Jared White

March 9, 2021

Nomadland Won Best Picture at the Golden Globes and I Had No Idea

I was flipping through the channels, er, browsing through Hulu looking for something to watch, and I came across the title Nomadland. Now I'm a total sucker for anything #VanLife (also #BoatLife, #Vagabond, you get the idea), so I took a closer look. I couldn't tell at first if it was a movie in the typical sense of the word or a documentary, but either way, I gave it a go.


Besides the fact that Commander Ashford made an appearance, Nomandland didn't feature any actors I recognized, and actually some of the characters were played by real-life adherents to the nomadic lifestyle. That along with the "student art film" vibe (and I mean no disrespect, I love that style) and the gritty realism contributed to the movie feeling as much like a documentary as fiction.

It was only after watching Nomadland that I discovered it had won Best Picture Drama at this year's Golden Globes. That surprised me in a way, because of the nature of the film. It almost could have been something a very talented vlogger put up on Vimeo On Demand as a deep dive into their travel adventures.

But it absolutely deserved the accolades, because Nomadland is very, very good. It is an outstanding character study, a moving tribute to love and loss, and a respectful look at an alternative lifestyle that's part-tragedy, part-refuge.

The tragedy of it is some of the van & RV dwellers seem to be the generation that American Capitalism forgot. After decades of pouring their lives out into work and family, their country gave back to them jack squat. And so whether they left behind house and home willingly or out of sheer necessity (in the case of the protagonist), they hit the road, and found a new way of life and community which provides a different, broader perspective on what matters in life. In that sense, a journey which might have started from a place of brokenness ends up in a place of healing and wonder.

I was moved to tears at multiple points throughout the film, yet it never felt forced or manipulative. It was because this movie uniquely captures the very human tension between the deep-seated desire to belong and the need for radical independence and freedom. Becoming a nomad can seem to be giving way to the rash impulse to "leave it all behind" — and yet #VanLife is its own kind of belonging, too…its own lens through which you view relationship, growth, and meaning.

Nomadland comes at a time of my life when—while I'm only half the age of the majority of characters in the movie—I am in the throes of such a struggle. I look at both unattached millennials on YouTube and older empty-nesters exchanging a traditional life of familiar comfort for wide-open spaces and far-flung experiences, and I question my own life choices. But such an angst is healthy. We're never truly happy when we're happy. We're only happy when we escape from the abyss and live to fight another day.