Several viewers—including nomads—have complained that Nomadland
is depressing. Perhaps they missed the themes of self-discovery, new beginnings, freedom, community, kindness and hope.
But, yeah, there are dark aspects to the movie. Death, for example. Fran’s husband has died. Her town and the life she knew has died. The American Dream has died. Retirement has died. Her tire, van and dishes died. The retired man with the boat died. Deni’s elders had died. Linda May had contemplated suicide. Bob’s son had ended his life. Swankie dies.
These deaths hit us harder because they’re not stylized deaths in some melodrama or action movie. These are matter-of-fact, yeah-life’s-like-that, it’ll-happen-to-us-all-eventually deaths. Mundane deaths. These deaths are uncomfortably close to life as we experience it. These deaths are painfully familiar—especially for those of us in the latter half of life. We’ve lived long enough to lose family and friends, and our own death is a constant shadow.
I had made peace with my mortality long before my showdown with it during the summer of 2019. I think the acceptance of death starts with acceptance of our selves and our mistakes. The opportunities we let pass by, the opportunities we botched, the good we could’ve/should’ve done, the harm we did do, the forgiveness we haven’t granted, the gratitude or love we haven’t expressed… The regrets.
Fern, Linda May, Swankie, Bob—and nearly every nomad I know—didn’t let regret, disappointment, rejection, hardship or the shadow of death paralyze them. They pushed onward. And that’s beautiful, not depressing.