An American couple travel to a strange, snowy European city to adopt a baby, who they hope will resurrect their failing marriage. This difficult journey leaves the wife, who is struggling with cancer, desperately weak, and her husband worries that her apparent illness will prevent the orphanage from releasing their child.
The couple check into the cavernous and eerily deserted Borgarfjaroasysla Grand Imperial Hotel where the bar is always open and the restaurant serves thirteen-course dinners from centuries past. Their attempt to claim their baby is both helped and hampered by the people they encounter: an ancient, flamboyant chanteuse, a debauched businessman, an enigmatic faith healer, and a stoic bartender who dispenses an addictive, lichen-flavored schnapps. Nothing is as it seems in this mysterious, frozen world, and the longer the couple endure the punishing cold the less they seem to know about their marriage, themselves, and life itself.