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Christopher Nolan’s Remake Couldn’t Top This Original Crime Masterpiece – TheFantasyTimes

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By Jitin Gambhir

Christopher Nolan’s Remake Couldn’t Top This Original Crime Masterpiece



Film adaptations and remakes are always a hot topic among cinephiles, sparking debates and discussions. Jeff Goldblum’s famous line from Jurassic Park about scientists being more concerned with “could” rather than “should” when it comes to cloning dinosaur genes can also be applied to the excessive production of remakes and the capitalization of nostalgia. While not every remake is based on a big-time Hollywood blockbuster, successful European films have been adapted into American versions for a long time. On some select occasions, these remakes manage to bring new substance or layers to the original versions.

Early Christopher Nolan’s work has been influenced by ’90s European mystery thrillers, and this homage is most obviously paid with his 2002 adaptation of the 1997 Norwegian film Insomnia. Although both movies share a common premise, it becomes apparent that the original film surpasses its American counterpart in terms of authenticity, emotional depth, and cultural resonance. Here are some reasons why the 1997 Norwegian film stands as a superior cinematic experience compared to the 2002 American remake.

Both films essentially follow the same plot: an aging detective is sent to a small town to investigate the death of a teenager. However, the original film immerses viewers in the unique cultural context of Norway. From the breathtaking landscapes of the Arctic Circle to the distinct characteristics of Norwegian society, the film seamlessly integrates these elements into the narrative, creating an authentic and atmospheric experience. The Erik Skjoldbjærg-directed effort captures the essence of Norwegian culture, exploring its societal norms, values, and underlying tensions. On the other hand, the 2002 American remake shifts the setting to Alaska, losing the original’s Norwegian cultural context.

One of the biggest strengths of the 1997 film lies in its nuanced storytelling and psychological depth. The original version takes its time to unravel the complex layers of the characters and their motivations, offering a thought-provoking exploration of guilt, morality, and the consequences of one’s actions. Meanwhile, Nolan’s film places more emphasis on mood and looks, leaving the psychological development, moral ambiguity, and overall complexity of the original undeveloped.

Before his directorial work became somewhat predictable, Erik Skjoldbjærg was among a select group of promising Scandinavian directors who were revitalizing film in the region. To date, Insomnia remains his finest hour, and the film’s success can be highly attributed to him and his actors’ work. The cast led by the most excellent Stellan Skarsgård delivers poised and complex performances, capturing the emotional nuances of their characters. The direction and cinematography contribute to the film’s atmospheric quality, skillfully utilizing lighting and camera angles to enhance the psychological tension.

Overall, the directing of the American version lacks the artistry and meticulousness that were distinctive features of the original film. Another aspect that marks a clear difference between both works is their conclusions. While the remake gives a concrete ending that leaves little to the imagination, imposing upon the viewer a fixed way of thinking about the narrative, the original film relies on ambiguity as a narrative resource that allows the viewer to be free of any preconceived notion that the filmmaker might print over the montage. This idea is what essentially makes Skjoldbjærg’s film a far superior one, the respect for the audience that is crafted through non-didactical cinema, one that is not concerned with being overtly clear on the ideological notions behind the plot.

In conclusion, while both versions of Insomnia follow the same plot, the original Norwegian film surpasses its American counterpart in terms of authenticity, emotional depth, and cultural resonance. The film immerses viewers in the unique cultural context of Norway, taking a nuanced approach to storytelling and psychological build-up, and features excellent performances and direction. The respect for the audience that is crafted through non-didactical cinema is what makes the original version of Insomnia a far superior one.

Film adaptations and remakes often ignite debates among cinephiles. The famous phrase said by Jeff Goldblum in the original Jurassic Park film about scientists being more concerned with the could rather than the should about the cloning of dinosaur genes, could also be applied to the excessive production of remakes and the capitalization of nostalgia. Of course, not every remake stems from some big-time blockbuster from Hollywood’s older days.


The adapting of successful European films into American versions has been going on for a long time now, and on some select occasions, said remakes manage to bring some substance or new layers to the original versions. There’s an argument to be made about early Christopher Nolan having a lot of influence from ’90s European mystery thrillers, and this homage is most obviously paid with his 2002 adaptation of the 1997 Norwegian film Insomnia.

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While both movies share a common premise, it becomes apparent that the original film surpasses its American counterpart in terms of authenticity, emotional depth, and cultural resonance. Here are some reasons why the 1997 Norwegian film stands as a superior cinematic experience compared to the 2002 American remake.


