Insomnia (2002 film)

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Theatrical release poster
Directed by Christopher Nolan
Produced by
Screenplay by Hillary Seitz
Based on Insomnia
by Nikolaj Frobenius
Erik Skjoldbjærg
Music by David Julyan
Cinematography Wally Pfister
Edited by Dody Dorn
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release date
Running time
118 minutes[1]
Country United States[2]
Language English
Budget $46 million[3]
Box office $113.7 million[3]

Insomnia is a 2002 American psychological thriller film directed by Christopher Nolan, and starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank. It tells the story of two Los Angeles homicide detectives investigating a murder in an Alaskan town. A remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name, Insomnia was released on May 24, 2002, to critical acclaim and commercial success, grossing $113 million worldwide. To date, this is the only film that Nolan has directed without receiving at least a share of one of the writing credits, even though he wrote the final draft of the script.


In the small fishing town of Nightmute, Alaska, 17-year-old Kay Connell (Crystal Lowe) is found murdered. LAPD detectives Will Dormer (Al Pacino) and Hap Eckhart (Martin Donovan) are sent to assist the local police with their investigation, at the request of police chief Nyback (Paul Dooley), an old colleague of Dormer's. Also, an intense Internal Affairs investigation in Los Angeles is about to put Dormer under the microscope. Eckhart reveals that Internal Affairs has offered him an immunity deal in exchange for his testimony regarding one of Dormer's past cases. Eckhart says that he has no choice but to accept the deal, to Dormer's frustration.

Dormer comes up with a plan to lure the murderer back to the scene of the crime. The attempt fails, however, and the suspect flees into the fog. The police give chase, and the suspect shoots one through the leg. Dormer spots a figure in the fog and fires with his backup weapon and without calling out. On his way to the fallen figure, Dormer picks up a .38 pistol the suspect has dropped. He then discovers that he has shot Eckhart. As he dies, Eckhart accuses Dormer of murdering him. Because of Eckhart's pending testimony against his partner, Dormer knows that Internal Affairs will never believe the shooting was an accident. He tells his colleagues Eckhart was shot by the suspect. He doesn't mention he has the .38 pistol. Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), a young local detective, is put in charge of the investigation of Eckhart's shooting. Police find the bullet that sliced the first officer's leg, a .38 caliber. That night, Dormer walks to an alley and fires the .38 pistol into an animal carcass. He retrieves the bullet and cleans it, then visits the morgue. The staffer hands him the bagged bullet retrieved from Eckhart's body. She is unfamiliar with its type. He leaves and switches the bullet with one from the .38.

Over the next few days, Dormer is plagued by insomnia, brought on by his guilt over killing Eckhart and further exacerbated by the perpetual daylight. He then starts receiving anonymous phone calls from the suspect (Robin Williams), who claims to have witnessed Dormer kill his partner. After looking through her belongings, the police learn that Kay was a fan of a local crime writer named Walter Finch. Dormer looks up his address in nearby Umkumiut and breaks into his apartment. Finch soon comes home, realizes the police have arrived, and evades Dormer after a chase.

Dormer returns to Finch's apartment. While there, he plants the .38 to frame Finch. Finch later contacts him and arranges a meeting on a ferry. Finch wants help in shifting suspicion to Kay's abusive boyfriend Randy Stetz (Jonathan Jackson) and will stay silent about Dormer's role in the Eckhart shooting in return. Dormer gives advice on handling police questioning. After Finch leaves Dormer on the ferry, he shows the detective a tape recorder he 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 Randy had a gun, Dormer realizes Finch has discovered his plant, and has hidden it at Randy's home. He races to Randy's house to find the gun before other officers, but is unsuccessful, and Randy is arrested. Finch offers to give Burr letters indicating that Randy abused Kay, and asks her to come and collect evidence from his summer home the next day.

Burr finds a 9mm shell casing at the scene, which conflicts with the bullet type found in Eckhart's body. She reads old case files from investigations Dormer was involved in and learns he has carried a 9mm, suspecting he has been lying about who shot Eckhart. Dormer confides in the hotel owner, Rachel Clement (Maura Tierney) about the Internal Affairs investigation: he fabricated evidence to help convict a pedophile he was certain was guilty of murdering a child.

