The Oscar-nominated and award-winning film sees Frances McDormand on the road, with all its complicated, painful, and gratifying moments.
Nomadland, based on a non-fiction book by the same name, follows a woman named Fern (Frances McDormand). After losing her husband and house during the Great Recession, she buys an old van and adopts the life of a modern-day nomad. The reasons this woman has to do this, and the state in which she lives is not glamorous and feel heart-breaking at times. She spends New Year’s Eve alone before joining her friend Linda in a community of third-age nomads that gather to share their struggles, joys, and life stories.
Even though the idea of older people living alone initially sounds a bit sad, director Chloé Zhao did a fantastic job in portraying these people with kindness, devotion, and content with their lives despite the hardships they might have suffered. I didn't feel pity for Fern because I saw how traveling the country made her smile (though it didn’t come without its challenges) and how she excelled at meeting new people and relating to them. The cinematography is beautiful and helps to make this story very real, almost biographical. The conversations Fern has with the other nomads are as plain as they can be, but they fit in the context of their lifestyle: how to change a tire, what bucket to use when going to the bathroom, how to protect yourself, among many things. In the meantime, these people are laughing and enjoying each other’s company until they all go their separate ways to the next location.
While watching the movie, I couldn’t help but be surprised by the performance of so many actors that I had never seen before. Swankie, a woman Fern befriends, has a typical describtive monologue recounting the beautiful sceneries she has seen throughout her life: the lakes, the moose, the birds, the sky. But, as familiar as this scene is, in this case, you could see in Swankie’s eyes that she had actually seen it all. I believed her beyond a doubt, and that’s when I discovered that Swankie, along with many of the other actors, is an actual nomad in her daily life.
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I cannot applaud whoever made this choice enough because it enhanced and reaffirmed the tone of the film and, by having people understand what it means to be a nomad help create a deeper attachment to the audience. This is clearly not a documentary, but it is definitely a dramatic story that gets closer to the idea that a film is a representation of reality. The movie might not be an escapist experience, but it depicts a legitimate phenomenon through the eyes of an unwavering, good-natured woman.
As the story continues, nothing extraordinary happens. Fern keeps on engaging with other like-minded people; we get to see a little of her past and understand where her individualism comes from. Every side-story like Lucy’s or Swankie’s is genuine and told with the utmost respect. Nomadland doesn’t show us the life of the Instagram traveler with the big fancy RV. This is the story of, as Fern puts it, the “houseless” adventurers that have to hustle while traveling and fulfilling their dreams. It’s not a romantic depiction, but it is a sincere, free-of-judgment, sometimes painful tale that finds success in the simplicity and truthfulness of human experience.
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