I was lucky enough to be able to see this last night and I’ve been pondering how to convey to you the magic that is Nomadland. It’s unassuming, to start with. None of the characters are in any way heroes or villains; there’s little or no conflict, there are no axes to grind, no points to hammer home. No-one is remotely good-looking; most of the characters are ageing and there is nothing remotely aspirational in their lifestyles. And yet, if I could hack it, theirs would be a lifestyle I might aspire to.
The moral – lightly drawn – is the failure of corporate America. Fern lives with her husband in a company town centred around a gypsum plant. When the plant fails, the town dies – there literally is nothing else there – and everyone leaves. Fern gets a casual job at Amazon (my one beef with the film was that they made working at Amazon look much more pleasant than it almost certainly is) over Christmas, then gets in her camper van and leaves. The rest of the film is a story of the road; stopping to earn money, going to camps, meeting the same people over and over again, finding and then losing people and always, always the amazing, astounding, overwhelming American landscape. The film was made in Nevada, Nebraska, South Dakota and California and the scenery is stunning – and this is the point; that the characters are not deprived; they’re no set of sad hoboes living out of a shoe box, this is a positive choice for them even if it has been forced on them by circumstances. Some of the characters are played by real-life nomads whose journey is totally life-affirming; the empty spaces, the open road, the companionship of other nomads – I almost wanted to be one of them. I say almost because I know I couldn’t do it; I like to be rooted in a place and besides I couldn’t deal with the lack of space – but it’s a beguiling prospect.
There are times when Fern comes close to settling down – there’s a guy called Dave who wants her to stay with his family but listening to their talk about real estate values she knows she can never be a part of this world. The pace of this film, too, is hypnotic; the stopping, the moving on, the occasional jobs, the reunions and partings which as one guy says are never final because they always meet again (‘I’ll see you down the road’).
Though I know I could never be one of them I’ve always been curious about nomadic communities. It seems to me an entirely respectable way of life and I’m sad that it’s been all but squeezed out of existence in the UK. It would be impossible to live like Fern, unless perhaps you went to the Highlands of Scotland – even then you’d soon run out of space.
You can watch a trailer here. I urge you to go and see this if at all possible.