Insomnia (2002 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed byChristopher Nolan
Screenplay byHillary Seitz
Based on
Produced by
CinematographyWally Pfister
Edited byDody Dorn
Music byDavid Julyan
Distributed by
Release dates
  • May 3, 2002 (2002-05-03) (Tribeca)
  • May 24, 2002 (2002-05-24) (United States)
Running time
118 minutes[2]
CountryUnited States[3]
Budget$46 million[4]
Box office$113.8 million[4]

Insomnia is a 2002 American psychological thriller film directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Hillary Seitz. It is the only film directed by Nolan that he neither wrote nor cowrote. A remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, it stars Al Pacino, Robin Williams, and Hilary Swank, with Maura Tierney, Martin Donovan, Nicky Katt, and Paul Dooley in supporting roles.

The film follows two Los Angeles homicide detectives investigating the murder of a teenage girl in Nightmute, Alaska. After the killer witnesses an accidental shooting committed by one of the detectives, they create a plan for both parties to mutually avoid prosecution.

Insomnia premiered at the Tribeca Festival on May 3, 2002, and was theatrically released in the United States and Canada on May 24, 2002. It grossed $114 million worldwide against a production budget of $46 million. The film received critical praise, particularly for Pacino's and Williams's performances. At the 29th Saturn Awards, Williams was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and Seitz was nominated for Best Writing.


In the small fishing town of Nightmute, Alaska, 17-year-old Kay Connell is found murdered. LAPD detectives Will Dormer and Hap Eckhart are sent to assist the local police with their investigation at the request of police chief Nyback, an old colleague of Dormer's. An LAPD Internal Affairs investigation is about to focus on Dormer; flying to Alaska, Eckhart reveals that he is going to provide testimony against Dormer in exchange for immunity. Ellie Burr, a young local detective, picks them up when they arrive.

Dormer lures the murderer to the scene of the crime, but the suspect flees in the fog, shooting one of the police officers through the leg. Dormer spots a figure in the fog and fires with his backup weapon. Rushing to the fallen figure, Dormer picks up a .38 pistol that the suspect has dropped. He discovers that he has shot Eckhart. Because of Eckhart's pending testimony, Dormer knows that Internal Affairs will never believe the shooting was an accident, so he claims that Eckhart was shot by the suspect. He does not mention that he has the .38 pistol.

Burr is put in charge of the shooting investigation, and her team finds the .38 caliber bullet that pierced the officer's leg. That night, Dormer walks to an alley and fires the .38 pistol into an animal carcass, then retrieves and cleans the bullet. At the morgue, he switches the .38 bullet for the 9mm slug from Eckhart's body. The staffer hands him the bagged bullet retrieved from Eckhart's body, but she is unfamiliar with its type.

Over the next few days, Dormer is plagued by insomnia, brought on by his guilt for killing Eckhart and further exacerbated by the perpetual daylight.

Dormer starts receiving anonymous phone calls from the killer, who claims to have witnessed Dormer kill his partner. When the police learn that Kay was a fan of local crime writer Walter Finch, Dormer breaks into Finch's apartment in the nearby village of Umkumiut. Finch arrives home, realizes that the police are present, and evades Dormer after a chase. Dormer returns to Finch's apartment and plants the .38 to frame Finch.

Finch contacts Dormer and arranges a public meeting on a ferry. Finch wants help shifting suspicion to Kay's abusive boyfriend Randy Stetz and, in return, will stay silent about the Eckhart shooting. Dormer gives advice on handling police questioning. As Finch leaves Dormer on the ferry, he shows the detective a tape recorder that he has used to record the conversation.

Finch calls Dormer and tells him that Kay's death was "an accident" — he beat her to death in a fit of rage after she rejected his advances. The next day, Finch gives false testimony at the police station. When Finch claims that Randy has a gun, Dormer realizes that Finch has discovered his plant, and has hidden it at Randy's home. Randy is arrested when the gun is found at his house. Finch asks Burr to come to his lake house the next day to collect letters indicating that Randy abused Kay.

