‘Nomadland’ captures the gritty life outside society’s boundaries


As announced this Monday, “Nomadland” by director Chloe Zhao has been nominated six times for the upcoming 2021 Oscars. The drama/indie film has received tons of praise, boasting a 94% rating on both Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic and a 4.1 out of 5 stars on Letterboxd. It’s been described as “thought-provoking,” “touching,” and “authentic.” Additionally, the performance of Frances McDormand, the lead, has been praised as the most powerful of her career by Common Sense Media and the Wall Street Journal who referred to it as “a modest masterpiece like no other.”  One of the most drawing aspects of the film seems to be its visuals, filmed in Arizona, it depicts the beauty of the American southwest. 

‘Nomadland’ follows a woman in her 60’s, Fern, who has lost everything after the Great Recession. The small rural Nevada town she once called home has completely fallen apart and become a ghost town. It was a company town so when their company collapsed, everyone had to leave. Around the same time, she lost her husband. She decides to pack her van and leave because she cannot afford anything else and wants to experience the beauty of the west. She quickly meets other modern-day nomads who have chosen this life over one of endless work and inadequate retirement plans. They’ve chosen an unconventional lifestyle overworking until their deaths. All of the characters in the film are actual people playing themselves, except for the main character, who is played by McDormand. 

Fern is someone who couldn’t live a conventional life, not only can she not afford it, she also doesn’t want it. She would prefer to travel and she considers what’s ‘out there’ her home and the people she meets on the road as her family. Even though she is older, she is extremely relatable to anyone who has felt the same way, regardless of the reasons behind the feeling. All of the characters have this same quality, they all feel like people you’ve known, their stories are familiar. They talk about the things that they’ve lost to the ways they’ve been overworked and their desires to truly live life and witness beautiful things before their time is over. For some, this time is very soon and for others they travel for those that never got to. The characters gather and take care of each other and feed each other with the reasoning that corporate America won’t help them so they have to help themselves.

The film contains endless beautiful shots, not just of the vast landscapes of the American West, but also ones that communicate the feelings of the characters shown in them. Many shots depict the loneliness that Fern feels as the seasons shift and everyone moves around. There are contrasted moments of community and isolation. She is comfortable with the movement of her lifestyle but struggles deeply with her loss. There are also moments where this loss that Fern feels is depicted without ever being mentioned directly. The lighting and use of foreground and background are amazing and say more than could ever be shown verbally. During the scene where she sets out on the road, she goes to the storage unit where her displaced things are kept after losing her home. She rifles through her stuff and finds her husband’s old work pants. She clutches them and cries silently and the audience immediately understands so much about her and what has happened even though it’s the first scene and the film has been silent thus far. 

Overall, ‘Nomadland’ is a deeply authentic and extremely relevant film. It is beautifully and meaningfully shot, without overly relying on the stretching landscapes. It depicts working-class experiences and what it’s like to not have any conventional options. It depicts what it’s like to work and work and still never have enough. It shows people who have decided to take care of one another despite this. The issues and sentiments depicted in it are felt today by many young people who don’t see ways to make regular lives for themselves as they are met with debt, minimum wages that never increase, and skyrocketing prices. It’s no longer realistic for many of us to do what our parents did at our ages. Van life becomes an increasingly common desire. It’s safe to say that this is one of the most poignant, relevant, and overall great films that’s been put out recently.


To read Staff Writer Madeline Hollander’s take on “Nomadland” click here:

‘Nomadland’–Director Zhao Empasizes The Small Details