By Nanci Dixon
The movie “Nomadland” came out this week on Hulu and in select theaters. I thought it was well worth the time and energy to watch. The film tells the story of Fern, lost in the last recession when the town’s gypsum wallboard factory closed and her husband died. As the town of Empire, Nevada, fades around her, Fern puts her stuff in storage and leaves in her van to find work. Along the way she becomes a nomad and, in the end, begins to find herself.
“Nomadland” is a narrative of displacement in a recession, marginalization, and defining what is important in life. It is doubtful that this rather sober movie is going to lead to increased RV sales or more campground crowding. The story feels almost like a documentary. It gives insight into the life and struggles of today’s modern “nomad,” both young and old. The movie does not glamorize the lifestyle but rather documents both the pain and transient moments of happiness. It deals with the timely issues of death, suicide, deep loneliness and financial hardship. However, it still showcases beauty in the landscape and connection, however fleeting, with others.
It is inspiring to see an older woman, award-winning actress Frances McDormand, at age 63, in the leading role of Fern. She does so with honesty and unabashedly looking every bit her age. And yes, as others have commented, I had an almost irresistible urge to comb her hair. When I said that out loud, my husband pointed out that she was safer looking like that in her lifestyle. The reality of her lifestyle does put her at risk.
Many RVers will relate to “Nomadland”
As an RVer, it is easy for me to relate to many of the aspects of the movie. This includes camp hosting, seasonal work at Amazon and the sugar beet harvest, connecting with people on the road, and her pilgrimage to Quartzsite, Arizona. There was talk of hookups and the lack of waste tanks. I realized that not all viewers would even know what that was. As camp hosts our duties are similar to Fern’s and, believe me, the toilet cleaning looks a whole lot worse on film than in person!
I was a van dweller in my college days and could easily identify with stealth camping. For example, it includes trying to stay warm, being asked to leave places and taking mini showers in public restrooms. I had no money either – and few jobs. However, it was a brighter, more hopeful time. And, of course, it was an adventure. Being at the beginning of the journey rather than the end certainly colors the view.
While in Quartzsite one year, we asked a police officer if they had any issues with the young people we saw that were living similar lives as in the movie. He told us no. The officer mentioned that they had no issues except perhaps a little panhandling. He said that the vast majority of the young people had just graduated college. They were taking a year off and some even have a trust fund waiting for them back home. They called themselves “travelers” and said they were taking time to “find themselves.” I guess that is very similar to the hippies of my era.
Fern lives her life her way, as do most “nomads”
As people offer Fern a place to stay, thereby ending her time on the road, Fern is resolved to live her life her way. It is easy as full-time RVers to understand the question Fern’s niece asks: “Are you homeless?” Fern answers, “No, I am houseless.” Our children have asked us the same question – except they wish we hadn’t sold the house…
Bob Wells, a Nomad guru with a huge following and a YouTube channel, also appears in “Nomadland.” He reminds me once again that instead of “Goodbye,” it should be “See you on down the road.”
I am so grateful to have our lifestyle, which is over-the-top glamorous by comparison to Fern’s. The one thing that drew me into the movie and rang true is all our collective experience of goodness and the friendliness in the people we meet. It is that sense of community, whether a van nomad, tent camper or RVer, we feel when making fleeting or lifelong connections with other people in a campground or on the road. So, perhaps, someday we will meet and I can say in parting: “See you on down the road.”
Watch the trailer for “Nomadland” below.
Will new movie about RV van living fuel nomad lifestyle?
Get the book “Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century” on Kindle or Paperback.
Couldn’t stop watching Nomadland. I do believe it portrays “nomadic” life, and nomadic working opportunities. Yes, it was a sad movie, but very uplifting at the same time. Loved the scenery. Bob Wells does a very good job running “RTR”, in Quartzite, Arizona, every year. Not my style of travel, but definitely worth watching.
I’m reading the book now, and it’s fascinating. Would like to read a review of it. Can’t wait to watch the movie afterwards.
This movie, nor the book that inspired it, was never meant to be some promotional video for the RV lifestyle. It is a human interest story, scripted based on the very real aspects of a ‘specific’ segment of the Nomad community, and presented without judgement. While I’m also a Nomad, the movie (and book) did a great job providing a touching view into a segment of this lifestyle i’ve yet to experience.
Sounds like if I ever want my wife to go full time I should not let her see this movie. 🙂
I could definitely see myself doing something like that if God forbid anything ever happened to my husband. I don’t like that the little family I have would understand it though and would probably try to talk me out of it. I love to travel more than anything else on earth so it definitely appeals to me.
To me, the film was as much about loss of a spouse and grieving. Unfortunately I can relate to that. Fern also lost her stability and whole way of life.
To those who sneer and condescend at the lifestyle portrayed in this film, thanks for identifying yourselves and letting the rest of us know who to avoid. The redeeming quality of the “nomads” in this movie is in the fact that they manage to retain their humanity and respect for others, despite their circumstances, rather than sink into the dog-eat-dog mentality of the criminal class that plague our cities, or of the wealthy for that matter. Even if they seem to lose their hope for material wealth, or maybe because they turn their back on consumerism, they hold on to their hope for humanity and show it in the way they treat each other and their community. That’s something the sneerers will probably never understand…
I have been contemplating this life style for some time. I’m an elderly, single woman with 3 dogs. I have no family ties here anymore. I’m at the age where having the funds to take care of a house and grounds is too much for me now, yet I keep hesitating because going out into the unknown and beginning a whole new life is scary to me. I think it would be best for me, but it’s just the actual doing of it ……just difficult to take that first step, I guess.
