“Nomadland” shines in midst of abnormal year for movies


Graphic courtesy of Amanda Huang

Noah Grabianski, A&E Editor

With the recent year we’ve all had, we know the effect the current pandemic has had on the film industry. It’s been a lackluster year for movies, with most getting smaller releases, being released solely on streaming services, or not getting much advertising online. However, if there’s one movie that definitely hasn’t received the recognition from the public that it deserves, it’s “Nomadland.”

Based on the book of the same name by Jessica Bruder, “Nomadland” tells the fictional story of Fern, a woman who, after losing her house, husband, and pretty much everything else in her life, decides to try the life of a modern-day nomad, living out of her van and moving across the western United States in 2012. Along the way she meets a collection of individuals, mostly other fellow nomads, as she tries to find where she truly belongs in this world.

The film’s star, Frances McDormand, shines in her role as Fern. In fact, she was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role, and it was certainly well deserved. The majority of the rest of the characters are made up of nomads Fern meets along the way, and these roles are, interestingly, played by real-life nomads themselves, lending their names to their characters. These nomads portray their characters very well, despite not being professional actors. My personal favorite cast members were Linda May and Swankie, two fellow nomads that Fern meets. They’re arguably the most significant nomads Fern comes across as Linda introduces Fern to the nomadic lifestyles, and Swankie shows Fern the uglier side, as she struggles with an illness that will inevitably take her life. The combination of these real-life nomads as well as a very well written (and Golden Globe nominated) script by writer, director, and editor Chloe Zhao makes the dialogue feel incredibly natural. However, the character of Fern isn’t written in a way that truly shows McDormand’s full acting range, as Fern doesn’t let her internal conflict show to others. Along with that, the film can at some points start to drag on with a total run time of 110 minutes that isn’t entirely engaging.

Zhao was nominated for three Golden Globes total, and deservedly won for best Director and best Drama motion picture. The cinematography by Joshua James Richards was also astounding, as the movie transports you to incredible landscapes in the west, truly capturing the isolation Fern feels as well as the fleeting nature of her location and relationships. It’s rare that only a location can strike such emotion as the scenes that take place on the coast of the Pacific and in the Badlands. McDormand interacts with the land in a subtly beautiful way demonstrates her growing respect for it as well as the fear that comes with exploration. One thing about the film that I strangely enjoyed was the absence of more famous places in the west. Instead of Fern traveling to the Grand Canyon or other famous landmarks, she, for the most part, stays away from those places. 

“Nomadland” shows that the life of a nomad isn’t supposed to be a road trip or vacation, but a lifestyle, and it takes the time to show how we can turn the hardship in our lives into appreciation for what we have. And while the film leaves us on an unexpected note that leaves Fern’s next step in life uncertain, the message definitely still resonates. All in all, “Nomadland” is a worthwhile watch filled with lessons to learn about those who don’t live by the typical rules of society. It is available to watch in select theaters and on Hulu.