Insomnia is one of Christopher Nolan’s earliest movies but also one of his most forgotten, and here’s why it likely wouldn’t even be made today.
Insomnia tends to be the most overlooked of Christopher Nolan’s filmography, but not only was it key to his development, it likely wouldn’t happen now. Nolan’s first movie was 1998 independent thriller Following, which only cost an estimated £6,000 to produce. He followed up with his breakthrough Memento, about a man with short-term memory loss seeking revenge for his wife’s murder.
Memento was a word-of-mouth success but was relatively inexpensive by studio filmmaking standards. Nolan’s third movie was Insomnia, a remake of the cult Norwegian thriller of the same name. The remake cast Al Pacino – who has worked with De Niro four times – as a veteran detective investigating a murder in a remote Alaskan town, but after he accidentally shoots and kills his partner, the murderer starts blackmailing him. Insomnia received solid reviews and was a decent success, grossing over $110 million worldwide.
Insomnia appears to have been largely forgotten now, despite being a Nolan movie that stars Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank. The 2002 thriller was an important stepping stone for the filmmaker, introducing him to studio filmmaking and working with legendary actors. Its success also paved the way for him to get the job directing Batman Begins. That said, the thriller lacks the personal touch Nolan brings to his movies. While he plays with the protagonist’s fractured mentality as he goes days without sleep, the plot is relatively straightforward and there are no non-linear elements to it. Its simplicity is probably why it wouldn’t happen now.
Insomnia Was A Studio Assignment For Nolan
In a modern filmmaking landscape, Nolan would have gone straight from directing Memento into a big-budget superhero movie. Mid-budget theatrical projects like Insomnia are increasingly rare, though they used to be a great way for promising filmmakers to learn the ropes of working with a studio. If Insomnia was to happen now, it would almost certainly be as a limited streaming series instead. Episode 1 would end with Pacino’s Will shooting his partner, while Robin William’s killer – who doesn’t appear until over an hour into the movie – would pop up around episode 5.
There’s a refreshing leanness to the way Insomnia – which has no relation to Stephen King’s book – tells its story, but the lack of gimmicks or spectacle would likely put studios off producing it now. In one sense, it’s sad that the movie appears to have fallen through the cracks of Nolan’s filmography, but the fact he’s working from material he didn’t originate or write himself can be felt in the final product. It’s also unfortunate that films like Insomnia have become so rare from major studios, who probably view its $40 million cost as more of a risk than a blockbuster with a budget five times larger.
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