Alaska: Movie- Insomnia- Drop Dead Gorgeous

The Great American Road Trip


Frederick Sound Alaska
Frederick Sound, Alaska

Destination: Alaska

Movie: Insomnia (2002)

(Note: The photographs here were taken by Alan Hull, and supplied by the blog My Itchy Travel Feet. Although they reflect the beauty of Alaska, they are not from the same area as the film.)

Two kinds of people live in Alaska. Those who were born here. And those who are running away from something. I was not born here.Hotel Manager, to Pacino.

Watching the movie, Insomnia, on my DVD player, I remembered that it has now been eight years since Ken and I put Alaska on our MUST SEE list. I think of Alaska as the ultimate road trip.  I even have a copy of  The Milepost: Alaska Travel Planner, 61st Edition (2009)–that guidebook of all guidebooks that carries you mile-by-mile up the various highways from the lower 48.

But we still have not gone. Even though this movie inspired us to plan the road trip. From the title credits with jagged surface of glacier in the background, to the opening aerial shots as a small sea plane swoops in to land, the scenery is astounding.

LeConte Bay, Alaska
LeConte Bay, Alaska

When we DO finally go, we will certainly take Kerry Dexter’s advice on what CDs to pop into the player. You can see Kerry’s Music for the Road recommendations at Music Road.

Now that I look more closely at the credits, I see that I must include British Columbia on the trip as well, (as The Milepost does)because although the aerial shots in the movie were Alaska, the town where the action took place was Squamish B.C. The lodge where visiting L.A. police officers (played by Al Pacino and Martin Donovan)  stayed, stands in Squamish, and the town’s high school and police headquarters (where Hilary Swank’s character worked)  were also used in the movie.

Wyndham Bay Alaska
Wyndham Bay Alaska

In addition, the eerie fog-shrouded chase scene was filmed at an inlet called Indian Arm near Vancouver, and the final scene, which takes place in a fishing cottage on a lake was near the tiny town of  Stewart Glacier, B.C. on the Alaska/BC border.  If  the difficulties faced by movie makers interests you, read more about the filming of Insomnia and the challenges of working in these remote locations at the site, Celebrity Wonder. [Note: December 2012. This link is inacessible] That last scene survived deep snow, fluctuating water levels, breaking glaciers, no hotel rooms and an avalanche!

Let me hasten to add that this film is not just a pretty travelogue for Alaska and British Columbia, luring you on a road trip up north. The morality play plot keeps you awake, along with Pacino, whose saggy-baggy face gets ever more saggy as he cannot sleep. Light of the Midnight Sun variety and light of the “exposure” variety keeps him awake night after night. Hilary Swank turns in a lovely performance as the eager beaver young copy star-struck by the big name L.A. detective. And Robin Williams totally surprised me with a serious and deeply meaningful role as a mystery writer who weaves a  real life tale as he jousts with the detective, Pacino.

My only minor complaint about the movie is that the focus on Pacino is done to excess. I could not believe that  the entire police department of the Alaska town, not to mention his “partner” from L.A. would be relegated to a crowd following him around as he comes to brilliant conclusions and barked orders.

Thomas Bay, Alaska
Thomas Bay, Alaska

But it  was great to re-visit this movie after eight years, and renew my pledge to make a road trip to Alaska.

Many thanks to Donna and Alan Hull for sharing their beautiful photos. You can read a bit about their Alaska experiences here.

Can you share your experiences traveling in Alaska? What should we put at the top of our see/do list? And if you have not been to Alaska, but are planning to go, tell us about that, too.

Comments on today’s post (until 6 am MST Jan. 28) will be entered in the drawing the book, War on the Margins, and also for a two-night stay at a Cambria Suites of your choice. See contest rules

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

19 thoughts on “Alaska: Movie- Insomnia- Drop Dead Gorgeous

  1. I have not seen this movie – we were in Alaska briefly…I’d love to return and these photos are making that feeling even stronger!

