Tag Archives: Dionysios Skliris

Nomadland: The Heavenly Homecoming of the Nomads

by Dionysios Skliris | български | ქართული | Română | Русский | Српски

The original Greek version of this article was published in the site “Polymeros kai Polytropos” of the Volos Academy for Theological Studies.

Shot from Nomadland

The film Nomadland (2020) offers a spiritual glimpse into America, especially into the Western states, with the help of Chloé Zhao, a young director from China. This is a road movie in the most spiritual sense of the term, where making a road trip is a way to deal with bereavement as well as with feeling useless in a difficult age just before retirement. The film takes place in 2011, during the first years of the economic crisis that had started in 2008. The protagonist of the movie is Fern, a 60-year-old woman who had just lost her husband, but also her work, after the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada shut down. Each loss is also a painful liberation, and Fern decides to sell her belongings in order to buy a van and cross the country in search of seasonal jobs. The film is based on a documentary by Jessica Bruder on the subcultures of van-dwellers who move from state to state in search of work in the context of the precarity that is inherent in late capitalism. However, the director Chloé Zhao has added her personal existential touch. The film has been very influential in this difficult year of lockdown. This is also reflected in the many awards it has received, including an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Golden Lion for Best Picture, as well as an Oscar for best director and an Oscar for best actress in a leading role (Frances McDormand).

The van-dwelling culture

Fern is in a difficult age: too old to start her life anew with the vigour of youth, too young to retire. She belongs to a new generation of out-of-works among the middle-aged and those who are at the threshold of the third age. For the latter, it is very difficult to acquire the new skills needed to respond to the dynamic form of contemporary work relations, and thus they succumb to the low self-esteem of unbearable uselessness. Fern, however, combines an openness to life, including its failures and frustrations, with an unexpected dynamism. After a seasonal job at Amazon, she is invited to the Arizona desert, where Bob Wells leads a community that offers help to these new nomads, teaching them basic survival rules in this postmodern version of the Wild West. In many aspects, this is a community of moribunds, for example, people with late-stage cancer. The latter are, however, readier than Fern both for death and for temporary survival in the wild life of these new anchorites. Some of the nomads give naturalistic meanings to death, according to a death coaching that is but the natural consummation of life coaching, as a training for achieving a “successful” death that would be the coronation of a successful life. Nevertheless, other people, such as Bob Wells, invest in love toward unknown fellow men and women, telling them what they didn’t have the chance to tell people that they have lost. In the unknown people of the nomadic communities, they find “images” of the departed; they regard life as a way, where one can find again the loved ones either in other persons or even, as the film alludes, in the continuation of the life-trip in an after-life beyond death.

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