A couple of weeks ago, Ashley and I watched the awards-favorite film, Nomadland, from the comfort of our home. I went into it bracing for a plotless, heavy-handed drama, but as the film progressed, I realized we were watching something special. Nomadland follows Fern, a woman who is traveling across the western United States with a few belongings, a van, and grief. We watch her over the course of a year and begin to understand she is a product of failed capitalism. The town where she once lived and worked no longer exists and in her travels, she has become a nomad. Job to job, town to town, life on the road. While this film is certainly not plotless, it is also not narrative-driven. I imagine if someone filmed the every day of my life, in all its mundane simplicity, an audience would argue it is too is plotless.
By the final shot, I was deeply moved. Although I’m not without a house, and I am not regulated to odd jobs, the life of the nomads resonated within me. As people of faith, are we not also nomads?* The earth is not our final home. No wonder it’s so hard to settle for it. The dream of a better day beyond this place is rooted within me. One of my favorite quotes from the film says,
“What’s remembered, lives.”
I couldn’t help but think of Jesus. Phillip Yancey says so beautifully, “When Jesus ascended into Heaven, He risked being forgotten.” Yes, Jesus lives regardless if we remember Him or not, but His life is made so present in my own because of the daily commitment to remember Him. He lives in my remembrance.
In a telling scene, Fern confronts her sister who does not understand her nomad life. After all, not everyone can sell everything, live on the road, and be content, right? I was bombarded with memories of my own explanations to those I love about my decision to follow Christ, surrender my plans and dreams for an unconventional life that Christ was calling me to. A life marked by risk and even pain. Explaining the call of God is no easy feat, but it doesn’t stop me from trying.
“Help me smile the pain away.”
In the same way that Fern was let down by the “American Dream,” so too do I become jaded at what this country chooses to indulge and value. It’s a constant reminder that I will be let down in this life. Whether it be institutions, or people, or money, none of these make good on their promise, and that must be okay. They were never designed to give me what I need anyway. However, this truth doesn’t make reality any easier.
As think back on the beautiful imagery, devastating yet resilient performance from Francis McDormand, and the haunting score, I am given hope. Yes, there are parts of my life that fail me every day, but there is still beauty in the pain. And like Fern, by the grace of God, I am to smile and trek on. The worst thing, for the life of the believer, will never be the final thing.
Nomadland is now streaming on Hulu and is nominated for 6 Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director (both of which I think it will win).
*I write this post with a full understanding that Fern is in quite a predicament. She didn’t choose the nomad life, so the parallel with my life only goes so far. The perils of our current capitalist system are devastating people like Fern every day, and it is films like this that remind us of such.