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Complete the following: "When I think about the American West, I think about...
...God". 0%
...the beauty of our unspoiled environment. Humyns are just a thread in nature's grand tapestry" 0%
...the genocidal outrages perpetrated against the Natives by racist, sexist White Males." 7%
...that shitty cartoon *Spirit*: what were those idiots at Dreamworks thinking?" 7%
...all those precious natural resources that we must exploit in order to manitain US supremacy." 7%
...all the delightful instances of cannibalism that have occured there." 7%
...fucking. Pretty much everything makes me think about fucking." 71%

Votes: 14

 Can't Sleep? Blame God.

 Author:  Topic:  Posted:
Jun 08, 2002
Some insights on Nineteenth-Century American landscape artists from Scottish writer David Craig, by way of the London Review of Books:

(These painters) believed, as most people did, that the Earth was God's creation and that its bones, its visible crust, were 'a Book of Revelations in the rock-leaved Bible of geology' (in the) words of Pioneering Geologist John Wesley Powell.

And again:

(Artist) Thomas Cole wrote in his essay on 'American Scenery' in 1835 that the wilderness mattered because it was the 'undefiled works' of 'God the Creator'

Boy what a pack of Bible-fondling yahoos those painters were, eh? Maybe. But then again, maybe not. The idea of the American West being uniquely plugged into some sort of fat-pipe Awe and Terror feed streaming driectly from the Big Holy I Am Himself is more pervasive and enduring than one might think. Indeed, the recently-released film Insomnia vividly illustrates just how enduring this concept is, even for a place as jaded and Decadent as Hollywood.

[Warning: Diary contains some spoilers. The plot of the film Insomnia is discussed, but the ending is not revealed.]


More diaries by Chocolate Milkshake
Which is more important?
Myron Schell, inventor of "first post!", dead at 47
Christmas is child abuse
Fellowship Of The Rings Comparative Movie Review
The Consolation of Melancholy
The Lesson of Black Hawk Down
9/11 and Class Conflict
I'm very disappointed with Noam Chomsky
Thoughts on Lee Harvey Oswald's widow's affair with his Brother
Blade II And The Twilight Of Science
The Time To Act Is Now
Human Nature (the movie) and a question about hair
Four Spider-Man movies reviewed
Don't Do What Scooby-Doo Does
Summer Blockbuster Showdown!!!
In Insomnia Al Pacino plays Detective Will Dormer, who is flown in to a small secluded town in Alaska to investigate the murder of a teenage girl. Pacino's character is as per usual with Pacino characters, is burdened with a troubled past and the accompanying soul-straining assload of guilt. The film opens with Dormer being flown in to the town accompanied by his partner, Hap. The opening scenes of the film show someone performing shadowy actions involving cleaning blood stains off of clothing alternated with tracking shots of the bizarre, breathtaking Alaskan landscape: rippling rock faces marbled with deep-blue streaks of super-compressed ice. Rock-leaved Bible of geology, indeed.

As the film develops, it is revealed that Dormer has engaged in misdeeds not inconsiderable in his efforts to overcome villainy, that he and others are being pursued by a that-guy-who-was-hunting-down-Jean-Vallejean-esque Internal Affairs agent, and that Hap is getting ready to fink out everyone in an effort to save his own skin. To top it all off, Hap and Dormer have arrived at the town during one of Alaska's summers, during which it is daylight pretty much all the time, making it tought to get any sleep.

The perpetual daylight theme is the first instance in which the third main character, of the film, the first being Dormer, the second the killer played by Robin Williams, comes to play a role in the plot. That third character is God, as represented by his avatar, the 'undefiled works' of the American landscape: director Christopher Nolan makes repeated use of establishing shots in which the works of man, buildings, highways and the like, are set off as puny foreground elements against the breathtaking splendor of the immense mountains, forests and lakes of Alaska. Dormer will find his actions frustrated again and again by natural phenomena: fog, water, and above all, the 24-7 gush of sunlight that bestows upon him the Insomnia of the title.

And why is God being such a dick? Well, you see, it has to do with the misdeeds through which Dormer has been able, over the course of his career, to infalliably capture the bad guys. It seems he was not above faking evidence and resorting to other sorts of illegal subterfuge. "Vengance", as the Lord is fond of saith, "is mine" (italics added). The repeated shots in Insomnia of the vast and overpowering Alaskan landscape (at one point the motel in which Dormer is staying is shown set against a massive cliff, as if entombed in stone) seem to add a postscript for Dormer's edification: "And not yours, you two-bit gumshoe!" Render unto Caear and all that. The light that so frustrates Dormer's attempts to get some shuteye is of course (wait for it) the Light of Truth, an effective, if rather irksomely unsbutle metaphor.

And so, Dormer, alone in the middle of a vast wilderness with his guilt, his murderous quarry, and God, struggles toward a fate which will not be revealed here but is pretty much spelled out in 72 pitch type encased in blink tags about a third of the way into the movie. The film ends with an action by supporting character, a small-town cop played by (of all people), Boys Don't Cry star Hilary Swank, that is either an affirmation of legitimate law and order, or a truckload of liberalist corn, depending on one's point of view.

