If the Oscars were held tomorrow, conventional wisdom would say the best picture winner would be “Nomadland.” After hearing about this film for months, I finally got a chance to see it.
Is the idea of modern day nomads something the average Standard-Speaker reader is familiar with? Before “Nomadland,” I had no idea that there was an entire society of people based around living in vans and holding down temporary jobs across the American West. The concept of this lifestyle and the film itself are very foreign to me, but I found myself respecting the manner in which these nomads went about their lives. I hesitate in calling the film’s subjects “characters,” because all but two of them were played by actual nomads portraying themselves. That’s the kind of authenticity we love to see.
The fact that almost no real actors were used in the film made “Nomadland” come off as something of a pseudo-documentary. It’s an ambitious mode of telling the story, but it paid off from my perspective. I feel like I have a decent grasp of what nomads go through and how they perceive the world and the man-made structures of society.
The nomads in the film seemed to be very resourceful people who can work many different kinds of jobs, from maintenance to customer service and everything in between. This resourcefulness was on full display when the nomad communities came together to help each other out with whatever malfunction happened to be the flavor of the day. This isn’t a pampered existence. It is rather challenging living alone, but the community of fellow nomads makes things much more tolerable.
“Nomadland” seems to have much to say, but my personal read on the film is that leaving behind the constraints of societal structure is empowering. The nomads have quite a lot of freedom to roam in whatever manner suits them. They aren’t ruled entirely by money or ambition, but by a very human desire to contribute to the greater good. Taking on small jobs and helping out your neighbor are often considered to be admirable qualities, but the nomads may be the Americans who exhibit this goodness most honorably.
I’m not sure the film glorifies this lifestyle, but there was something very attractive to me about not needing to worry about the news cycle every day. Most nomads, it seemed, were the “forgotten people” of the United States. Rather than being angry at the system but still playing the game like armchair revolutionaries, they took their desperation on the road and crafted an admirable community. The American system creates many victims, but those with the means to live in a van and start life anew have my distinct respect. It beats complaining to bitter end.
Sam Zavada is a copy editor with The Standard-Speaker in Hazleton. He previously served as the news clerk at The Standard-Speaker, working with the obituaries and the community and lifestyle pages. Sam’s work in print dates back to his time at King’s College, where he spent two years as the editor in chief of the school’s newspaper, The Crown. Earlier in his time with The Crown, he worked as a staff writer and the entertainment manager. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.