Insomnia is a stylish, atmospheric, harrowing suspense movie released in 2002 and directed by Christopher Nolan. The year when at the New Year parties people wore those celebration glasses with two O's made out of the year's digits in the middle.
It is 2016 now as of this writing. And in the light (or in the dark) of recent police shootings being all over the news, it is a matter of synchronicity that this old Al Pacino movie has come into focus at this time in particular. Because it deals with the subject of accidental death by murder. Kind of. Kind of deals or kind of accidental?
The movie opens with vast wide-lens views of Alaska's icy horizons taken from an airplane. An aged and experienced crime investigator and homicide detective, Will Dormer from Los Angeles (played by Al Pacino) is traveling to the mountains of Homer, a city located in Kenai Peninsula Borough also known as "Halibut fishing capital of the world."
The subject? A murder case. Death of a young 17-year old girl, seemingly beaten to death with bruises all over her body. The character of Will played by Al Pacino is introduced as an analytical, clever and intuitive investigator who seems to know a lot about the murder by just looking at the body in local morgue.
"When does it get dark?" It doesn't this time of year. And here we are in Alaska, during a foggy time right up in the mountains. So foggy, yet illuminated by sunlight, without any chance of night or even an evening for Christ's sake. The light penetrates. It unfolds mysteries of the heart the underlying truths and more importantly, the lies.
And Insomnia is certainly a mystery movie. As is the case with the traditional crime thriller genre. Will Will Dormer solve the crime? He certainly fits the criteria for someone who would. His piercing intellect backed by years of experience on the force have nothing left to lose.
Will investigates Randy, the ex boyfriend of the murdered girl, who is now a suspect. He forcefully confronts the young teenager's mind by using interrogation tactics any savvy detective is keen of. Strangely, even after doing so the boy appears to have disappeared from the movie's focus. He is not the killer. But then, who is? The conflict now shifts over to take place between Will Dormer and the killer, a local resident who at this point only contacts Will by telephone.
It is hard to believe that the movie is already 14 years old. Back then, smart phones weren't on the scene at all. Interesting how old movies always remind us how fast technology has progressed toward new toys we have today. At one time, even phones we have today will disappear.
One of the core events in the movie takes place early on. And this is where the movie starts to be haunted by internal conflicts the character of Al Pacino struggles with. What is bothering him? These enigmas, just as the landscapes of north Alaska mountains, continue to unfold and so does the movie.
On the first chase after the suspect through the low-lying fog in the creeks of the mountains, Will believes he is running after the killer himself. He shoots into the fog. And hits. Coming close to the victim, Will realizes he just shot his own police partner to death. The rest of the movie focuses around questioning of the character played by Pacino. Was the shot really accidental or intentional? Will's partner is dead. But Walter Fincher (the killer of the 17 year old girl, played by Robert Williams) is still alive.
As we move forward, we realize that Walter Fincher believes that the killing of the 17 year old girl in itself is an accident and not an act of evil. He seems to have sympathy toward himself and excuse the gruesome murder. He explains this in a private phone conversation with Dormer. And how Will and Walter are really both guilty or innocent of the same exact act. Can Dormer's conscience convict Walter for doing essentially what he himself has done? Or is Walter truly guilty?
This is when insomnia really begins, literally. Will is having trouble sleeping, because night never comes. It is as though the light is illuminating his own guilty conscience. Why did he leave L.A. to a desolate place such as Alaska? The crime itself, a beaten up 17 year old girl? Doesn't seem to match up to the type of a crime he would naturally choose to investigate. With his years of experience. Is Will trying to avoid his own past? He certainly starts to act weird in some parts of the movie. Throughout which, his character is questioned.
Yet, it does appear that Will doesn't really know. He genuinely isn't sure as to whether he shot his partner by accident or not. Is it just the insomnia? Changes in environment, that are bothering his sleep? Or his inner voices revealing something true? The line is foggy.
Eventually Will and Walter meet privately (which is something they tend to do all throughout the movie, without the rest of the police crew knowing) in a moment of confrontation. They both know what is true. It is just a matter of when it is to be revealed. Fincher suggests Will leaves Alaska, goes back to his L.A. job, and his history here is clean. Will struggles with making that decision. Perhaps, it is because he is "running away" from L.A. for some other reason in the first place.
Interestingly Walter seems to be more rational-minded than Will. As a resident of small Alaska town, he doesn't seem to take an issue with the fact that there is no night. In an intense word battle, Walter Finch (Robert Williams) proclaims, "You don't get to pick when you tell the truth. Truth is beyond that."
Will Dormer (Al Pacino) is now faced with a difficult choice. Tell the truth and risk his career. Or continue to veil the accidental shooting of his partner. Maybe even go back to Los Angeles and have his slate clean. But something is holding him here. Is it his own unresolved conflicts? He seems to be pretty rough on all potential suspects. Is it a professional skill or does he have hidden unresolved anger? At one point he sort of physically flirts with his female partner (Hilary Swank) which only makes him even more creepy and untrustworthy.