Film and Plot Synopsis
Following the economic collapse of a company town in rural Nevada, Fern (Frances McDormand) packs her van and sets off on the road exploring a life outside of conventional society as a modern-day nomad. The third feature film from director Chloé Zhao, NOMADLAND features real nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells as Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West. Courtesy of Searchlight Pictures.
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‘Nomadland’ Movie Summary
When the weather turns to cold for Fern to live in the van, she and a co-worker Linda (Linda May) head to a desert rendezvous in Arizona organized by Bob Wells (Bob Wells). The rendezvous instructs the nomads how to rely on a support system and their community. Fern keeps to herself and does not integrate completely into the nomad community. However, when the weather turns cold and she struggles to find a job, Fern changes her mind. She becomes part of the group and learns basic survival and self-sufficiency skills for the road.
Soon after, the community migrates on, but Fern and another nomad named Swankie (Swankie) stay in Quartzite, Arizona. Fern’s van blows a tire, and she is forced to ask Swankie for help. Swankie chastises Fern for not being prepared and teaches her some additional road survival skills. The two nomads become friends. Swankie confesses to Fern that she has been diagnosed with cancer and has only been given a few months to live. Swankie tells Fern that she plans on making good memories on the road rather than treating herself in a hospital. Soon after, Swankie and Fern part ways.
One of the things I love most about this life is that there’s no final goodbye. You know, I’ve met hundreds of people out here and I don’t ever say a final goodbye. I always just say, ‘I’ll see you down the road.’ Bob Wells
Fern moves on to the Badlands National Park where she takes a job as a camp host at the Cedar Pass Campground. There, she encounters another nomad named David (David Strathairn) that she met and danced with back in the Arizona community. David is also working at the Badlands National Park, but he soon falls ill. Fern visits him at the hospital where he has emergency surgery. Both David and Fern later take restaurant jobs at Wall Drug in South Dakota. One night, David is visited by his adult son who invites David to come and stay with him for awhile so that he can meet his grandchild. David is hesitant, but Fern encourages him to go. David invites Fern to come with him, but she declines.
A short time later, Fern takes a job at a sugar beet processing plant. While there, her van breaks down and Fern cannot afford the repairs. Fern looks to her friends and family for money. She visits her sister’s family in California. Fern’s sister lends her the money, but questions why Fern was never around in their lives and why Fern stayed in Empire after her husband passed away. Fern explains to her sister that she could never live that life that she does. Fern’s sister tells Fern she is brave to be so independent.
Next, Fern travels to visit David at his son’s home. She meets David’s family and grandchild, who welcome her. David explains that he has decided to live with his son long-term and plans to give up his nomad life. David confesses his feelings for Fern and invites her to stay with him permanently in his son’s guest house. However, Fern is uncomfortable sleeping in a real bed and decides to leave again after only a few days. She heads to the ocean to see it.
Fern next returns to her seasonal Amazon job before heading back to Quartzite, Arizona again for the nomad rendezvous. Once there, she learns that Swankie has died, and Fern and all the other nomads celebrate her life. Fern opens up to Bob about her loving relationship with her late husband. Bob chooses to share the story of his adult son’s recent suicide. Bob explains to Fern that he does not believe that goodbyes are final in the nomad community. He espouses that nomad members always promise to see each other again “down the road”, and they all do eventually even in the afterlife.
Fern finally returns to the virtually abandoned town of Empire to dispose of the last of her belongings that she has been keeping in a storage unit. She visits the empty factory that she worked at, as well as the home that she shared with her husband. The film ends with Fern hitting the road again.
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