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Nomadland, a Great Retirement Film, Wins 3 Oscars

Category: Adventurous retirement

April 27, 2021 — Nomadland scored a hat trick at the the 2021 academy awards. It won Best Picture. Chloe zhao won for Best Director. And Frances McDormand won for Best Actress. The film is one of the best portrayals of one niche of retirement life we have seen (see reviews of other retirement films at end). It is based on the book of the same name by Jessica Bruder, a journalist who traveled all over the country to document the van-life experience.

Fern, played by McDormand, is a van-dwelling woman who leaves her hometown after her husband dies and the sole industry closes down. Houseless, she travels around the United States, living in her old van that she has lovingly customized. Lonely and depressed, she finds temporary work at a giant Amazon fulfillment center. There she makes friends and ends up getting talked into visiting Quartzite, a convention for those living the RV and van lifestyle. There she meets Bob Wells, the organizer of Quartzite. Wells, vanlife guru and creator of plays a fictionalized version of himself. He has a YouTube channel that is extremely successful.

Fern meets two other people in her travels, Linda May and Swankie, played by themselves and quite delightful. A potential love interest is played by David Strathaim. Like many others who live in their vehicles, Fern makes ends meet and travels the country with different gigs including food prep at a resort and as a camper host at a campground. The community that she meets in her travels enjoy a warm communal spirit that makes the lifestyle seem attractive. But the negative sides of this display of this lifestyle are also evident. Those include the practical and nasty logistics of toileting, as well as the heartbreak of what happens when an high mileage van that has been lovingly customized breaks down.

“By its end, it feels as though you know how … these lives are lived. But within that, “Nomadland” is a sensitive and intelligent meditation on solitude, mortality (and thus, on grief and loss) and making the best of what’s left.”

Watching, the New York TImes newsletter

Even for those not interested in a nomadic retirement, the film is valuable for its portrayal of so many real aspects of retirement. Those include grief, loss, the joy of friends, late in life love,, temporary work, and strained finances. We recommend it highly. You can see it on Hulu and purchase it on other streaming channels, and maybe even a theater near you.

More Retirement Films You Might Enjoy

Let us know your favorite movies about retirement in the Comments section below. Plus, your reactions to Nomadland.

Posted by Admin on April 26th, 2021


  1. I watched Nomadland last night and it brought back some memories of an earlier time in my life. I lived this lifestyle not in retirement but in my youth. My friend and I dropped out of college after our freshman year and bought a VW microbus and fixed it up as a crude camper. We traveled the eastern U.S. for a while working at whatever we could find. It was an adventure but ended with a crisis back home that drew our travels to and end. I would not want to live that life in retirement. I felt sorrow for the individuals depicted in the film although some preferred that life, others had it forced on them. It appears that our social safety net has broken down for these folks although it is better than those living on the streets.

    by LS — April 27, 2021

  2. There are rich nomads and poor nomads, just as there are rich townspeople and poor townspeople.
    The main difference between the lives of millions of aging non-nomadic Americans (and billions more around the world) and the lives of the people portrayed in Nomadland is that the nomads are mobile and can change their surroundings and neighbors with the turn of a key. Nomads, in many ways thanks to their own efforts and the efforts of people like Bob Wells, have built a community of like-minded, understanding folks who support each other while knowing full well that ultimately everyone travels their lives essentially alone. There are plenty of the aging who don’t have the mobility of nomads but who nevertheless live very similar experiences in other all respects.

    by Carson — April 28, 2021

  3. I also just watched this movie and it is interesting and thought provoking. Such a different way of life and i feel a person would have to be very strong physically but more so emotionally to take on this lifestyle. Whether it was what they chose or the hand dealt to them. Was it Bette Davis who said “getting old is not for sissies” ?
    Maybe not really a retirement story but more of a bucket list story, I read Grandma Gatewood’s Walk the true story of a grandmother who one day left Ohio to walk the Appalachian Trail by herself. It is inspirational and did what she set out to do. I haven’t watched it yet, but it has been made into a movie/documentary, and I think that would be a good one.

    by Alex — April 30, 2021

  4. I planned, upon retirement, to live the nomadic life for a few years. Turned out I was only on the road for 5 months. As a senior female traveling alone with 4 dogs, it was a difficult life and ultimately not right for me. But it was a bucket list item and I had many wonderful experiences and saw great beauty during those months. (I planned to be in Quartzsite for a couple of months, but after only a few weeks in the desert, I fled to the Gulf of Mexico and Padre Island. I need water!) I look forward to seeing the movie.

    by Judy — May 1, 2021

  5. Alex, I agree Grandma Gatewood was an inspiring book about her numerous trips on the trail. She hiked before there was any special…read expensive…equipment choices. She slept under her raincoat. The book is well worth the read for inspiration about what can be done in retirement.

    by Lynn — May 2, 2021

  6. Judy thanks for sharing your experience, so interesting to hear from someone who actually tried the nomadic life, That is a huge bucket list item, and glad it provided some wonderful times.

    by Jemmie — May 2, 2021

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