Rebecca Pezzatto  /   05/03/2021

What Nomadland Got Right About Van Life

If you liked movies, you probably heard about Nomadland. It swept the major awards — Best Picture, Best Leading Actress, and Best Director — at last week’s Oscars. Chloé Zhao made history with her Best Director win, being the first female director of color to ever win the category. The movie is an adaptation of the non-fiction bestseller book of the same name written by Jessica Bruder. It portraits the lives of people who live in their vans.

The movie follows Fern, played by the actress Frances McDormand. She is a 61-year-old widow who lost her job during the Great Recession. She then decides to live on the road in her camper van and is introduced to a whole new lifestyle and community. We see Fern navigating and adjusting to her new normal. She meets other fellow nomads who are trying to make the best of their lives with what they’ve got.

But here’s the catch: there are only two actors in the movie.

The rest of the cast consists of real-life nomads, playing themselves and sharing their true experiences. Casting real people who actually have that lifestyle is probably one of the main reasons that make the movie extremely unique. There’s only so much they get to work with to turn the entire van life movement into a movie. Naturally, some details might have been skipped along the way. But it does a great job of giving an overall view about what it’s like to be a nomad living in a van.

You might think that the film has a melancholic tone, even sad at times. The truth is that there’s a lot of joy and true connections you get with nature and yourself when living in a van. Those are the moments that you see all over the van life-related hashtags on Instagram and TikTok: stunning views and pretty much only the best side of this lifestyle. But Nomadland isn’t a Hollywood movie based on glamour. It’s not just a pretty social media moment. It’s a real-life capture of people who chose or were forced to live this way. It shows the moments of solitude.

But van life isn’t about being lonely or feeling sorry for yourself, it’s about choosing to live on your own terms.

The beautiful moments that attract most people towards the van life lifestyle are also portrayed. The personal relationships being developed with time, self-growth, fun events made by the community. And also the gorgeous scenery they have as their backyard. You have to keep in mind that life doesn’t consist only of happy moments, but those are the ones that make all of the hardships worthwhile. Those are the real reasons that make most nomads love this lifestyle. That’s what makes Nomadland so realistic.

Of course, there are a lot of nomads who have very different lifestyles from what is depicted in the movie. You might want to be a digital nomad who can work anywhere in the world. So don’t go into this movie thinking it’s going to be a documentary of what life could be like for you. It’s a specific story about a fictional woman based on real-life people. Think about it as a balance from what social media romanticizes about van life, and from what it’s really like. It takes a lot of courage and planning to actually have this lifestyle. Are you ready to go on this adventure?

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