The government owes older Americans without a college diploma an apology.
These middle Americans worked hard, kept their head down, saluted the flag, and even went to Asia to kill Vietnamese and Iraqis just because Uncle Sam told them to.
All they asked for in return was decent jobs like their parents had. The most basic responsibility of the federal government is to build a society with great jobs for all. In the late 20th Century, however, Washington did the exact opposite – working tirelessly to annihilate domestic industry.
The government also perpetuated the American myth that home ownership was the key to happiness and Middle Class respectability. Meanwhile, Uncle Sam teamed up with Wall Street to create an economic environment that made housing prices rise unnaturally. They turned houses into debt prisons. Banks flourished while personal savings dried up and perpetual financial insecurity became the norm.
After the 2008 Financial Crisis, tens of thousands were forced to abandon their unaffordable houses, leave their home towns where the factories had been boarded up, and find a completely different way to live. One day there is going to be great film about these American nomads. “Nomandland” isn’t it.
“Nomadland” takes place in 2012 and it introduces us to Fern (Frances McDormand). Fern had a good life in tiny Empire, Nevada. When Empire’s one factory closed, the town itself disappeared. It doesn’t even have a zip code anymore.
So Fern packed up what she could and made a new life in her van. She travels the American west looking for work wherever she can get it. “Are you homeless?” a little girl asks her. “No, I’m houseless. Not homeless. There’s a difference,” Fern explains. That is as wise as this overrated movie gets.
Fern finds herself living temporarily in makeshift RV communities and having unrealistically philosophical conversations with actual nomads. Most of the people in the film are not actors.
Writer/director Chloé Zhou doesn’t do the nomads justice. Ms. Zhou made her film for Hulu, which is owned by the Disney Corporation. And “Nomadland” feels like the Disney version of the Great Recession.
Zhou presents these makeshift RV parks as loving communities, where people come to help each other. There’s no conflict and very little depression.
To be fair, I’ve never been to an Arizona nomad community. But I am confident that there is more drug use and drinking than Ms. Zhou shows. There is a scene where everyone is sitting around a roaring campfire singing joyfully together. And not one person is visibly drinking. What happened? Did Fern suddenly drive her van to Tehran?
Frances McDormand is fantastic as always. And her character is somewhat interesting. We learn that Fern has been a restless wanderer since she was a teenager. She is uncomfortable in enclosed places and she has trouble maintaining permanent relationships. The van lifestyle is perfect for her personality type.
Hey, that’s great for her. And I’m sure there are people out there who prefer to live in a van rather than a house. However, it makes the film less meaningful and it seems to excuse Washington for its crimes against the working class.
It’s like making a movie about Global Warming and having a lead character who has a lifelong fear of being cold. There’s nothing untruthful about that; it’s just a very strange artistic decision that would rob the film of drama and purpose.
I guess I was expecting something different from “Nomadland.” Our government left a generation of working-class Americans underemployed and permanently indebted. And Chloé Zhou made a quiet little remake of “Easy Rider” with a happier ending.