Arun Gupta and Michelle Fawcett in In These Times:
In the real world, many nomads desperately want a house. One admits “there is not so much difference between” the van dweller and the homeless person. By making Fern’s story one of personal responsibility and freedom, the movie erases the causes of the nomads’ economic pain. Individual suffering becomes individual triumph; the crisis of capitalism is also the solution.
If nomads are refugees from the subprime mortgage crash, the perilous landscape they travel was shaped by the tectonic social upheavals that began in the Reagan era. Fern’s exile from Empire, owned by a gypsum-mining company, is a nod to the deindustrialization that accelerated under Reagan. The landscape of permanent homelessness that nomads exist in was born of Reagan gutting funds for social welfare and cities. Nomads trade leads on jobs flipping burgers at tourist spots and cleaning toilets in national parks like they trade can openers for potholders at desert meetups. Gig work is another Reagan-era legacy; his assault on organized labor made it easier for corporations to expand contingent labor.
In the film, Amazon becomes as natural as the land. Wide-angle shots of the Amazon warehouse make it appear to rise up like the mountains in the Nevada desert. It is a neutral feature on the terrain that one can only navigate, not change.