Dormer searches Finch’s apartment for an address for his lake house, and realizes Finch intends to kill Burr after finding Kay's letters in the apartment. As Burr and Finch move through his house, Finch knocks the young detective unconscious. Dormer reaches the cabin, but is too disoriented from lack of sleep to fight off Finch. Burr revives and saves Dormer, while Finch escapes. Burr reveals she knows Dormer shot Eckhart. He admits it, but says he is no longer certain if it was an accident. From his shed, Finch shoots at them with a shotgun, and Burr returns fire with Dormer's gun, allowing him to sneak around to Finch's location. After a scuffle, Finch finds Burr's gun and shoots Dormer, who shoots and kills Finch with his own shotgun. Burr rushes to the fatally wounded Dormer's aid and comforts him by affirming that Eckhart's shooting was accidental, then moves to throw away the shell casing to preserve Dormer's secret. Dormer stops Burr, however, telling her not to lose her way and tells her to let him sleep as he passes on.



Set construction of Finch's lake house and dock on the fictional Lake Kgun. Bear Glacier Provincial Park, British Columbia; June, 2001.

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[4] and the float plane approach was over the Portland Canal near Hyder, Alaska and Stewart, British Columbia. The film's fictional town of Nightmute, Alaska was primarily filmed in/around Squamish, British Columbia, including the hotel/lodge, police station, high school, and the funeral cemetery scene.[4] The scene where Will Dormer shoots his partner on the rocky beach in the fog was filmed at Clementine Creek in Indian Arm, outside of Vancouver, British Columbia.[4] The fictional town of Umkumuit, where Finch's apartment is located and where the log chase scene occurs, was filmed on Vancouver Island in Port Alberni, British Columbia.[5] The waterfall road scene where 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 of the movie on the fictional Lake Kgun at Finch's lake house was filmed on the northwest end of Strohn Lake in Bear Glacier Provincial Park, just outside of Stewart, British Columbia.[4] For this final scene, the film crew constructed Finch's lake house and dock from scratch and then disassembled and removed it after filming was completed in late June 2001.[4]


"…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."

—Christopher Nolan on Robin Williams[6]

Insomnia was well received by critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 92% based on a sample of 190 reviews, with a weighted mean score of 7.7/10.[7] On Metacritic, the film holds an average score of 78 out of 100, based on 36 reviews.[8]

Lou Lumenick of the New York Post gave the film an enthusiastic review, calling it a "four-course gourmet alternative to summer popcorn flicks, serving up the meatiest performances Al Pacino and Robin Williams have given in many years." Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times noted that "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."[9]

Erik Skjoldbjærg, the director of the original film, said of Nolan's reinterpretation: "Well I haven't seen it for quite a while, but when I first saw it was a very strange experience because 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."[10]


Robert Westbrook adapted the screenplay to novel form, which was published by Alex in May 2002.[11]


  1. ^ "INSOMNIA". British Board of Film Classification. Retrieved December 21, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Insomnia (2002)". British Film Institute. Retrieved December 21, 2014. 
  3. ^ a b "Insomnia (2002)". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved August 12, 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Insomnia Production notes". The Robin Williams Fansite. Retrieved December 7, 2016. 
  5. ^ Reid, Michael D. "Robin Williams endeared himself during Port Alberni shoot". Retrieved 2016-08-16. 
  6. ^ Eisenberg, Mike.Chris Nolan Speaks at the Hero Complex Film Festival June 14 2010. Retrieved 13 oct 2015.
  7. ^ "Insomnia (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2014-08-12. 
  8. ^ "Insomnia (2002)". Metacritic. Retrieved 2011-08-12. 
  9. ^ Roger Ebert. "Insomnia (2002)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012-11-24. 
  10. ^ Paul Weedon. "Erik Skjoldbærg on 'Pioneer'". Grolsch Filmworks. Retrieved 2013-10-30. 
  11. ^ Westbrook, Robert. Insomnia. Onyx. ISBN 978-0-451-41049-8. 

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