In Christopher Nolan’s 2002 underrated classic Insomnia, Al Pacino plays Detective Will Dormer, an LA Cop with a legendary and troubled history who comes to the remote landscape of Alaska to help solve the murder of a teenage girl. The Alaskan Wilderness is like a character in this film, playing a role throughout.
Dormers perhaps sent to Alaska with his partner to get away while he possibly awaits trial back in LA for falsifying evidence in a case involving the torture and murder of a young child. The suspect in that case would have gone free if Dormer hadn’t tampered with evidence.
Once in Alaska, Dormer almost catches this murderer, played by Robin Williams, in the first act of the movie. But on a foggy day, Dormer accidentally shoots and kills his partner instead of the killer, the same partner who had made it publicly clear he would testify against Dormer for falsifying evidence in that previous child murder case.
After shooting his partner, Dormer once again tampers with evidence here for fear everyone will think he killed his partner but a key witness in that previous case. So he switches his bullet with one from the suspect’s gun, who had dropped it during the foggy chase.
That fog is key, and it’s the Alaskan character. It’s the Gray area between. Do the ends justify the means, or don’t they? How badly do we change who we are to get what we think is right and just? And how clouded can our vision get on such a quest? So, let’s do an Insomnia Ending Explanation and break down all the important things that you need to know about the movie.
Here is the Insomnia Ending Explained:
Back at the police station, Ellie informs him that she noticed Kay had all the novels from a local writer named Walter Finch, and she suggests that they should question him. Unknown to everything, Dormer already paid him a visit.
The next day, he goes to a Ferry that they agreed to meet on. There, he finally comes across Walter Finch. He claims that he wasn’t afraid of local cops because he further claims that he never meant to kill her, and it happened by mistake.
Dormer looks down on him. Nobody gives an F about if it happened by mistake or if there was a motive. Finch then brings up how he saw Eckhart dying in the arms of Dormer and that Internal Affairs will never believe that it happened by mistake as well. He further claims that they both are in the same situation, they both didn’t mean to cause any harm, and Dormer looks exhausted from his insomnia.
Dormer seems to side with Finch now, and he reveals that police started linking the book with Finch, so eventually, they will call him for questioning, but he does not need to worry about it. He just needs to be honest that he knew Kay, and she was a big fan of his work, nothing else.
Finch demands that he wants his help in shifting the suspicion to Kay’s abusive boyfriend, Randy, and as long as Randy is the suspect, he will stay silent about the shooting of Dormer’s assistant, then they agree.
Once Finch leaves the ferry, he shows Dormer the tape recorder that he recorded their conversation, and if Dormer tries to over-smart him, then he will use this UNO reverse card. In the meantime, Ellie sees the headline that internal affairs are investigating old cases of Dormer.
Finch Reveals The Truth
Dormer gets a phone call from Finch, and Finch apologizes about the tape recorder. He just wanted to be safe. They talk about how they will shift the blame on Randy further. Finch reveals that One day, Kay called him, and Randy was beating her, so he asked her to come to his cabin. They talked a bit; he kissed her, and he wanted to comfort her.
However, she started laughing at him, and she started making fun of him. He said do you know how it feels when someone laughs at you? So, he pushed her, and he kept his hand on her face to make her stop laughing, and she was gone. He then thanks Dormer for listening since he has also not been able to sleep since her death, and he can finally sleep now.
The next day, Ellie waits outside his room because he is dodging her calls. She is worried about him due to insomnia, and she wants him to rest, but he claims he won’t sleep till the case is solved. She then recalls a line from Dormer’s previous novel that a good cop cannot sleep because the case is not solved, and a bad cop cannot sleep because his conscience won’t let him sleep.
Finch Tell A Made Up Story
Finch is brought there for questioning, and he testifies that he knew Kay and she used to like his work, and they were like friends.
Sooner he deviates from the topic to Randy, and he brings up that Randy used to beat Kay, and she was scared of him, and Randy used to threaten her that if he found out who she was talking to behind his back, then he would kill her, and he also claims that Randy had a .38 caliber handgun, and he used to hide it in his vent.
This way, he hints to Dormer that he knows about the gun he planted earlier in his house. Then Fred asks the team to contact the judge immediately and issue a search warrant for Randy’s house. Upon hearing that, Dormer rages up, and he is about to attack Finch. Ellie notices this strange and weird demeanor of Dormer.
So, Fred sends him outside to calm down, and he goes directly to Randy’s house to get the gun since he does not want Randy to go to prison for Kay’s murder. He goes inside and opens a vent, but he does not find the gun in it.
In the meantime, the police arrive there with a search warrant, and Dormer hides in a corner. Finch asks for the number of Ellie, so he can contact her for any further evidence. Fred finds the handgun in a motorcycle, and then Dormer decides to come out of his hiding.
A few moments later, Randy comes back home, and he is arrested. Ellie is suspicious, and she decides to go back to the scene of Eckhart’s death. She investigates for a bit, and she comes across a 9mm shell case. She then goes back to her home, she goes through the case studies of Dormer, and she learns that he has a personal 9mm backup gun.
Dormer Still Facing Insomnia
Dormer goes to see Finch; they talk a bit, and Finch admits that he saved this UNO Reverse card so that even if Dormer tries to turn his back on him in the future, he wouldn’t be able to since the planted evidence will be more than enough for Randy’s arrest.
Finch then gives him the tape that he recorded. He throws it in water, then he points a gun at Finch, asking if he has any more copies of the recording, but he denies it since he just wants both of them to go on their separate ways, and he claims that abusive people like Randy should stay in prison, and he leaves.
Later, the entire unit celebrates the closure of the case. Ellie arrives there with the 9mm shell case, and she tells everyone that it’s Dormer’s backup weapon. He then leaves from there, and no one seems to believe her. She hugs him, and she confirms that he has a backup weapon.
Dormer arrives back to his room, and he starts packing his stuff and going through the stuff he collected earlier. He tries to sleep, but he cannot from his visions, so he decides to put a bunch of pillows on the window. Rachel knocks on the door and informs him that people are complaining about the noise.
Insomnia Ending Explained
Ellie gets a call from Finch that he has some evidence, so she leaves to meet him in his cabin. Dormer breaks into his apartment of Finch and learns that Finch left to go to his old cabin. He calls the police force and learns that Ellie went to see Finch. So, he leaves from there. Ellie is talking with Finch for a bit, and when she is about to take her gun out, he knocks her down.
Dormer arrives there, and Finch tells him that Ellie knows about everything and she will expose them. He wants to make things right.
Then Dormer starts attacking him, they fight for a bit, and Finch overpowers him. He then goes for his shotgun, and Dormer takes his gun out. They fire at each other while Finch says, this is my UNO Reverse card. Finch falls into the water and dies, Dormer goes out and falls to the ground.
In this final scene, Dormer lay dying from the last shootout. Ellie goes to throw the bullet away, saying she believes it was an accident, that he killed his partner. But Dormer stops her and says, “Don’t lose your way.”
As the movie fades, we see her put the bullet back in the evidence bag and in her pocket. And she stands there, surrounded by this beautiful, overpowering landscape. Does she turn the evidence in? Does it matter?
Is this a movie about cops or murder or police procedures? Or is it about the human mind and how we justify to ourselves what we do, whether it’s good, bad, or ugly? I wonder if this film is about our ability or inability to do what we think is right at the time and to be able to live with it.
In such a vast landscape of a setting, I also wonder if we perhaps too often forget how we are always simultaneously important and infinitely small and fragile compared to our surroundings and just how difficult that can sometimes be to come to terms with, to understand.