Dave and I finally watched Nomadland a few days ago. Since it was the winner of six Academy Awards I had read about its plot and had watched some trailers before I saw the movie. From these bits of information, I expected it to be a very sad film but surprisingly overall it was not.
It tells the story of a woman named Fern who has no children. Her husband dies. The key industry in the town where they lived ceases operation and so the town basically dies too and Fern decides to leave. She puts most of her belongings in storage and sets off on a trip in her van which she has outfitted so she can live in it.
Fern drives through such beautiful parts of America. The landscape photography in the movie is stunning. One of the scenes in the South Dakota badlands shows Fern fairly dancing through all these wondrous rock formations and there are some scenes in Arizona where the camera shots of the desert are breathtaking. Fern whose character is played brilliantly by Frances McDormand thrives on the beauty of her natural surroundings.
Fern takes joy in the act of work, even the most menial tasks are attacked with determination. On her journey she picks up temporary jobs- working in an Amazon warehouse, cleaning a campground, doing food preparation in a restaurant kitchen, and harvesting sugar beets. She is able to view these jobs with humor and is thankful she has an opportunity to earn some money.
Fern makes friends easily. It seems everywhere she goes people are attracted to her for her empathy, her no-nonsense approach, her straightforwardness, and her helping hand. She stays for winter with a group of seniors in Arizona who all live out of their vehicles and with them she finds companionship and joy and a kind of peace. Fern’s marriage seems to have been happy and loving and that gives her comfort even though her husband has died.
Although difficult circumstances force Fern to develop the transient minimalist lifestyle she adopts after a time she grows to appreciate it and feels comfortable with it. She has a sister who dearly loves her and invites Fern to live with her. Fern’s friend Dave also invites her to move in with his family. She just can’t! She prefers her own space. She likes living in her van.
Fern’s life is not easy, but she helps us to remember that when we take time to appreciate the wonders of nature, find workplaces where we can feel useful, are open to building human connections, and can maintain our sense of independence, then life can have meaning and mixed in with the inevitable sadness there can be a surprising amount of hope and joy.