What Is the Premise of Insomnia?

Insomnia 2002
Warner Bros. Pictures

Both films essentially follow the same plot: an aging detective is sent to a small town to investigate the death of a teenager. As he investigates, a game of cat and mouse with the killer ensues. The thing is, this town is located above the Arctic Circle, where summer is six months of daylight, while the remainder of the year is pitch dark night. This initially apparent procedural drama turns into something dark and sinister, in which the unbearable midnight sun is only interrupted by fog.

Cultural Differentiation and Sense of Authenticity

A scene from Insomnia
Norwegian Film

The original film immerses viewers in the unique cultural context of Norway. From the breathtaking landscapes of the Arctic Circle to the distinct characteristics of Norwegian society, the film seamlessly integrates these elements into the narrative, creating an authentic and atmospheric experience. The Erik Skjoldbjærg-directed effort captures the essence of Norwegian culture, exploring its societal norms, values, and underlying tensions.

Related: 15 Movies You Didn’t Know Were Remakes

On the other hand, the 2002 American remake shifts the setting to Alaska, losing the original’s Norwegian cultural context. While the plot remains mostly the same, this alteration changes a lot of aspects in terms of how characters interact with one another, and face their context and situation. Despite it being very similar in terms of storyline, pacing, and aesthetics, there seems to be a missing link within at the heart of the film.

Perhaps the editing rhythm and direction give this bleak story a bit too much emotion. Nolan is after all directing a movie in which Al Pacino and Robin Williams star, this is no deadpan indie drama, and as cold as it can be in comparison to other police dramas made in America at the time, it certainly is very far from the cold and distant emotional narrative of the Norwegian version.

Differences in Storytelling and Psychological Build-Up

hilary-swank-insomnia
Warner Bros. Pictures

One of the biggest strengths of the 1997 film lies in its nuanced storytelling and psychological depth. The original version takes its time to unravel the complex layers of the characters and their motivations, offering a thought-provoking exploration of guilt, morality, and the consequences of one’s actions. The film delves into the intricate interplay between the protagonist and the antagonist, presenting a morally ambiguous narrative that keeps the audience engaged.

Related: 21 Foreign Films You Should See if You Liked the American Remake

Meanwhile, Nolan’s film places more emphasis on mood and looks, leaving the psychological development, moral ambiguity, and overall complexity of the original undeveloped. The simplification of character dynamics takes the movie through a more straightforward and less intellectually stimulating narrative. While the remake does pack its own share of suspenseful moments, it fails to match the nuanced approach that made the original film a standout.

Performances and Direction

Stellan Skarsgård in Insomnia
Norwegian Film

Before his directorial work became somewhat predictable, Erik Skjoldbjærg was among a select group of promising Scandinavian directors who were revitalizing film in the region. To date Insomnia remains his finest hour, the film’s success can be highly attributed to him and his actors’ work.

The cast led by the most excellent Stellan Skarsgård, deliver poised and complex performances, capturing the emotional nuances of their characters. The direction and cinematography (helmed by Norwegian film industry veteran Erling Thurmann-Andersen) contribute to the film’s atmospheric quality, skillfully utilizing lighting and camera angles to enhance the psychological tension.

The 2002 iteration features a talented cast and crew (cinematography is commanded by future Academy Award winner Wally Pfister) but the performances are not quite close to the degree of delicacy and detail that characterizes those of the original. Yes, having Pacino, Williams in addition to Hilary Swank and other great performers does guarantee a certain level of acting quality, but they are not led in the same way as the Scandinavian cast of the original. It seems like Nolan’s fixation on generating in Alaska an atmosphere that could rival that of Norway, leaves the directing of actors to the side, and this is quite palpable throughout the film. Overall, the directing of the American version lacks the artistry and meticulousness that were distinctive features of the original film.

Another aspect that marks a clear difference between both works is their conclusions. While the remake gives a concrete ending that leaves little to the imagination, imposing upon the viewer a fixed way of thinking about the narrative, the original film relies on ambiguity as a narrative resource that allows the viewer to be free of any preconceived notion that the filmmaker might print over the montage.

This idea is what essentially makes Skjoldbjærg’s film a far superior one, the respect for the audience that is crafted through non-didactical cinema, one that is not concerned with being overtly clear on the ideological notions behind the plot. Rather than presenting the audience answers, which the remake seems to dothe original version of Insomnia thrives by posing questions that exist beyond the film’s end and live on inside the minds of whoever experienced the film.

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