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“Insomnia”

“Insomnia” is a murder mystery from Christopher Nolan, director of last year’s highly successful independent film, “Memento.” The film is based on a 1998 Norwegian film by the same name that starred Stellan Skarsgard and was directed by Erik Skjoldbjaerg.

This new version follows the original closely, at least for a while. The differences are inconsequential through much of the film, and only big fans of Skjoldbjaerg’s version would even notice most of the changes. But even a casual viewer of the original is sure to remember the most glaring alteration.

“Insomnia” tells the story of a police detective who heads north—to a place where the sun never sets—to help investigate a brutal murder. The detective is accompanied by his partner, and is welcomed by a small-town police force that has never encountered a crime scene like the one it now faces.

While on the investigation, the detective finds it hard to sleep during the sunlit night hours, so he has much time to contemplate his past and his recent decisions. In the new version, Oscar-winner Al Pacino, in one of his most understated roles, plays the police detective, and Oscar-winners Robin Williams and Hilary Swank have key roles in the story.

Swank’s character has actually been expanded a great deal over her counterpart in the original version. Needless to say, the acting here is exemplary. As would be expected in this type of story, there are several unexpected plot twists. There is also some beautiful Alaskan scenery and a satisfactory resolution—unless you have seen the original.

“Insomnia” is more than a murder movie, however. Christopher Nolan has wisely followed the original script enough to ask some intriguing questions. Some of those posed by the characters or narrative are:  

·         “Does the end justify the means?”

·         “Should truth only be spoken when it is certain?”

·         “Does truth have a time limit when it must be spoken before the ramifications become completely different?”

·         “Is one guilty of the sins of the subconscious?”

·         “Can one move beyond guilt without true repentance?”

·         “Does one sin lead more easily to another?” 

These are all valid questions for people of faith to discuss, and “Insomnia” is the kind of film that can foster such dialogue. As he did with “Memento,” Nolan chose to make a film about more than just the mystery at its heart. The result is a better film.

Though the film carries an R rating, this is mainly due to language. There are several deaths in the film, but none are as graphic as one might expect from a film of this genre.

The film’s only minor problem is the ending. The original”Insomnia”had a much more open ending, without the moral conclusiveness of this new version. Perhaps Nolan felt that American audiences would need the certainty of this ending.

For those who enjoy ambiguity in their films, and in their discussions of morality, renting the original Norwegian version might be a wise choice. For everyone else, this new version of “Insomnia,”from a gifted director and an outstanding cast, is almost guaranteed to please.

Roger Thomas is pastor of NortheastBaptistChurch in Atlanta.

MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and brief nudity

Director: Christopher Nolan

Cast: Will Dormer: Al Pacino; Walter Finch: Robin Williams; Ellie Burr: Hilary Swank; Hap Eckhart: Martin Donovan; Rachel Clement: Maura Tierney; Randy Stetz: Jonathan Jackson.