Nomadland is a 2020 American drama film directed, written, and edited by Chloé Zhao. It stars Frances McDormand as a woman who leaves home to travel around the American West. It also features David Strathairn in a supporting role, as well as real-life nomads Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells, as fictionalized versions of themselves. The film is based on the 2017 non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder.
n 2011, Fern loses her job after the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada shuts down; she worked there for years along with her husband, who has recently died. Fern decides to sell most of her belongings and purchase a van to live in and travel the country searching for work. She takes a seasonal job at an Amazon fulfillment center through the winter.
Linda, a friend and co-worker, invites Fern to visit a desert rendezvous in Arizona organized by Bob Wells, which provides a support system and community for fellow nomads. Fern initially declines but changes her mind as the weather turns cold, and she struggles to find work in the area. At the rendezvous, Fern meets fellow nomads and learns basic survival and self-sufficiency skills for the road.
When Fern’s van blows a tire, she visits the van of a nearby nomad named Swankie to ask for a ride into town to buy a spare. Swankie chastises Fern for not being prepared and invites her to learn more road survival skills; they become good friends. Swankie tells Fern about her cancer diagnosis and shortened life expectancy and her plan to make good memories on the road rather than waste away in a hospital. They eventually part ways.
Fern later takes a job as a camp host at the Cedar Pass Campground in Badlands National Park, where she runs into David, another nomad she met and danced with back at the desert community. David is working temporarily at Badlands National Park, but when he falls ill, Fern visits him at the hospital where he has had emergency surgery. The two of them later take restaurant jobs at Wall Drug in South Dakota. One night David’s adult son visits the restaurant looking for him, informing David that his wife is pregnant and asking him to meet his grandchild. David is hesitant, but Fern encourages him to go. David suggests that she come with him, but she declines.