Weekend watching last Saturday was Nomadland, a film based on the non-fiction book of the same name. This film follows Fern, played by Francis McDormand who takes to living in a van after her hometown is emptied out when the only employer shuts down. Although the central characters are played by actors, many of the other people appearing in the film are real life nomads from the non-fiction book playing slightly fictionalised versions of themselves.
The film depicts Fern’s first full year on the road, starting as a seasonal temp at Amazon for the Christmas rush. She then goes to the annual rendezvous of the nomads in the desert. Here she, and through her we, learn more about the way of life. She works then as a camp host, in a fast-food restaurant and at a seasonal harvest of sugar beets. The film goes full circle and ends with her back at Amazon.
The film doesn’t shy away from showing the hardships of life on the road and as a first timer, we see her make some potentially fatal mistakes such as a flat tyre in the middle of the desert with no spare. But the film also goes into the freedom of life on the road with Fern visiting many beautiful locations. There are friends made and lost and we see a camaraderie amongst the nomads. The visual sense of the movie is breathtaking with the director of photography doing a stunning job capturing the beauty and desolation of the landscapes in equal measure.
Fern herself seems to be a very insular person. She stays behind at several locations after the main group has left and while there is a romantic subplot, it is very much two older people dancing around each other. She seems to have taken to the nomadic lifestyle and when offered a permanent home, refuses twice, and moves back into her van.
The film is a profoundly moving one. It is an exploration of a lifestyle very different to the one that most people live, and it shows these people as the inheritors of the pioneers that made the USA. It also provides gentle but damming commentary on the modern capitalist era that folk in the twilight of their lives are forced onto the road and have to do backbreaking work. Many enjoy it but quite a few were forced into it with no other choice.
The most profound moment is at the end, it is in the trailer so no spoilers here, where Bob, leader of the nomad rendezvous says, “There is never a final goodbye, always that I’ll see you down the road”.