Q: A recent conversation with a friend stimulated this question. He had just watched the Ben Stiller film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty on TV, knows I visited Iceland in 2009 and wanted to talk about it. My wife and I saw the film earlier when it first hit our local movie theater and we like it a lot.
What did you think of the segment of the film that took place in Iceland? Did the film portray things fairly accurately?
Is Iceland’s ban on stripper bars still in place? The reason I’m asking this question is because there is a scene in the film where Ben Stiller gets off a ship in an Icelandic port and races several Portuguese (?) sailors to a bicycle so he can continue his quest. The ship captain tells Stiller that the sailors want to use that bike to pedal into town to a stripper bar.
Ron, MD, U.S.
A: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which premiered in Iceland in January last year, ended up being the fourth most-watched movie in theaters in Iceland in 2014.
Upon leaving Iceland in September 2012, Ben Stiller tweeted: “Last day of the shoot. Iceland is an incredible place. Going to miss it here.” He also raved about Iceland on Jimmy Kimmel Live! earlier in the year.
Judging by how Icelandic landscape was portrayed in the film, Stiller really did love it. Parts of it seemed like an Inspired by Iceland commercial.
Scenes were shot in Grundarfjörður and Stykkishólmur on Snæfellsnes peninsula in West Iceland, in Höfn and on Vatnajökull glacier in Southeast Iceland, and in Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland. An indoor scene was also shot in Borgarnes, West Iceland.
However, not all of the scenes were supposed to take place in Iceland; Stykkishólmur and Höfn served as locations in Greenland, while the Vatnajökull scenes were supposed to take place in Afghanistan and the Himalayas.
Also in the Iceland scenes, the geography was messed up. Walter Mitty was in Seyðisfjörður in East Iceland when he witnessed Eyjafjallajökull erupt, but according to the map that he carried, he was in Stykkishólmur in West Iceland and the volcano was located in the town’s vicinity. In reality, Eyjafjallajökull isn’t anywhere near either of the two towns, its actual location is in South Iceland.
Stripping is still banned and there’s also no Papa John’s in Iceland so Stiller definitely didn’t portray things accurately, even though he certainly did Icelandic nature justice in his landscape shots, especially where Walter Mitty skateboards down Fjarðarheiði to Seyðisfjörður.
I thought the geographical mix-up was funny but it didn’t bother me much when watching the movie. Writers and filmmakers are granted a certain liberty as a good storyline trumps facts. Stiller isn’t the first filmmaker to play around with Icelandic geography—the locations in Icelandic Oscar-nominated director Friðrik Þór Friðriksson’s 1995 comedy Cold Fever (Á köldum klaka) didn’t make much sense either.
The film got mixed reviews and not everyone liked it, although the people I spoke with generally agreed that it was entertaining, a ‘feel good’ movie.