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Leaving Normal: Two Women Travel to the Alaskan Wilderness & Discover Themselves

Updated on January 8, 2018
Athlyn Green profile image

Athlyn Green enjoys good movies and discusses these with readers who may be looking to add to their home libraries.



A Refreshing and Quirky Movie

Leaving Normal is a movie starring Christine Lahti and Mag Tilly, two wanderers who leave Wyoming and embark on a journey to the unknown. They soon learn they have to find themselves before they can make a home in the wilderness.

Leaving Normal Movie

Director Edward Zwick's funny and touching tale of adventure and boundless spirit

Leaving Normal is a film starring Christine Lahti as Darly and Meg Tilly as Marianne, opposites who cross paths and embark on a voyage of discovery--literally, as they travel to the remote Alaskan wilderness. And their voyage isn't just physical. The women are on an emotional journey, as they try to come to grips with life passages.

The unlikely duo have a chance encounter with another women who has started her own journey, but this is one of self-discovery and changed attitudes. She gives Darly (Lahti) and Marianne (Tilly) a travel trailer to live in, which they desperately need later on because upon reaching Alaska, they discover that, contrary to expectations, Darly's house had never been built.

While Darly and Marianne may have been trying to escape their problems, Alaska presents them with new challenges. They've reached another seeming dead-end and they have to make a choice as to whether they cut and run, as they've done previously, or create new patterns in their lives.

The real meat in this story is what these two women learn about themselves as they forge a new path and go head-to-head not with the wilderness, not with different circumstances, but with themselves.

Interesting Contrast

The two women are leaving Normal, Wyoming but their lives so far have been anything but normal.

From Wyoming to Alaska

Wyoming, USA

get directions

Palmer Valley, Alaska:

get directions

Darly and Marianne's destination is Palmer Valley, Alaska in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.


Leaving Normal Movie

Why I Loved Leaving Normal

I loved this movie. It came on TV one evening and was a complete surprise. What a refreshing change from the usual line-up or predictable plots. Quirky, humorous and it got me thinking about how people respond to challenges and how attitude plays such a huge role in outcomes.

Two Courageous Women . . . Against a Backdrop of Stunning Alaskan Scenery.

Marianne is running "from" and Darly is running "back to," but as the story progresses, the lines become blurred as to just who is doing the running. After their move to Alaska, each woman grapples with external demons and internal ghosts

Will the women cut muster in the Alaskan wilderness or will old emotional and behavioral patterns prevent them from moving forward and finally finding happiness?

This story is one of new beginnings, of independence and interdependence and ultimately of self-realization. Far from the usual chick-flick, this is a film that stands out for its intelligent execution.The movie is a gritty and humorous portrayal of two imperfect, struggling women--they aren't always pretty, they aren't always nice, they aren't always sensible--set against a backdrop of stunning scenery.

Leaving Normal Trailer

Memorable Quotes

  • "Given the base, vile, selfish, petty, competitive nature of the human animal, I believe any act of kindness constitutes a small miracle." ~66
  • "You've got your whole life ahead of you. There will be a million others you can say "Goodbye" to." ~Darly
  • "Oh my god! This room has "Please God don't make my son a fag" written all over it." ~Darly

Filmed In ...

  • Vancouver, B.C.
  • Britannia Beach, B.C.
  • White Rock Beach, B.C. (parking lot scene)
  • Yoho National Park, B.C.
  • Champion, Alberta, Canada

Palmer Valley, Alaska

Palmer Valley, Alaska:
Alaska, USA

get directions


Why Do Marianne and Darly Cross Paths?

The innocent and hurting Marianne gives the emotionally hardened and closed Darly a chance to learn to nurture. It is obvious that Marianne is a type, representing the daughter that Darly gave up. In coming to Marianne's aid, Darly discovers the softer part of her nature.

What Are the Two Women Looking For?

Both are trying to escape situations that do not serve them. Both are trying to find a life where they won't be taken advantage of, where they can find peace.

What is 66's Role?

When Darly and Marianne encounter 66, who is pudgy and in a dead-end situation, they learn an important lesson. 66 is also downtrodden and has seen abuse and ridicule but instead of "closing shop" (like Darly) or looking to someone else to supply her happiness (like Marianne), or expecting better treatment or better circumstances, she has worked to change her view of herself and has learned to love herself. She has ultimately changed herself into a stronger version. In so doing, she attracts different circumstances and her life miraculously transforms.

Do Darly and Marianne Find What They Are Looking For?

While their path is rocky, yes, they certainly do. Marianne finds it sooner, settling into her new life in Alaska and being willing to overcome challenges to create a better situation; Darly, at the first sign of happiness, bolts, but she too realizes that running will not solve anything.


Cynical Darly

While she is returning to Alaska because she has inherited property, her greater journey is confronting her feelings and finding the courage to search for her lost daughter.

Trusting Marianne

Marianne passes her ultimate test when she finally meets a decent man but this time, instead of casting her net with him and changing her life to align with his, she decides to stay in Alaska

Darly Learns That It's Okay to be Dependent

Darly discovers that friendship, caring and love don't have to hurt.

Marianne Discovers a New Independence

Instead of impulsively switching tracks, Marianne learns she already has what she needs to be happy.

Marianne Finds Work in a Hardware Store



The women have to rebuild the shell of Darly's house. The house is a fitting symbol of the rebuilding they have to do on themselves.

Near Palmer, Alaska


Did You Enjoy Leaving Normal?

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Most Memorable Quote

Marianne to Darly: "Just because you're leaving doesn't mean you're not still in the same Goddamn place!"

Actors in Leaving Normal

Christine Lahti

  • Breakthrough role in And Justice for All with Al Pacino.
  • Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for Swing Shift
  • Academy Award for Lieberman in Love
  • TV: Chicago Hope, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit

Meg Tilly

  • Starred in The Big Chill, Psycho II
  • Oscar nomination for best supporting actress in Agnes of God

Patrika Darbo

  • Rango
  • Mr. & Mrs. Smith
  • In the Line of Fire

Gordon Tootoosis

  • Film debut: Alien Thunder with Donald Sutherland and Chief Dan George.
  • 'One Stab' in Legends of the Fall
  • 'Growling Bear' in miniseries Into the West
  • 'Chief Red Cloud' in Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
  • TV: 'Albert Golo' in North of '60, MacGyver, Northern Exposure, The X-Files, Smallville

Other Notable Actors

  • Lenny von Dohlen--Harry
  • Maury Chaykin--Leon
  • Darrell Dennis--Clyde


Neither has had a stable home or family in "civilization" and yet, in the Alaskan wilderness, they finally find at last that in more ways than one... "they are home."

A Favorite Road Movie

True to its title, Leaving Normal is a movie offering something a little different--offbeat characters who undertake and undergo an Alaska relocation--women who by their very oddness seem all the more real. Ultimately, Normal it is a classic story that has become a favorite road movie celebrating female endurance, triumph, and that special life-changing part of the journey: finding "home" not just in a location but within the wilderness of one's self.

© 2010 Athlyn Green


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      9 years ago

      Please please tell the powers that be... to release this in a DVD format!!! My VHS copies are slowly dying !!!


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