by Emily Rotthaler-A little bit of despair, a taste of freedom, and a strong sense of solitude are the main feelings that come up while watching Nomadland. Winning the Golden Globes awards in the categories of Best Motion Picture and Best Director (Chloé Zhao), the 1 hour 50 minutes movie takes a socially critical look at the lifestyle of modern-day, van-dwelling nomads.
Nomadland is definitely not a movie about one of our society’s glamourous sides. Quite the contrary, most characters within the movie choose the nomadic lifestyle as a last resort after experiencing a more or less ill stroke of fate. This left me behind with a rather bitter aftertaste when the credits started rolling.
The main character of Nomadland is a fictional woman named Fern (played by Frances McDormand) who loses her job when the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nev. shuts down. After this turns the former company city into one of America’s newest ghost towns, Fern continues to live in Empire until her husband dies.
At age 61 and with virtually no savings or social security, Fern packs up her belongings and becomes a van-dwelling nomad. While other people her age are close to retiring, Fern begins to travel across the American West in search of employment.
During the winter, Fern works in the CamperForce of Amazon in one of the online retailer’s warehouses. Together with other working nomads who are mostly around the same age as Fern or older, she packages products that people buy on Amazon every day. Especially during the Christmas time, scanning and packaging products plus walking a dozen miles per day makes for long and hard-working days.
Although Fern is pictured as being by herself most of the time, she does entertain some social connections to other modern-day nomads and her sister. While Fern’s character is fictional and based on the book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” by Jessica Bruder, her friends Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells are fictionalized versions of real life van dwellers.
To me, Nomadland’s storyline seems so far off from our everyday reality that realizing it is happening in such close proximity was quite literally shiver inducing. I myself have never heard of this group of people or their lifestyle before. Because of that, it was eye-opening to learn about their free-spirited mindset and the reasons that lead a person to become a nomad nowadays.
In my opinion, the movie certainly deserves the awards it received. McDormand’s acting performance was convincing, capturing perfectly how the free-spirited Fern struggles with the thought of settling down and the many emotions and obstacles her journey brings with it.
Overall, Nomadland is worth watching not only because of McDormand’s performance but especially because it shows us a lifestyle that most of us have never considered. On one hand, their freedom to go wherever and seemingly live their lives however they want is appealing. On the other hand, the movie shows that most of us would not be cut out for a nomadic life, the loneliness that it brings with it or the minimalistic lifestyle a lot of nomads have to adapt to.
For those interested in watching Nomadland, the movie can be streamed on Hulu.