Nomadland Review: A heartfelt and warming trip through nomadic living
Writer/director Chloe Zhao takes viewers on a deeply personal trip of self-discovery through the modern American West with her latest, now Golden Globe winning, film Nomadland.
The film that takes viewers into a part of the Midwest still reeling from the Great Recession of 2008. The recession left such an impact on major businesses that were keeping small towns alive and giving people a stable living, that when they shut down it essentially took the town with them and erased zip codes. It’s a visual and reality that makes your heart sink and this feeling is perfectly captured by Zhao and cinematographer Joshua James Richards. At one point, someone in the film describes it as a place that you could literally die if you make mistakes and no could be around to help you. Zhao really showcases the open, barren parts of the West that can feel really empty and the film has this dustier, slightly paler look to it that makes the environment and stakes a little more daunting. Nomadland isn’t this dark, depressing trek though as the film is really driven by the kindred spirits of nomads.
When initially thinking about nomads, those that travel place to place with no permanent residency and live minimally, it’s easy to simply view them as individualistic and wishing to be detached from society or their past lives. However, Zhao shows that that’s not really the case at all and rather it’s a genuinely supportive community of those looking for a more personal and open experience of life. Throughout the film, Zhao takes us through the genuinely warming outreach each nomad has for each other and the small acts of kindness they do for one another that can go a long way. While they might be by themselves at times, the film always reminds us that nomads are never alone on the road. The personal connections made throughout the film are truly rejuvenating because they feel real. It honestly makes traveling on the open road as nomad not so lonely and offers a refreshing, heartfelt warmth.
A lot of this community building and personable views of nomads definitely stems from the presence of Bob Wells. Wells is an American vandweller and YouTuber who’s acted as a major inspiration and community builder for the nomads and others looking to live a more minimalistic lifestyle. He adds a great personable touch to the film, especially in the last moments, that create this compelling energy that makes being a nomad more than just a lifestyle. It’s a personal trek that allows you to be more open to people and connect with their stories as you gain a better clarity on your own. His presence, along with the film being based on the experience of journalist Jessica Bruder recorded in her 2017 book of the same name, give the film an authentic backbone that Zhao utilizes to tell the story of Fern (Frances McDormand) – the film’s central nomad.
Fern acts as this perfect character for viewers to attach themselves to as she begins to learn the ropes and hit the road on her own. The friendships and personal connections she makes genuinely impact you because it feels like you’re making them too and McDormand is absolutely flawless here. Frankly, I don’t know if anyone could be as perfect for playing Fern as her since McDormand brings such a raw realness to the experience. Furthermore, she brings out the deep-seeded pain within Fern that stems from her husband’s passing and being unsure about the road ahead of her. Her journey to becoming more open about her pain is incredibly cathartic and meaningful because it’s built through the relationships she makes. Her talks with Swankie (Swankie) about how she wants to live her last days, Bob’s openness about his own personal struggles and how they’ve driven him to help others, and her last actions in the film to move forward really leave deep emotional impact and act as a perfect endcap for her personal journey in the film.
Nomadland is a heartfelt trip through nomadic living and displays excellent direction and acting that makes all of the awards love this film is getting more than deserving. It ensures that Zhao has an incredibly bright future behind the camera and raises the hype levels even higher for her trip into the MCU with The Eternals.