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Wednesday, October 7, 1998


Posted By on Wed, Oct 7, 1998 at 12:00 AM

A door opens inside darkness and the light invades the screen, as a girl turns around and smiles. But then the darkness wins again and we lose sight of her for a moment. Then she's back, different this time, a lifeless puppet with still eyes, a wounded butterfly. Careful hands -- the same that arrested her movements -- wash her hair, scrub under her fingernails, place her inside a body bag, erase all traces.

This is how Insomnia begins: with a frightened girl who breaks into the heart of darkness. After that there is no turning back, no sleep, no refuge. In the land of the midnight sun, the light of day is unforgiving, as Oslo detective Jonas Engstrom (Stellar Skarsgard) is soon to find out.

He can't sleep on the plane; he can't sleep in his brightly lit hotel room. He covers the windows; he covers his eyes; he covers the accidental shooting of his partner, Erik Vik (Sverre Anker Ousdal); he covers the errors he makes during the investigation, his involuntary complicity in the crime. He's starved for affection and any woman would do, but they can smell the fear on him and recoil from his touch. Perpetually awake, betrayed by unfamiliar landscapes and surrounded by fog and uncertainty, Engstrom ends up a tortured man with lonely eyes and dark designs.

Erik Skjoldbjaegr's first feature is a disturbing look at the darkness within. Under the guise of a self-contained police procedural drama, Insomnia all but ignores its principal event, fascinated as it is by the imperfections of its main character. Against a lifeless background of washed-out colors, Engstrom's silent vulnerability reveals itself with devastating candor. Skarsgard's restrained performance, his haunted look, his wide-open eyes beg for forgiveness. But there is nothing we can forgive, as there is no one we can save at the end of this solitary journey.

Alone, on a lost highway of his own making, Engstrom drives away from the fading world. His eyes are now those of a terrible monster, the only two luminous points on the screen, staring us in the face, ready for the final confrontation.

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