Hulu just released an award winning film, Nomadland, that finally epitomizes what all of us have been going through since The Great Recession of 2008. If we think things had gotten better in 2020, we were seriously wrong. Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand and Dave Strathairn, depicts how today’s modern American refuses to foot the bill for an American lifestyle. They are the only two professional actors in the movie. All the rest are as real as you and me. And they all tell their unique stories of why they dropped out of society and hit the road living in makeshift vans and run-down RVs.
Following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. From director Chloé Zhao, NOMADLAND features real nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West.
The movie does NOT romanticize hitting the open road. It shows the brutal reality of what it is like to live full-time as a nomad, in a life only they can afford, taking craps in buckets, washing their private parts with vinegar and owning a few can openers as their most vital possessions. Rather than continue to fight for a job, a home, a place in society, these people have given up. Many are older and living off Social Security benefits they wrongfully started to collect at age 62. Most fund their nomadic lifestyles by working holiday shifts at Amazon fulfillment centers out west or from pushing a broom and a disinfectant mop while cleaning out the shit from public bathrooms. If you think I am being too brutal in my description of the movie, you’ll see for yourself how low the Great and once wealthy American has fallen.
These nomads have it all planned out from beginning to end. Should their lives deteriorate even lower, or should they become ill and can no longer support their nomadic lifestyles, they are completely open to suicide. Bob Wells, the real life leader of van life is a strong proponent of taking one’s own life when all else has failed. Click here for a recent interview with the real Bob Wells.
The pandemic didn’t help their cause. Many people today have used their stimulus checks or government handouts to buy old cars, rusty vans and older model RVs so they can continue to give up on life and live for free off the government BLM land. There are even snippets in the movie that depict young adults, who too have given up on American life. Maybe they were saddled with unbearable student loans or come from broken, poor homes? Whatever their reason, they are living the nomadic lifestyle rather than try to be strong, fight back and continue to live a life worth living.
The movie is filled with playing victim. The movie takes place in 2012 as the economy is starting to recover from the 2008 Great Recession. One real estate agent is whining to Fern that if only he had bought up a bunch of distressed properties in 2008 he’d be a rich man in 2012. McDormand doesn’t miss a beat and blames the real estate agents for selling houses to people who could nil afford them. Yup. That’s right. Blame someone else for your own stupidity and then go take that shit in a bucket.
Many times throughout the movie, a home is offered to McDormand’s character. Friends offer a place to live. A love interest offers her a tiny home in the back of his son’s massive farm. Her sister offers her a room in her home. Each time Fern (McDormand) turns it down. Seems she prefers the freedom of living out of her broken down van (which needs $2300 worth of repairs which she borrows so easily from her sister, with the promise of paying it back in a year after another holiday stint at Amazon). Fern would rather indulge in a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, warmed up over a make shift outdoor kitchen, than live like a human with other humans.
McDormand, as most full time RVers and van lovers think that nature and earth’s beauty will fix all that ails them. There’s beauty, no doubt about it, in sunrises, sunsets, majestic deserts and expansive mountain formations but are they enough to cure what truly ails you? It’s getting easier and easier to tune in and drop out of daily living. Where was it ever written that life was easy? So then, why choose a nomadic lifestyle, which is harder, to cure whatever disappointment came your way?
The movie is about grief. Which seems to be almost rampant nowadays. Fern lost her husband, her job, her home, her possessions, her money and just about any other material possession there can be in life. The town she lived in actually closed up due to the recession. Once the main employer left, the town folded like a cheap camera. The story line is based on truth. Many of the people who appear in the movie are the real thing. Director Chloe Zhao did an excellent job interweaving all the different choices we have in our lives into one big beautiful package. The movie will haunt you. I implore you to watch it a few times to fully understand what has happened to the once great wealthy nation we used to call America.
The movie is playing in a few theaters nationwide, or you can see it for free, on Hulu, if you qualify for a free 30 day trial membership, click here.