Burr finds a 9mm shell casing at the scene, which conflicts with the bullet type from Eckhart's body. She reads old case files from investigations that Dormer was involved in and learns that he has carried a 9mm, leading her to suspect that he shot Eckhart. Meanwhile, Dormer confides in the hotel owner, Rachel Clement, about the Internal Affairs investigation; he fabricated evidence to help convict a pedophile who he was certain was guilty of murdering a child.

Dormer learns that Burr has gone to Finch's apartment. He finds Kay's letters and realizes that Finch intends to kill Burr. He learns of Finch's lake house and rushes there. At the house, Finch knocks Burr unconscious as Dormer arrives. Dormer is too disoriented from lack of sleep to fight off Finch. Burr revives and saves Dormer while Finch escapes. Burr reveals that she knows that Dormer shot Eckhart, and he admits that he is no longer certain that it was an accident. From his shed, Finch shoots at them with a shotgun, and Burr returns fire while Dormer sneaks to Finch's location. After a scuffle, Finch shoots Dormer, who shoots and kills Finch. Burr rushes to the fatally wounded Dormer's aid and comforts him by affirming that Eckhart's shooting was accidental. She moves to throw away the shell casing to preserve Dormer's secret, but Dormer stops her, telling her not to lose her way and to let him sleep as he dies.



Jonathan Demme was originally attached to direct the film and considered Harrison Ford for the role of Will Dormer.[5]


Insomnia has Robin Williams playing a villain, deviating from the comedic roles for which he was earlier known.[6] Regarding his decision to cast Williams, Nolan said, "I think [audiences] will come away feeling like they have seen a 'new' Robin Williams. Seeing Robin Williams doing something they would have never imagined that he would or could do."[7]

Nolan on Williams's acting:

What I thought of Robin, was, well he is an extraordinary guy to work with and he really gave what I consider to be a flawless performance. I wound up watching the film hundreds of times as we cut it, and I never hit that point with the performance where you start to see the acting. Most performances, at a point, bits start to peel off and away, but with Robin's he was very much in that character. Not that he's a very dark person to work with – he's very lively and friendly and amusing to work with. He really found something within himself. I think it's a very underrated bit of work on his part.[8]


Insomnia was filmed over a three-month period from April to June 2001. The opening aerial scene was filmed over the Columbia Glacier near Valdez, Alaska,[9] and the float plane approach was over the Portland Canal near Hyder, Alaska, and Stewart, British Columbia. The town of Nightmute, Alaska, was primarily filmed in and around Squamish, British Columbia, including the hotel/lodge, police station, high school and cemetery.[9] The scene in which Dormer shoots his partner on the rocky beach in the fog was filmed at Clementine Creek in Indian Arm, outside of Vancouver.[9] The village of Umkumuit, where Finch's apartment is located and where the log-chase scene occurs, was filmed on Vancouver Island in Port Alberni.[10] The waterfall road scene in which Dormer is on his way to Finch's lake house and spins his car 180 degrees was shot in front of Bridal Veil Falls on the Richardson Highway near Valdez, Alaska.

The final scene, on the fictional Lake Kgun at Finch's lake house, was filmed on the northwest end of Strohn Lake in Bear Glacier Provincial Park, outside of Stewart, British Columbia.[9] For this final scene, the film crew constructed Finch's lake house and dock from scratch, and disassembled and removed it after filming was completed in June 2001.[9]


On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92%, based on 205 reviews, with an average rating of 7.70/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Driven by Al Pacino and Robin Williams's performances, Insomnia is a smart and riveting psychological drama."[11] On Metacritic, the film holds a weighted average score of 78 out of 100, based on 37 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".[12] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on a scale of A+ to F.[13]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said, "Unlike most remakes, the Nolan Insomnia is not a pale retread, but a re-examination of the material, like a new production of a good play."[14]

Erik Skjoldbjærg, the director of the original film, said of Nolan's reinterpretation:

