look Just Like Everyone Else: Walter Finch, as played by Robin Williams.
  • Unfriendly Fire: Implied between Dormer and his partner, as questions arise as to whether it was truly an accident.
  • Villain Protagonist: 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.
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