In the interest of full disclosure, I should reveal from the outset of this week's column that prior to last week, I'd never seen Insomnia before. Much like Christopher Nolan's critics often assert, he's a filmmaker that doesn't necessarily inspire a ton of passion in the way that others do, and in my case, even as a longtime fan, I didn't feel compelled to check it out until it was recently released on Blu-ray, in what must be said is a stunningly gorgeous high-definition transfer. But notwithstanding Wally Pfister's luminous, haunting cinematography, the whole too-clever serial killer shtick had worn thin for this moviegoer by the time it was released in 2002, and the prospect of a remake of a psychological thriller five years old wasn't enticing, even from "the director of Memento."
While that revelation may or may not qualify me as the best person to assess the longevity of the film, my intent with this series has always been not to simply react to a film personally, as in "I once liked it and I now think X," but to see films in a greater context than their opening weekend, or even in the year in which they were released. Some films are poorly suited for the historical or cultural context into which they are released; others triumph at the googolplex and are subsequently forgotten. And given the evolution of Nolan's career and his maturation both as a filmmaker and box office breadwinner, not to mention the immediate frame of reference of Inception's release, revisiting it seemed as appropriate artistically as it did commercially for the folks at Warner Brothers – hence that nice-looking Blu-ray.
As such, Insomnia is the subject of this week's "Shelf Life," because it seems like the moderately forgotten entry in Nolan's filmography since his arrival in Hollywood, and because collectively it seems appropriate to assess his earlier work with his subsequent efforts in mind.