NOMADLAND*CUT TO THE CHASE*
NOTE: This spoiler was submitted by Jeremy
2011 – The town of Empire, Nevada closes down its US Gypsum plant after 88 due to low demand in sheetrock. The area code for the town would be discontinued months later, rendering the place a ghost town. A recently widowed woman named Fern (Frances McDormand) sells off some of her belongings and keeps the rest in storage as she sets off in her van to find work.
Fern starts working a seasonal job at an Amazon warehouse. She leaves her van parked in an RV park. Fern befriends her coworkers at the warehouse, including Linda May. She spends time with Fern, who tells her about her current situation. At the store, Fern is seen by an old friend and her two daughters. One of the girls stays to talk to Fern and asks if she is homeless. Fern says that she isn’t, and she is just houseless.
Fern joins Linda in her RV and learns that when Linda had to resign to the van life, she contemplated suicide until she decided against it for her sake and her dogs. She had next to nothing in her savings after working nearly all her life. Linda then tells Fern about the Rubber Trap Rendezvous in Quartzite, Arizona, a gathering of other nomads/van-lifers run by Bob Wells. Fern watches a video from Bob but declines the invitation.
After finishing at Amazon, Fern has a hard time finding work. With the weather getting colder, she decides to drive to Arizona and comes across the RTR. She meets Bob and other nomads, who share their stories about what brought them to their current positions and how they manage to survive. Fern also befriends a man named Dave (David Strathairn) and later joins him in dancing when the group throws a party. She ends up finding a job at a shop nearby selling the mined quartzes.
Fern’s van blows a tire. She asks a fellow nomad, Swankie, for help, and although Swankie scolds Fern for not being prepared for something like this in any condition, she helps Fern acquire a spare. The two sit together, and Swankie tells Fern about her cancer diagnosis and how she isn’t expected to live much longer, but she plans to spend the remainder of her days making memories on the road instead of dying in a hospital. In turn, Fern tells Swankie about what it was like watching her husband as he was dying.
Fern takes some time to travel and spend time in nature. She returns to work at a camp as a tour guide with Linda and encounters Dave again. They spend time together with other coworkers/nomads. After Fern and Linda part ways, Fern is cleaning out her RV, but when Dave offers to help, he accidentally drops some of her plates that shatter. She snaps at him briefly but later apologizes for it after she visits him in the hospital when he gets sick.
Fern and Dave start working in the food section of Wall Drug. Dave’s adult son James (Tay Strathairn) stops by to visit him and tell him that his wife is going to have a baby soon. Dave is hesitant to visit James’s family and meet his grandchild, but at Fern’s suggestion, he decides to go. He invites her to join but she declines.
Fern starts working at a beet harvest and continues to be more alone. The van breaks down, and she finds herself unable to afford the repairs. Fern calls her sister Dolly (Melissa Smith) to ask for help with money, but they have an argument over it. Nevertheless, Dolly invites Fern to her house, where she meets Dolly’s husband and some friends. When one of the men makes a comment suggesting that the nomads chose their lifestyle, Fern gets defensive in response. She later talks to Dolly, who lets her borrow the money, about how Fern continued to stay in Empire after her husband died or why she barely visited her family, but Dolly commends Fern for her independence.
In her continued travels, Fern encounters a young man she met at the RTR earlier, and she sits to join him after giving him her sandwich. They chat for a while before she hits the road again. Fern makes it to David’s family’s home and meets them. After some talking, Dave admits he has some feelings for Fern and invites her to stay in the guest house since he is going to be staying with the family longer than expected, but Fern chooses to keep going off on her own, deciding to see the ocean.
Fern returns to Amazon and stays at the RTR again, where she learns that Swankie has passed away. The other nomads gather around a fire in her memory. Fern later talks to Bob about her husband’s death, and he mentions how his son committed suicide. He and the other nomads feel that death isn’t the end of a relationship, so instead of “goodbye”, they like to say, “See you down the road.”
Fern takes one last trip back to Empire to sell off the rest of her belongings before paying a visit to her old home and the factory, all of which is completely empty. With that, she resumes her travels.
A woman named Fern resigns to living in a van and traveling the country for work after her husband dies and the plant they worked at shuts down, rendering her town (Empire, Nevada) a ghost town.
Fern finds scattered work meets other nomads who lost their jobs or couldn't support themselves in homes otherwise. She learns how to survive in conditions on the road, as well as meeting other nomads, including a man named Dave who takes an interest in her. Fern also takes time to visit her sister's family (mostly because she needed money) and learns to let go of her husband's death.