A woman begins living out of her van after the loss of her job and husband in Nomadland. Following the 2011 closure of the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada, along with the death of her husband, Fern (Frances McDormand) decides to adopt the nomad lifestyle, which includes living out of her van and driving cross-country looking for odd jobs. Along the way, Fern begins befriending other nomads, including Dave (David Strathairn), who becomes a recurring fixture on her journey. Through her life as a nomad, Fern learns the challenges that come with a self-sufficient life on the road.
Nomadland is a drama written and directed by Chloé Zhao (The Rider), based on the 2017 non-fiction book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” by Jessica Bruder. Both the book and film tackle the recent phenomenon of older Americans, who have adapted to a life on the road following the Great Recession of the late-2000s. We are introduced to Frances McDormand's protagonist of Fern, a relatively recent nomad, who is taking a seasonal job at an Amazon distribution centre. It is there she befriends other nomads and learns from them how to survive this life off the grid.
One of the most notable elements of Nomandland is apart from Frances McDormand and David Strathairn, who plays the film's main protagonists, the bulk of the film's supporting cast are played by real nomads portraying fictionized versions of themselves. This includes de facto nomad leader Bob Wells, along with Linda May and Charlene Swankie, all whom help Fern with adapting to the nomad way of life. Early in the film, Fern has to clarify to a friend's daughter that her life living out of a van makes her “houseless,” as opposed to the more derogatory description of homeless. Fern drives cross country looking for whatever jobs she can find, using most of what she earns to do work on her van to make it a more suitable home for her to live in.
Nomadland can be described as a “slice of life” movie, as it depicts a year or so of Fern's life as a nomad. The story of the film doesn't really have a beginning or an end, though it does show how challenging the life of a nomad can be. In fact, arguably the biggest conflict of the film arrives when Fern's van breaks down and she needs to find $5000 to pay for repairs, with her tearfully telling the mechanics that the van is her home. While the story of Nomadland can be viewed as somewhat melancholy, it cannot be denied that the film has some spectacular cinematography of the Western United States, which in some ways Nomadland a modern frontier story, with the nomads being viewed akin to the pioneers.
Altogether, Nomadland makes for a breathtaking escapist tale of survival in the twenty-first century.