How Christopher Nolan Used Daylight To Make Insomnia Feel Even Darker

Christopher Nolan is one of today’s most revered filmmakers, and he got there by taking chances. The British filmmaker wrote, directed, and edited his first film in 1998, called “Following.” If Alfred Hitchcock and the French New Wave had a baby, it would look a little something like “Following.”

But it was Nolan’s second film that put him on the map in 2000. “Memento” was based on a short story written by his brother Jonathan. The film noir was told in a non-linear fashion, with a color timeline in reverse order and a second black and white timeline told in sequential order. The two timelines merge at the end, yet Nolan still manages to pull off a climactic finale. The daring narrative demands your complete attention and several watches to fully understand it (or watch it once and then read the ending explained here).

A pattern was emerging which suggested that subversive psychological thrillers were Nolan’s forte. So when Warner Bros. wanted to remake the 1997 Norwegian film noir “Insomnia” it made sense to select Nolan as its director. But there was a catch. As he did with his previous movie, the filmmaker would again have to subvert all established conventions of the film noir genre.

In “Insomnia,” a Los Angeles detective (Will Dormer, played by Al Pacino) travels to Nightmute, Alaska, to help investigate the killing of a teenager. When Dormer accidentally kills his partner, the teen’s killer (Robin Williams) uses the accident to exploit the detective. But Dormer faces another foe in the unrelenting sunlight from the arctic environment.

How would Nolan pull off a film noir in a setting that produced 24 hours of sunlight?

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