I was initially introduced to this film after hearing that it’s director, Chloé Zhao, was the very first female of color and the first Chinese woman to win an Oscar for “Best Director” – she is amongst one of two women to have won the award in this category in Oscar history. The win is certainly an inspiration for future aspiring Asian filmmakers who’ve felt deterred in the past or unencouraged.
Released in 2020, “Nomadland” tells the story of Fern, played by Frances McDormand, a van-dweller who embarks on a journey after the death of her husband and the shut down of their old small town named Empire, Nevada. Based on the 2017 book by Jessica Bruder that goes by the same name, the film implements real life events and scenarios in a cinematical manner – one that produces vast amounts of honest empathy and intrigue.
“Nomadland” tells the story of grief and loss, emotions that actress Frances McDormand nails on the head. Throughout the entire premise of the movie there is a longing attached to her character, a still calmness painted on her face and a pain that is so subtle in her eyes yet tells the story of a woman who is searching for herself, and maybe even something more. McDormand really embodies the role magnificently and keeps it simple while the character feels many emotions during the movie – turmoil, pain, sadness, joy – providing an unparalleled performance.
The true poetry in this movie lies within itself, the acting, directing, and writing all feel real and raw in the way that they are not linear, much like the essence of life.
The film focuses on Fern’s traveling in the van in which she lives and the people she meets on her voyage through some states in Midwestern America. Many underlying themes are presented in this movie, and it is up to the viewer to decide which message relates to them the most, or which one hits their heart the hardest. A takeaway from the movie is that detachment can help one heal, or help them release the hurt that resides within them. Letting go of the pain of expectations and dropping all the materialism and tethers from life can help one find what it is they need to truly find peace in this world.
What works best for this movie and what I believe needs commendation is its ability to dispense so many messages that cater to different types of people, depending on what they need to hear. The movie gets its points across in an innate and poise manner, never forcing scenes that aren’t needed or preaching one direct motif. The movie moves along seamlessly in the way that it doesn’t seem directed. It flows like ocean waters and sometimes stops before the viewer can get attached to a certain scene, like waves crashing on shore. Much like when McDormand’s character, Fern, would cry in private and enclosed within the walls of her van, never letting her tears be seen by those around her or even out in one of the various scenic stops where she parks her van.
The cinematography and coloring of this movie also need to be applauded, the sun and clouds make quite an appearance that keeps your interest at bay while you stare at your screen in awe. Who knew the midwest could look so stunning? This is mainly due to the colors in the sky and at what point they were filmed – during sunset or maybe even right before when pink, blue, orange, and red all mix in harmony before nightfall. The movie switches between a cold blue tint to a warm red tint towards the end of the movie before finally returning to the blue tint when she repays a visit to Empire, Nevada and walks through the old deserted town.
The other characters moving on and about with their lives captures life as a whole as well. The movie does not glamorize van living nor does it romanticize losing everything and finding yourself. It is a true embodiment of loneliness and not being perfect by any means, there is no definite place where one needs to be at any given moment in their life.
Fern answers “Not homeless, just houseless.” to a question she’s asked at the beginning of the movie, a quote that many can relate to. A house is where you live and keep your belongings, but a home is where you find love, family, friends, security and acceptance. It’s where you find your heart, home is where the heart is.
I give the movie a 3 rating out of 5 because the ideas were emphasized well and portrayed in an artistic way. The concept, expressions, and acting were all magnificent as well. However, it is not a movie that stuck with me or made me learn anything I didn’t already know. It is definitely an acquired taste, and not everyone would enjoy this type of film with a rating of R – because of one nude scene for a few seconds. The film is more of a pastime movie that one watches alone to relax after a long day.