Insomnia (1997), Run-time 97mins, Cert 15.

Director - Erik Skjoldbjærg.

Writers - Nikolaj Frobenius & Erik Skjoldbjærg.

Starring - Stellan Skarsgård, Sverre Anker Ousdal, Bjørn Floberg & Maria Mathiesen.


Premise - Jonas (Stellan Skarsgård) is a disgraced Swedish cop sent to northern Norway to solve the murder of a 17 year old girl. This time of year there is no night time, only perpetual sunlight. After a sting operation on a foggy beach goes wrong and he mistakenly kills his partner, Jonas must solve the murder, whilst at the same time covering up his mistake. A mistake that the killer witnessed.....

Insomnia was remade recently by British director Christopher Nolan starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams. In a move foreign to Hollywood the remake actually resembles the original to an impressive degree. The big difference that hits you is the amount of sex in the Norwegian version. Whether this is down to Europe’s liberal views towards sex or the fact that Al Pacino might be a bit old to be grabbing young girls is up for contention. But, I have to say that I preferred having these scenes in the film.

Not from a titillation standpoint mind you (the scenes in question are hardly erotic), but from a character development view. These scenes flesh out the main character in ways that Al could never hope to achieve, no matter how much he shouts and waves his arms. Through these scenes we see that Jonas is far from a perfect man. Sure, there’s the whole covering up his partners murder thing, but the original takes it further showing us that Jonas may not be all that different in his urges from the killer.

It’s a dark road to go down and it is little wonder that the studio suits saw fit to remove the idea from the remake. We can’t very well have Al Pacino seen to be interested in young girls and watching young couples copulate now, can we?

This brings us to Stellan Skarsgård, who plays Jonas. A much younger actor than Pacino, Skarsgård impressed in both Good Will Hunting and Breaking the Waves. Here he is amazing, perfectly showing the slow disintegration of the character. He can’t sleep, he is guilty over his partner’s death, he is paranoid and he is being taunted by the girl’s killer. Jonas is one messed up individual and Skarsgård brings him magnificently to life.

The rest of the cast I am unfamiliar with, but they all handle their parts well. It’s interesting to note that I commented in my review of the remake that I felt the hotel receptionist’s (played there by Maura Tierney) part was underwritten. Well, it turns out that role was victim to the sex being cut from the film. In the original Jonas tries it on with the receptionist, played nicely by Gisken Armand.

The role of the killer is played here by Bjørn Floberg and he does well. You can see why they went with Robin Williams for the remake. Bjorn’s character is an older man, with a warm look about him. He smiles a lot and seems like a decent guy. However, his precision with dealing with the dead girl reveals a much colder character. The body was scrubbed clean, even the hair was washed. Clearly this is a calculated man.

The look of the film is also quite brilliant. The perpetual daylight makes for a unique looking film. It’s a very bright, white and clinical looking film. Director Erik Skjoldbjærg uses a lot of whites, greys and greens in the film giving it a nice washed out look. Some nice camera moves are used throughout the film as well; visually it’s a nice film to watch.

Of course the big question is which film do I prefer, the original or the remake? That’s a tough one really as there are parts of each that I like over the other. I guess the easy answer would be an amalgam of the two. I prefer Stellan Skarsgård over Al Pacino, but I think I actually liked Robin Williams better than Bjørn Floberg. Also, I liked the way the original used the sexual references to deepen the main character, however I slightly preferred the look of Nolan’s remake. The deciding factor then has to be the ending.

The ending of the remake was the main thing that let it down for me. It degenerated into a typical Hollywood style shoot out. With everybody getting their moral comeuppance. In the original the ending isn’t as clear cut and is a little morally ambiguous. Not everybody gets their just desserts and some who have done wrong remain unpunished.

So, because of that I have to say I prefer the original Norwegian film. If you haven’t seen either I recommend you watch this version first. It is a smart, stylish and engrossing thriller that paints its characters as less than white and gives the audience enough credit that it doesn’t need to tie everything up into a nice little neat bow at the end.



Poster Quote – Sleep is for the weak.

If you enjoyed Insomnia then check out - Insomnia, One Hour Photo, Memento.


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