Insomnia

Insomnia is a 2002 psychological thriller mystery film directed by Christopher Nolan and written by Hillary Seitz. It is a remake of the 1997 Norwegian film of the same name. The film stars Al Pacino, Hilary Swank, Robin Williams, and Martin Donovan. Insomnia is the only work in Nolan’s filmography so far in which he does have at least a co-writing credit, although he did write the final draft of the script.

Pacino stars as Detective Will Dormer, a reputable Los Angeles homicide detective who, while under an intense investigation by Internal Affairs, is requested to travel to the small Alaskan town of Nightmute to solve the murder of a 17-year-old girl. Nightmute’s chief of police is an old friend of Dormer’s, and it is implied that he requested Dormer and his partner Hap Eckhart to get the heat off of them for a while. While conducting the initial investigation, Eckhart informs his partner that he feels he must testify on behalf of Internal Affairs, who offered him a more lenient sentence for cooperation. This angers Dormer immensely.

While setting an ambush for the killer, Dormer, lost in fog and disoriented, shoots Eckhart and kills him. While dying, his partner accuses him of killing him to thwart his impending I.A. testimony. Dormer, knowing it will look highly suspicious, covers up the friendly fire incident. Plagued with guilt over his partner’s death, Dormer begins experiencing insomnia, further exacerbated by the perpetual daylight. He is also taunted with phone calls from the suspect, who witnessed the shooting of Eckhart.

The focus of Insomnia is not the mystery of who killed Kay Connell. That aspect of the film is actually very straightforward. Insomnia is rather the effects of guilt on a person’s psyche. Anchored with talented performances by Pacino and a surprisingly menacing Robin Williams, Insomnia also features a very tight and focused script by Seitz that is very effective in getting at the deeper themes of the story. Featuring brilliant cinematography from longtime Nolan mainstay Wally Pfister and a fittingly dark score by David Julyan, everything about Insomnia is effectively focused on portraying a man plagued by guilt over his actions and paranoid that the web of lies he spun to hide them will be broken at any given moment.

As Nolan’s first big-budget feature following Following (ha!) and MomentoInsomnia is another demonstration of the British auter’s talent and prowess concerning stories of a deeply personal and emotional nature, which is most likely the reason he was given the duty of reinventing (and rehabilitating, thanks to the laughingstock that was Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin in 1997) Batman with 2005’s Batman Begins, the launch of the trilogy that not only re-introduced Batman to a new generation and gave us the best imagining of The Joker to date, but also cemented Nolan’s status as one of the most popular filmmakers of the last ten years.

Momento

Momento is a 2000 neo-noir psychological thriller film co-written and directed by Christopher Nolan, based upon a short story titled Momento Mori by his younger brother Johnathon. Johnathon’s story would later be published in a 2001 issue of Esquire Magazine. The film stars Guy Pearce, Carrie Ann-Moss, and Joe Pantoliano. Pearce plays an insurance investigator named Leonard Shelby. Leonard has developed anterograde amnesia after being clubbed in the head by one of two men who broke into his house and raped and murdered his wife. Leonard was able to kill one of the men, but the second escaped. Anterograde amnesia affects the brain’s ability to make new memories, meaning Leonard wakes up every day with his last memory being that of his wife’s murder. Leonard, despite his condition, takes it upon himself to exact revenge. Using a series of tattoos, notes, and polaroids, Leonard develops a system so he can continue hunting the man despite not being able to store recent memories and sometimes forgetting conversations after having them.

Momento, like Nolan’s previous directorial debut Following, is presented in a complex non-linear narrative that includes two distinct time frames, one in black and white, and one in color. The black and white sequences come first, followed by the full-color sequences, which are shown in reverse. For reference, I have included a diagram of the film’s structure which, although containing spoilers, should visually spell out the film’s narrative complexity.

Memento_Timeline (1).png

This complex and at times confusing plot structure adds to the mystery of the film and left me invested, trying to figure things out. Though I feel specific plot details of the film are difficult to explain due to this complex structure, I will simply say that it very much works to the film’s advantage and should draw the viewer in, as I certainly was.

Momento’s engrossing plot is punctuated by brilliant performances from Pearce and Moss. Guy Pearce, who rose to stardom with the brilliant neo-noir mystery film L.A. Confidential in 1997, is, in my opinion, a vastly underrated actor who seemed to disappear from the spotlight as soon as he found it, with his most recent work of note being Aldrich Killian in the somewhat disappointing Iron Man 3, to the best of my recollection. He is great in this film, and he makes Leonard extremely empathetic and engrossing. Carrie Anne-Moss is also excellent here, and the two leads show great chemistry (and lack thereof, when need be).

There isn’t much else to say about Momento without getting into spoilers. It is another well-directed, well-scripted, and well-acted film by a man who would eventually become one of the most popular directors of my generation. Momento continues to receive critical acclaim and is often touted as one of the best films of the 2000’s, in addition being known as one of the most realistic and factually accurate depictions of anterograde amnesia in fiction. Some consider Momento to be Christopher Nolan’s magnum opus, though I personally feel that honor belongs to The Prestige. Featuring very poignant acting and dialogue and a complex and mysterious plot that is sure to generate interest, Momento is a brilliant film that is well worth a viewing.