I loved Christopher Nolan‘s debuts. Following, Memento and then Insomnia.
He showed all his great potential, flabbergasted us with his elaborated technique in the thriller genre.
And Insomnia gathered all the elements previously seen in his movies, elements of light, structure, and the use of human memory, or brain, through images well handled.
This 2002 film has created another layer though, something profound and complex. Insomnia deals with a feeling hard to get over to; guilt.
Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is a brillant cop, but he is discharged from a case and sent to Alaska with his partner Hap (Martin Donovan) in order to solve a “casual” homicide.
A 17 years old girl is found on a pile of garbage, dead by strangulation. From that established situation, or point, the whole movie is going in circles around that growing little sphere of suffocation.
Quickly enough we’re caught in a chase between potential killer and Will. However, chases there in Alaska aren’t really easy, they are full of obstacles, if it is not rocks and fog, its wood and water. It isn’t going to be easy.
Indeed, in the first chase in the fog, lacking of sight, Will shoots to death an armed silhouette. Unfortunately it isn’t the killer, no, it is Hap, and the killer? He saw everything.
Insomnia really begins here. Will won’t be able to sleep until the end of the movie. He said once that a good cop can’t sleep because he misses some pieces of the puzzle, and a bad cop can’t sleep because he’s lugging something in his conscious, well now he is caught between those two situations.
The murderer, Walter Finch (Robin Williams), a poor writer is thus going to blackmail Dormer, and suggests a partnership; a kind of “if you don’t say a word, everything is going to be okay, and I won’t say a word”.
What Nolan did wonderfully is in drawing thin lines marking off the difference between those two men. Lines of morals, values and ethic. A tiny little silk determining that border differentiating a cop from a criminal; when both didn’t mean to kill, but each one had a particular situation to respond to. Nolan added an equation to the movie to which we may consider two options. One would be -x + (-x) = -x and x – (-x) = +x. Are they both guilty? Or just Walter?
The director worked on a perfect composition with flashbacks, present images and effects of insomnia. The cop is subjected to hallucinations, auditive and visual. Then sounds are louder, flashbacks of Hap’s death are popping here and there, and sometimes Will sees him. Nolan updated Hillary Seitz‘s scenario (already adapted from Erik Skjoldbjaerg‘s novel) thanks to visual aids, and did a more than a respectable job.
The graduate suspense of what each character will do is keeping you alert, and curious, even though some things are pretty predictable, you might be inclined to questioned the plot anyway.
What is useful to retain from Insomnia is that sleeping is when your conscious in cleared, but death is when your conscious is purged.