Nomadland ★★★★

Loss, loneliness, and life on the road: a look at escapism.

Nomad land follows Fern on her “journey” in her van across America. (I put journey in quotes because a true journey requires a destination.) The film looks at futility through the lens of Fern, the protagonist, who, at her core, is an extremely stubborn individual who needs to be in control.

Her husband has died some time ago. She has yet to get past his absence. For too long she kept him alive by staying in the barely-there mining town that she had followed him to. She feels that she can keep him alive by living as though he were. When she discovers she can’t, she runs.

She has a van that she travels the country in. She considers herself to be a nomad and works odd jobs around the country from season to season. But she can not stay at any place for too long before she is confronted with her inability to keep disaster at bay, her inability to have absolute control. Her refusal to let go of her husbands death mirrors her inability accept her limitations—the fact that she is not in control of her own life. Any commitment requires sacrifice, it requires compromise, this is something she can not accept. Ironically, however, by hitting the road, whether it be through getting kicked out of parking lots, or seasonal jobs, she is confronted with her lack of control. But the confrontation is brief as she takes the hit and then hits the road.

Just as in Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road,” for Fern, the road is the only place where life’s troubles melt—it is the place where one becomes the person they wish to be, the outside world is nothing but blurs in a window and you are in control... for a moment. Like an addict she chases these brief moments of catharsis at the cost of everything else in life.  And she is left unfulfilled, she is left lonely. Each opportunity to turn from her wandering towards a life of meaning and substance is countered by her refusal to surrender to her brokenness—so she sinks deeper into it—purposefully blinding herself to reality.

This film scared me. It affected me in a deep way. It is the unromantic reality of romantic idealizations. It is the antithesis to “the secret life of Walter Mitty” it is a look at the futility of human effort, the only way forward is to accept your inability to do so.

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