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 dates
  • May 3, 2002 (2002-05-03) (New York City)
  • May 24, 2002 (2002-05-24) (United States)
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 crime 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 Will'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.

Focusing on the Nightmute case, 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 chase, and the suspect shoots one through the leg. Dormer soon fires at a figure in the fog. On his way to the fallen figure, he picks up a .38 pistol the suspect has dropped. He then approaches the figure on the ground, only to discover that he has shot Eckhart. Eckhart accuses Dormer of murdering him as he dies. Because of Eckhart's pending testimony against Dormer; Dormer knows that Internal Affairs will never believe the shooting was an accident. Dormer tells his colleagues Eckhart was shot by the suspect. He doesn't mention he has the .38. Ellie Burr (Hilary Swank), a young police officer, is put in charge of the investigation of Eckhart's shooting. Police comb the scene and find the bullet that sliced the first officer's leg. It's a .38. That night, Dormer walks to an alley and fires the .38 pistol into an animal carcass. He takes the bullet out of the dead animal and cleans it. Later he visits the morgue where Eckhart's body lies. The staffer hands him the bagged bullet retrieved from Eckhart's body. She is unfamiliar with its type. Dormer leaves and switches the bullet with one from the .38.

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

Dormer returns to Finch's apartment. While there, he plants the .38, which would frame Finch for the shooting of Eckhart. Finch later contacts Dormer, 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 has stepped off the ferry with Dormer still on board, 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, under Dormer's instruction, gives false testimony at the station. Yet he surprises the detective when he says Randy had a gun. Dormer realises Finch discovered his plant and has hidden it at Randy's home. Finch's cunning could send Randy to jail and give the writer the upper hand over Dormer. Dormer soon races to Randy's place to find the gun before other officers, but is unsuccessful. Randy is arrested. Finch offers to give Burr letters indicating that Randy abused Kay, and asks her to come and collect evidence from his second 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. She begins to suspect Dormer has been lying about who shot Eckhart.

Dormer returns to his hotel for one last night, where he 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, and who would have been set free if Eckhart had testified. Clement refuses to pass judgement on Dormer, intimating that she moved to Alaska because she was "getting away from something".

Upon returning to Finch's apartment, Dormer discovers that Finch has gone to meet Burr, and realises that Finch intends to kill her after finding Kay's letters were in the apartment. Burr sees the dress and while unholstering her gun is knocked unconscious by Finch. Dormer eventually reaches the cabin, but is too disoriented to fight off Finch from lack of sleep. Burr saves Dormer, while Finch escapes.

At gunpoint, Burr reveals she knows he shot Eckhart. Dormer admits that he shot his partner, but says he is no longer certain if it was an accident. From his shed, Finch shoots at them, and Burr returns fire, allowing Dormer to sneak around to Finch's location. A struggle ensues in which Finch and Dormer shoot each other, killing the former and fatally wounding the latter. Burr rushes to Dormer's aid, and then comforts him by affirming that Eckhart's shooting was accidental, and moves to throw away the shell casing evidence to preserve Dormer's secret. Dormer stops Burr, telling her not to lose her way, before he dies muttering he just wanted to sleep. After a brief moment of contemplation, Burr slips the shell casing back into its plastic evidence bag.



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.[4] On Metacritic, the film holds an average score of 78 out of 100, based on 36 reviews.[5]

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."[6]

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."[7]


Robert Westbrook adapted the screenplay to novel form, which was published by Alex in May 2002.[8]


  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. ^ "Insomnia (2002)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2014-08-12. 
  5. ^ "Insomnia (2002)". Metacritic. Retrieved 2011-08-12. 
  6. ^ Roger Ebert. "Insomnia (2002)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2012-11-24. 
  7. ^ Paul Weedon. "Erik Skjoldbærg on 'Pioneer'". Grolsch Filmworks. Retrieved 2013-10-30. 
  8. ^ Westbrook, Robert. Insomnia. Onyx. ISBN 978-0-451-41049-8. 

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