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 byWarner Bros. Pictures (United States and Germany)
Summit Entertainment[1](International)
Release dates
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. 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 a murder in Nightmute, Alaska.

Released on May 24, 2002, Insomnia grossed more than $113 million worldwide against a production budget of $46 million, and received critical praise, including for Pacino's and Williams' performances.


In the small fishing town of Nightmute, Alaska, 17-year-old Kay Connell is found murdered. Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) detectives Will Dormer and Hap Eckhart are sent to assist the local police with their investigation. They do so at the request of police chief Nyback, an old colleague of Dormer. Ellie Burr, a young, local detective who is also a fan of Dormer's investigative work, picks them up when they arrive.

Back in Los Angeles, Internal Affairs is investigating one of Dormer's past cases. While in the restaurant of their hotel, Eckhart reveals that he is going to testify against Dormer in exchange for immunity. Dormer responds by noting that many criminals whom he helped to convict using questionable evidence could go free if their cases are reopened.

Dormer cleverly attracts the murderer to the scene of the crime, but the suspect flees into the fog, shooting one of the police officers through the leg. Dormer spots a figure in the fog and fires with his backup weapon when his primary jams. Rushing to the fallen figure, Dormer picks up a .38 pistol the suspect has dropped. He then discovers that he has shot and killed 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 hit the officer. 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, the pathologist hands him the bagged bullet retrieved from Eckhart's body, but she is unfamiliar with its type. Dormer leaves and switches the .38 bullet for the 9 mm slug from Eckhart's body.

Over the next few days, Dormer is plagued by insomnia, brought on by his guilt over killing Eckhart and 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 at home, realizes 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 meeting on a ferry. Finch wants help in 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. 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 laughed at his sexual advances. The next day, Finch gives false testimony at the police station. When Finch claims Randy has a gun, Dormer realizes 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 returns to the scene of Eckhart's death and finds a 9 mm shell casing, which conflicts with the bullet type from Eckhart's body. She reads her own case study from an investigation Dormer was involved in and learns he has carried a 9 mm, leading her to suspect that he shot Eckhart. Meanwhile, on his last night staying in the hotel, Dormer confides in the hotel owner, Rachel Clement, 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 walked if Eckhart had testified.

Dormer learns that Burr has gone to Finch's. He finds Kay's letters in Finch's apartment 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 just as Dormer arrives, and takes Burr's gun. Dormer 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, and he admits that 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 while Dormer sneaks around to Finch's location. After a scuffle in which Dormer grabs Finch's shotgun, Finch shoots Dormer with Burr's gun, and Dormer shoots and kills Finch with the shotgun.

Burr rushes to the fatally wounded Dormer and comforts him by affirming that Eckhart's shooting was accidental, then moves to throw away the 9 mm shell casing to preserve Dormer's reputation. Dormer stops her, however, telling her to "not lose her way" as he had. Dormer says his last words "just let me sleep" and dies just as Burr puts the bullet back in the evidence bag.



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' 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]


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[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/around Squamish, British Columbia, including the hotel/lodge, police station, high school, and the funeral cemetery scene.[9] 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.[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 where Dormer is on his way to Finch's lake house and spins his car 180° 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.[9] 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.[9]


On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 92% based on 200 reviews, with an average rating of 7.7/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Driven by Pacino's performance, 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 an A+ to F scale.[13]

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."[14] Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times said 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."[15]

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.[16]

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."[17] 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."[18]


Robert Westbrook adapted the screenplay to novel form, which was published by Onyx in May 2002.[19]


  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 "Insomnia Production notes". The Robin Williams Fansite. Archived from the original on July 29, 2017. Retrieved December 7, 2016.
  10. ^ Reid, Michael D. "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 August 12, 2014.
  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. ^ Lou Lumenick (May 24, 2002). "EYES WIDE OPEN : BEST WORK IN YEARS FOR PACINO, WILLIAMS IN THRILLER 'INSOMNIA'". New York Post. Archived from the original on August 20, 2020. Retrieved April 19, 2020.
  15. ^ Roger Ebert. "Insomnia (2002)". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on February 17, 2021. Retrieved February 17, 2021.
  16. ^ Paul Weedon. "Erik Skjoldbærg on 'Pioneer'". Grolsch Filmworks. Retrieved October 30, 2013.
  17. ^ Matthew Benbenek. "The 20 Best Movie Remakes of All Time". Taste Of Cinema. Archived from the original on June 16, 2020. Retrieved June 16, 2020.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ Westbrook, Robert (2002). Insomnia. Onyx. ISBN 9780451410498.

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