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Nomadland Review: Home Isn’t Just a Word; It’s Something You Carry With You

By LEONEL REYES -

Nomadland is a film that tells quite an interpersonal story about our main character Fern and her modern nomadic friends. The film was directed by Chloé Zhao who has developed a reputation for being an exceptional independent filmmaker with past movies like ‘The Rider’ (2017) and ‘Songs My Brothers Thought Me’ (2015).


Oscar winner Frances McDormand stars in Nomadland.

Photo courtesy IMDB


More recently she made history by becoming the first Asian woman to win the Best Director award at the Golden Globes and with awards season around the corner she could very well make history again at the Academy Awards. The success of Nomadland couldn’t be possible though without Frances McDormand’s performance as leading character Fern.


For the most part, this film is a character analysis one as we follow Fern in her nomadic journey after she losses everything in the Great Recession. However, one thing that becomes clear early in the film is that everyone has an interesting story to tell. Transient characters like Linda, Swankie, and Dave throughout the film tell their stories and each of them has valuable lessons behind them.


One of the most interesting choices in the film is that some of the characters actually play a version of themselves. As such if you look up the film’s cast you will notice that the only acclaimed actors in the film are Frances McDormand as Fern and David Stranthairn as Dave.


For the most part, the rest of the actors in the film have no acting history and instead they play themselves. This was a very risky decision from director Chloé Zhao but it was a decision that paid off well. The real-life characters like Linda May, Bob Wells, and Swankie more than pull their own weight in their acting performances. Besides this though Chloé Zhao’s decision to have real-life nomads in the film brings a level of authenticity that couldn’t be achievable otherwise.


The film just feels more meaningful when you sit down with these characters and you listen to their stories knowing that they are real. In this sense, the film walks a fine line between fiction and non-fiction. This in part is due to the film being based on Jessica Bruder’s 2017 nonfiction book called ‘Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century’. The book like the film follows older Americans who adopt the nomadic lifestyle after they lose everything in the Great Recession. A huge part of this fiction and nonfiction feeling that the film has though can be attributed to the cinematography.


The film’s cinematographer is Joshua James Richards who has collaborated with Chloé Zhao in ‘The Rider’ and ‘Songs My Brothers Taught Me’. If there was a word to describe the cinematography in ‘Nomadland’ it would be “truthful”.


Throughout the film, you see the wonders of being a nomad. Such as the delightful connection these people have with nature and the free-spirited auras that allow them to go anywhere. However, you also see the struggles of being a nomad like the loneliness and the day-to-day struggles. In one particular instance, you see Fern attending this sort of nomad camping festival where she is surrounded by loving friends and in the next scene, once the festival ends, she is alone in the desert struggling with her van.


Often the film feels like a documentary since in many scenes Fern sits down with other characters as they tell their stories. When these scenes occur, the characters are looking almost directly at the camera as if they were being interviewed for a documentary and in a sense, it is a documentary.


The stories told by these characters are somber and full of real tears, regrets, and hope. In many of these stories, you see that the characters are downhearted, but they always seem at peace in some sort of way with their dull pasts. The characters here learn to move on from their past and to embrace life through their nomadic lifestyle. There is a unique beauty in that and it’s a theme that anyone can relate to.


That’s a character arc that we see main character Fern fallow. In the film Fern is a completely fictional character but that doesn’t take away from the truthfulness behind the film. When we first see Fern, she is lost in yesterday and remanences over her past living with her husband in their lovely hometown. Frances McDormand does an amazing job in portraying Fern’s pain in having lost her husband, hometown, and house due to the financial crisis.


This perfectly reflects today’s society where more than likely we all know someone who was affected negatively by Covid-19 or perhaps we are that someone who was affected. Millions of people have lost something due to Covid-19 and that is something to which we can all relate to with this film. In the end, though the film does give you some sort of comfort. Towards the end of the story, we see Fern able to let go of her sorrows and move on. That’s a key lesson from this film along with the many other lessons from the stories of the side characters. Eventually, just like Fern, you’ll be able to let go of whichever sorrows you may have.


Lastly, this film really is a must-watch for anyone who likes personal heartfelt stories. The nomad perspective through which the film is told brings a special kind of flavor that makes the film feel fresh. Not to mention that the real-life people acting in this film bring a level of authenticity that makes you connect more to the story being told at large.


Add in the relatable themes with meaningful lessons and ‘Nomadland’ becomes something special. ‘Nomadland’ is 4.5/5 stars and all the award buzz it has been getting is well earned.

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