Chloé Zhao’s Academy Award-winning Nomadland is inspiring a new wave of tourism to unlikely locations in South Dakota, including the Reptile Gardens animal park and the cowboy-themed Wall Drug Store, both featured in the film.
With all respect to those attractions, it’s less the sites themselves than the context that’s selling them: Nomadland paints a picture of the Badlands area that seems appealing, even beautiful, even though the film depicts it as anything but a paradise for tourists. We’re not visiting these spots just for souvenirs, we’re looking for something of what Frances McDormand’s character found there: something deeper, even elegiac. A great movie can make us take a second look at a place (and its people) we’ve never given much though to, and to find charm and beauty in unexpected places.
These are movies to inspire journeys through America, but without the expected tourist stops. None of the journeys are uncomplicated. They’re visits to landscapes as varied as the people who live in the United States, with narratives as complex as our relationships.