Insomnia Blu-ray Review

     Actors: Stellan Skarsgård, Maria Mathiesen, Sverre Anker Ousdal
  • Director: Erik Skjoldbjærg
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Blu-ray, Color, Dubbed, Surround Sound, Widescreen
  • Language: Norwegian
  • Subtitles: English
  • Dubbed: Swedish
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: Unrated
  • Studio: Criterion Collection (Direct)
  • Release Date: July 22, 2014
  • Run Time: 97 minutes

  •         Scandinavian thrillers have a long constant in literature, and there has been a definite rise in film and television over the last decade as well with “The Bridge” and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo film franchise. None of these would have been possible, however, without the international success and acclaim for Erik Skjoldbjærg’s 1997 Norwegian noir, Insomnia. Later remade as Christopher Nolan’s large studio film debut starring Al Pacino and Robin Williams, Skjoldbjærg’s moody crime thriller also began that tradition of Hollywood adapting Scandinavian successes. 


            The film begins as any serial killer mystery might, but the unique setting a few hundred miles north of the Arctic Circle seems to throw everything off-kilter. After a prologue showing us the violent murder of a seventeen-year-old girl, we join two Norwegian policemen sent to the small town of Tromsø in northern Norway to investigate. Their unfamiliarity with this setting ends up being a huge detriment to their abilities, as this far north is all daylight from spring through summer. This will cost Erik Vik (Sverre Anker Ousdal) his life during a fog-filled chase, as well as the sanity of Swedish senior investigator Jonas Engström (Stellan Skarsgård) when he is unable to sleep in the light-soaked setting. Soon the film becomes about much more than just the killer, a local writer named Jon Holt (Bjørn Floberg) who is actually discovered quite early in the film. Instead, it is a movie about the moral decay of Engström that appears to coincide with his insomnia.


            What is interesting about Skjoldbjærg’s choice to set the film during the light months of northern Norway is the absolute contrast to the traditional film noir, whose name quite literally references darkness. Typically film noirs have a stylistic reliance on shadows, which is something missing from Skjoldbjærg’s setting during this time of year. The fact that this same location also faces months of darkness during winter makes the choice to set the film during the spring that much more intentional. If the traditional noir uses shadows and darkness as a stylistic tool, Skjoldbjærg conversely utilizes the light in Insomnia to enhance the film’s mood.


            The Criterion Collection Dual-Format release includes both Blu-ray and DVD copies of the film, with a new director-approved 4K digital restoration. There is 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray. Also new to the collection (and included on both formats, along with the rest of the special features), is a new conversation between Skjoldbjærg and Skarsgård. Also included are two additional short films from Skjoldbjærg; Near Winter (1993) and Close to Home (1994). There is also a theatrical trailer and a booklet insert with photos, credits, and an essay by critic Jonathan Romney.


    Entertainment Value: 7/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 9/10

    Historical Significance:  9/10

    Special Features: 8.5/10

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