I’m 65 and went full time last year. It’s not for everyone but all I can advise is to do a lot of research (eg watch relevant YouTube videos by searching terms like solo female or safety) and have a backup plan if it doesn’t work out.
If you can, go part time to try it out. Also look for like minded caravan groups like the ones hosted by Homes on Wheels Alliance. Google is your friend. I tried it out for a year before making the leap. In that year I became much more adept at finding suitable camping places. Good luck!
I started full timing in my early 70s and that was over six years ago, and yes, by myself. I was mowing almost three acres of grass and taking care of a home, which I continued to do for 9 1/2 years after my husband passed. He was not an RVer. I had previously owned travel trailers and class C motor homes, then gave it up for 23 years, starting again three years after becoming a widow. I purchased a 30′ gas Class A, and used part time for 4 years, now a 40′ Diesel Pusher towing a car. People asked what my family thought about me doing this, and I just said “I did not ask them”. It is all about what you would be comfortable with, but don’t give up the idea, just do it Yes, it would be kind of scary to start, but do it wisely. I try never to stop or stay anywhere I would feel uncomfortable. RVers are wonderful people and I have met some really neat ones and there is always a friendly neighbor just waiting to help. Do your homework. Name of game. I have no regrets. Good Luck w/decision.
My feelings about this movie were expressed by the sensitive and perceptive songwriter Phil Ochs in the 1960’s in this song, “There But For Fortune Go You Or I” https://youtu.be/6lFPIIdud9o . He died by suicide at age 35 after suffering with bipolar disorder and alcoholism. Also, I have to say that these nomads living in small vehicles on BLM lands or dispersed in national forests seem better off than those trying to survive misfortune alongside roads, railroad tracks, under freeway bridges, and along urban streets, living in tents or similar vehicles. The German TV channel DW did a documentary on the latter types: https://youtu.be/JHDkALRz5Rk
Thank you for sharing the link to Phil Ochs. He was one of my favorites many years ago when we still purchased music on vinyl. I think I owned all his albums at one time.
His is a tragic story. A life cut short way too soon.
This song is so true, and we should never forget God’s blessings in our lives and be considerate of those who may not be as blessed.
Amen. And those of us who travel and see the wonders of the continent can relate to this Limeliters video of his “Power and Glory”.
We watched the movie this week. Very good movie, and feel we are fortunate. There are many work campers out there and not all fit that lifestyle?
Interesting review, Nancy. I love McDormand, in everything from Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, to her many roles in her husband’s movies. Her turn as the fitness employee determined to have cosmetic surgery (Burn After Reading), is my personal favorite. You definitely motivated me to catch her in this.
Are camp hosts allowed to have dogs?
Thanks for the thoughtful review, yours and Chuck’s piece also. There are a lot of amazing stories of survival out here, lots of good people dealing with hard blows and looking for connections and a bit of freedom.
As for the slams from the tidy crowd in the shiny big rigs; I wish they could see how narrow-minded and boring they are.
A quote from Mark Twain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness.”
Apparently not, if you keep to a closed circle of couples just like you, which is how many RVers like to roll.
Lost me at fake pooping in a bucket… watching the stars in the sky would be more entertaining and informative… :wpds_chuckle:
I also have lived this lifestyle, to quote one of my favorite singers ” I made enough money to buy Miami and pissed it all away”. I have owned 17 different RVs have had to full-time 4 times, I have road worked either for myself with a concession or for someone else most of my life. I will never fully retire, I make stuff and I sell stuff and will for as long as I can but now my Van Rosie is for shorter trips but is also my security blanket, the few times that I have not owned an rv were frightful because even if it is in the driveway you have a home if you need it.
I loved the movie and I hope more people watch it with an open mind, the tears I shed were for a wonderful performance by Frances McDormand not for the lifestyle.
I must say, I have zero interest in this flick.
I, too, look forward to viewing this film. Our dream has been to travel and boondock in the same areas as she does. We have read alot about workkamping, hosting and Amazon jobs. We also want to explore staying at Quartzsite and area. However, we don’t have a van but a small, minimalist fiberglass trailer. No bathroom onboard, just a portapottie. Thanks for the review and for your honesty about your past life vs. your present.
I’m glad I read your review. Chuck’s had a bit of an elitist twinge to it which surprised me. I could have bought an expensive, fancy RV. But I bought a white cargo van and built it out myself. I use a bucket for a toilet and have no black tank intentionally. I own a home. Two actually. And I plan to rv 6 months in nomad fashion. I’m fortunate to have means and choices. I’m not a survivor as I suspect Fern is. I look forward to seeing the film.
I finally watched the movie as I had been familiar with Bob Wells from his YouTube channel and was wanting more insight in him also. I will admit I found the film depressing a little not because of the people but the fact that in this day in age there is so many seniors who can’t afford to live any other way. This movie did show that they find ways of living and many times a better life spiritually in that they seeing the beauty of this country in ways I may never. I would ask that anyone who sees this movie try to keep an open mind. I wish the writers would have or could have went more into the back stories of some of the people a little more. I am sure there is more to this than what the movie showed.