Last night I watched the Norwegian psychological thriller Insomnia from director Erik Skjoldbjærgon on YouTube with English subtitles. I remember when the remake came out with Al Pacino and Robin Williams in 2002 — I saw the trailers and thought it was too scary, so never went to see it. But someone gave me the idea this week of comparing a foreign film with its North American remake and I thought that was an interesting concept and that maybe it was time to take a look at this film.
I knew the premise of the movie going in, and I’m really glad I watched the Norwegian one first. The English subtitles didn’t bother me at all, which surprised me a bit. What I found most interesting was that there were no faces in the movie that I recognized. There’s no preconceived idea about who the protagonist is, no expectation of facial expressions or mannerisms, and no concern that an actor you like might be the criminal. All of the reactions are based solely on the actions on the screen. You’re starting from scratch.
It was very eerie watching this strange actor (Stellan Skarsgård), who cannot admit to the accidental shooting of his partner (Sverre Anker Ousdal), go from one desperate covering action to another, becoming more distraught as his guilt and the constant daylight of northern Norway (inside the Arctic Circle) keep him from getting any rest at all. Each day draws him deeper and deeper into depravity, becoming that which he despises.
This is a movie full of tension and suspense. The hotel room the inspector is living in, has a hole in the blind that lets a single shaft of light into his room constantly. It’s like a single eye seeing into his soul, spotlighting the truth. It reminded me of the Poe story of The Tell-Tale Heart where the unnamed narrator describes the old man as having a “vulture eye” that drives him mad to the point where he commits murder and then imagines he can hear the old man’s heart beating under the floorboards. Here, though, the policeman understands the killer very well because of his own accidental crime — understands the panic, and the calculated, continuing cover-up from which he cannot escape.
An excellent movie that seemed to project the inspector’s emotions on the viewer; it left me feeling rather numb at the end — as someone who hasn’t slept well in quite a while. I’m expecting the 2002 version to arrive on Monday and am looking forward to comparing it to this one. * * * * *