  2. I remember when Insomnia came out but I haven’t seen it. I didn’t even realize that Alaska figures so prominently in it. I’ll have to check it out. My mom spent much of her childhood in Alaska, so it’s always held a draw for me.

    1. Alexandra: Thanks for the recommendation. I would welcome another book about Alaska. Although I hope that “next time” doesn’t mean I’ll be doing an entire cross-country road trip again. Whew! I think I’m about ready for this one to end.

  3. Alan, that photo of LeConte Bay – wow!

    Not the biggest Pacino fan in the world (I know, I know), but as a huge fan of British Columbia, I’ll tune into the movie when it’s on TV to catch some of the scenery. If Pacino hasn’t chewed it yet. 🙂

    1. Casey: That’s one of the great things about this movie–Pacino is more under control than I’ve ever seen him. He portrays this guy getting worn down by lack of sleep with an increasing sag in the face and even if you don’t usually like him, you’d wind up sorry for the character. What a director to get subdued performances out of BOTH Pacino and Robin Williams.

  4. What incredibly gorgeous photos! My only experience with Alaska has been stopping there in the old days when planes going to Asia used to stop at the airport there. I’m not sure if they do that anymore. I would look out the windows of the terminal and long to be able to go to the mountains that were visible there.

  5. I remember watching this movie for the first time and being surprised that I liked it nearly as much as the excellent Norwegian original starring Stellan Skarsgård. Hollywood remakes of good foreign films generally disappoint. Thanks for reminding me of two good, oddly claustrophobic films, despite the wide-open spaces.

  6. This is so strange that you happened to watch this movie again- My husband was just talking about it. We were trying to explain ‘Alaska’ to our Ghanaian son who is visiting us. We were hoping he could go up there to visit.

    I made three trips to Alaska- but that was well over 27 years ago- I really need to go back. One time when I was there it was the summer- and the next two times were during the winter. Amazing!!

  7. Thanks for including Alan’s photos and a link to one of our Alaska adventures. We’ve concentrated on exploring Alaska from the sea. First, we sailed on a luxury cruise from Vancouver all the way to Dutch Harbor and beyond. Next, we explored southeast Alaska on a small ship adventure ship. Each time we’re in Alaska, Alan says, “let’s plan a road trip up here.” One of these days, we’re going to do just that. I’d love to see the interior of Alaska, as well as the Yukon. Now, I’m putting Insomnia on our movies to watch list.

    1. The pleasure was all ours to be able to see Alan’s great photos. You have had some incredible Alaska adventures. It seems to me that a road trip up and a ferry boat part way back, in the Inside Passage would be just about ideal.

  8. Again, the included photos are beautiful. I hear of Alaska through RMW up there above me on the list, however the idea of drunk lumberjacks with nothing to do does make me think I shouldn’t wander off a la Charlie Chaplin style into the wilderness.

  9. I have caught the first 10 minutes of Insomnia, but alas children and events intervened me catching the rest. I am constantly being asked to visit Alaska though—my sister-in-law lives in Craig and regales us with the beauty of the place. Thanks for sharing! -r

  10. How nice of Mari to mention my enthusiasm for Alaska. I’ve only been once but it is an unforgettable place and an experience like no other. I wrote about it for The Times, and the piece, about visiting McCarthy, is still readable online:

    You have to scroll down the page a bit to find the start.

  11. Inspired by the film Insomnia and by a couple of articles I read a few years ago by a travel writer from the UK named Mike Gerrard, I have finally managed to plan a trip to Alaska for this coming June. I shall be travelling with two friends, touring by car, making train journeys, checking out the grizzlies and the glaciers, and visiting all the spots that travelling friends mention. A Pacino fan, I visited all the Godfather sites in Sicily as well. Alaska promises to be equally absorbing – if not quite as warm!

    1. Hi Mari: Your trip sounds fantastic. I’d love to hear more about your itinerary, if you’d like to e-mail me about it. And I imagine you saw the two articles just before this about Mike Gerrard’s new book?

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