It was quite close, stylistically, to the original. I felt lucky that it's such a well crafted, smart film and that it had a really good director handling it, because as a remake I think it did really well, and it doesn't hurt any original if a remake is well done. So I felt I was lucky that Christopher Nolan took it upon himself to do it.[15]

Taste of Cinema complimented Nolan for being able to "capture the excitement of the original while still setting it apart as a notable film itself".[16]

IndieWire included Insomnia in their "10 Remakes of Classics by Great Auteurs" list, writing, "Nolan shifts the moral ground from the snowballing moral corruption of the original to shades of guilt and accountability and Pacino's increasingly bleary and hallucinatory perspective becomes an evocative metaphor for his struggle."[17]

Later, Christopher Nolan singled out Insomnia as his most underrated film:

I'm very proud of the film. I think, of all my films, it's probably the most underrated. [...] The reality is it's one of my most personal films in terms of what it was to make it. It was a very vivid time in my life. It was my first studio film, I was on location, it was the first time I'd worked with huge movie stars. [...] That's not really for me to say, but every now and again I meet a filmmaker and that's actually the film that they're interested in or want to talk about. Yeah, very proud of the film.[18][19]


Robert T. Westbrook adapted the screenplay to novel form, which was published by Onyx in May 2002.[20]


  1. ^ Goodridge, Mike (May 14, 2002). "Insomnia". Screen Daily. Retrieved August 9, 2021.
  2. ^ "INSOMNIA". British Board of Film Classification. Archived from the original on December 21, 2014. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  3. ^ "Insomnia (2002)". British Film Institute. Archived from the original on August 5, 2012. Retrieved December 21, 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Insomnia (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Archived from the original on August 8, 2010. Retrieved August 12, 2014.
  5. ^ "Is Harrison Ford up for a Case of Insomnia?". September 8, 2000.
  6. ^ Gettell, Oliver (August 12, 2014). "Robin Williams: Seven of his most memorable movie roles". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on August 10, 2018. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  7. ^ "Interview: Christopher Nolan talks about Insomnia and other future projects". Archived from the original on July 19, 2012. Retrieved May 21, 2019.
  8. ^ Eisenberg, Mike."Chris Nolan Speaks at the Hero Complex Film Festival" Archived 2015-09-18 at the Wayback Machine June 14, 2010. Retrieved October 13, 2015.
  9. ^ a b c d e "STORY". Insomnia official website. Archived from the original on June 5, 2002. Retrieved August 10, 2023.
  10. ^ Reid, Michael D. (August 12, 2014). "Robin Williams endeared himself during Port Alberni shoot". Archived from the original on August 17, 2016. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  11. ^ "Insomnia (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Archived from the original on January 27, 2017. Retrieved May 3, 2024.
  12. ^ "Insomnia (2002)". Metacritic. Archived from the original on August 3, 2017. Retrieved August 12, 2011.
  13. ^ "Find CinemaScore" (Type "Insomnia" in the search box). CinemaScore. Archived from the original on January 2, 2018. Retrieved May 23, 2020.
  14. ^ Roger Ebert. "Insomnia (2002)". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on February 16, 2021. Retrieved February 17, 2021.
  15. ^ Paul Weedon. "Erik Skjoldbærg on 'Pioneer'". Grolsch Filmworks. Retrieved October 30, 2013.
  16. ^ Matthew Benbenek (June 24, 2015). "The 20 Best Movie Remakes of All Time". Taste Of Cinema. Archived from the original on June 16, 2020. Retrieved June 16, 2020.
  17. ^ Sean Axmaker (November 27, 2013). "10 Remakes Of Classics By Great Auteurs For the Release Of Spike Lee's 'Oldboy'". IndieWire. Archived from the original on October 31, 2020. Retrieved June 16, 2020.
  18. ^ [bare URL]
  19. ^ Shone, Tom (2020). The Nolan Variations: The Movies, Mysteries, and Marvels of Christopher Nolan. Knopf. ISBN 978-0525655329.
  20. ^ Westbrook, Robert (2002). Insomnia. Onyx. ISBN 9780451410498.

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