Miscellaneous notes: (1) The murderer in the film, as played very effectively by Robin Williams, is Dormer's Mephistopheles, his evil counterpart: a creepy sociopath who spouts therapy-culture bullshit about having "made mistakes" and wanting to "get on with his life" ("Who needs guilt?" he seems to say, "it's just excessive emotional baggage"). Williams is so good one suspects he may be in danger of being typecast in this sort of role. Beats Mrs. Doubtfire II, I guess. (2). Reviewing the film in a recent New Yorker, the usually on-it David Denby asks if authorities of the samm Alaskan town couldn't have found a cop closer than Los Angeles. Well, yeah, probably, but this is emphatically not a realist crime drama. The film is, as we have established here, an allegory. In fact, the whole plot collpses like the Sacramento Kings during overtime if you think about it for more than five minutes. So don't. (3). Christopher Nolan has this thing in his films where a female character will sleep with the male lead. They don't fuck, they just grab a nap, fully dressed. This happens in Nolan's first film, Memento, and again in Insomnia. What's up with this? Nothing against mutually consenting adults catching a few winks together with all their clothes on, but still, it's kinda weird...


Not to be nitpicky... (none / 0) (#1)
by Illiterate Bum on Sat Jun 8th, 2002 at 09:49:43 PM PST
but Christopher Nolan's first film is the excellent Following. Highly recommended.

Also, if I remember correctly, the main character of Memento did have sex with the female protagonist. I remember a scene where the main character wakes up in bed in his boxers, with the female character similarly attired (or unattired, as it may be). I think they were kissing, and it fades out in to that morning scene. It's been awhile, so forgive me if I'm off. However, it doesn't take a genius to sort of guess what they were at, does it?

And finally, have you seen the original German version of Insomnia? I saw it again recently after watching the remake, and I have to say that the original is better (as critically lauded as Nolan's version is). The acting is a bit more subtle (especially when comparing Skarsgard with Pacino), the production isn't as polished (giving the film a very gritty noirish feel), and the ending isn't as "Hollywood" (or telegraphed) as the remake's. The plot also is more coherent and not as full of holes, and the director doesn't make use of the scenery as much. The natural impediments to Engstrom's (the main protagonist of the German version) investigation represented his moral decline and confusion, and the eternal daylight, while representing truth, as you say, was also used as a contrasting element to Engstrom's moral decline (Engstrom, as played by Skarsgard, was much more morally ambiguous, and a much more pronounced "dirtbag" - an eminently more realistic performance than the one Pacino put up). God doesn't play into it much, as the original is more about one man's moral collapse.

So while your theory hold's water with Nolan's remake, it doesn't really stand with the original version. Oh well. Watch it yourself and make your own conclusions.

"...normal, balanced people do not waste time posting to weblogs." --tkatchev

Not to be really nitpicky... (none / 0) (#2)
by hauntedattics on Sun Jun 9th, 2002 at 07:41:13 AM PST
but I think the original version of Insomnia was Norwegian or Swedish.

Excellent review, as usual, Mr. Milkshake. Makes me want to see the movie, as soon as I can get my sorry ass off the couch...

Yeah, it's well worth going to see (none / 0) (#4)
by Chocolate Milkshake on Sun Jun 9th, 2002 at 05:39:39 PM PST
Keep an eye out for Nicky Katz' unfortunate facial hair. It takes a brave man to agree to be filmed wearing a mustache like that.   :)

My mistake. Apologies. (nt) (none / 0) (#6)
by Illiterate Bum on Mon Jun 10th, 2002 at 02:07:05 AM PST


"...normal, balanced people do not waste time posting to weblogs." --tkatchev

Nah dude (none / 0) (#3)
by Chocolate Milkshake on Sun Jun 9th, 2002 at 04:59:24 PM PST
I remember in that scene in Memento, that by the time Carrie-Ann Moss hit the sheets, Pearce was already dozing off. She has on the same tank-top and skirt outfit when he wakes up as in the later/preceding scene, indicating that she keeps her clothes on the whole time. I maintain that Nolan is some kind of snuggling fetishist.

Anyway, thanks for the clues about Nolan's first movie and the original Euro Insomnia I'll definitely have to hunt down copies of both films.

My apologies. (none / 0) (#5)
by Illiterate Bum on Mon Jun 10th, 2002 at 02:05:53 AM PST
I saw Memento again recently, and you are indeed correct. Not that there's anything wrong with being a snuggling fetishist, though. It's kind of sweet, don't you think?

Also, Following and the euro Insomnia have both been re-released on DVD, due to Nolan's sudden popularity (and the success of the Insomnia remake). I'm pretty sure that you could pick up both films at any half-way decent video stores.

Nice review, by the way.

"...normal, balanced people do not waste time posting to weblogs." --tkatchev

Snuggling. (none / 0) (#7)
by hauntedattics on Mon Jun 10th, 2002 at 09:33:27 AM PST
There's something intrinsically comforting about snuggling, especially when your waking life is in turmoil and you are headed off into the dark unknown of the unconscious. The sensation of having someone next to you just reassures you that you aren't alone in the universe. Maybe it harks back to babyhood and falling asleep on your mom's (or dad's) shoulder.

Now excuse me before I bawl all over my keyboard. *Sniff*



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