Present-day nomads are uncommon people in modern society. “Nomadland” covers a lot and nothing at all. The film follows the life of widowed nomad Fern (Frances McDormand) and shows what it means to see it all yet never settle in. ”Nomadland” is a heartfelt experience following Fern's constantly changing journey.
“Home. Is it just a word, or is it something you carry with you?" a worker at the beginning of the film questioned.
Fern is a woman in her sixties who recently lost her husband and job in Nevada following the closing of a plant. Fern leaves Empire, Nevada, and begins living in a van. She travels up and down America picking up seasonal jobs to get by.
Fern encounters flat tires and friendly souls who accompany her journey. A van-dweller meet set up by Bob Wells captures what it means to be a nomad. At certain times, you think she might finally be willing to settle into a spot, but it never lasts long.
Van trouble forces Fern to turn to her sister for a place to stay. The wounds from losing her husband and the effects of the depression are made apparent when she argues with two men about people buying homes they cannot afford. You are given more insight on the type of person Fern is during this confrontation.
Dave (David Strathairn) is the most important character apart from Fern. He is clearly fond of Fern, but she still wears the wedding ring from her marriage and is not very open to new people. He helps her get a job and gives her a place to stay, but you’re never sure how long something will last with Fern.
Nomadland is just under two hours long, yet it feels like a 4-hour film. The movie feels longer than it really is because of the constant change of settings. Intimate scenes in each of the many locations make you feel like no scene is left incomplete. You are allowed to understand and relate to each character. The main character moves on right before you become invested in a new setting or character.
This character development in relation to the theme of the film is brilliant. You are allowed to sympathize with each new face, but you never really get to know them. The only history that any characters have is the history they bring into the present. You don’t know anything about a person besides what is explicitly stated, similar to the real world.
I loved how genuine the film was on numerous levels. No one person in the movie was without fault and no one was an atrocious person. When you briefly meet people in real life you cannot be certain of their nature, and the movie captured that perfectly. Even Fern had moments that made you look at her with slight disdain. No one was without their flaws, but everyone had something to offer, contributing a piece of themselves to Fern’s journey.
The focus on people who were left without anything following the 2008 recession was interesting. Years later, the recession is an afterthought for many. The modern world moves so quickly that it is easy to forget about those who don’t move at the same speed. The scene where the Nomads were in a circle in the desert discussing the impact it had on them was intensely emotional.
Everything in this film is representative of the nomad life that Fern lives. Moments of intimacy are plentiful, but they do not last long. The life of a nomad can seem purposeless due to the lack of long-term relationships. Whether the lifestyle is brought on by loss or choice, some people’s purpose is to simply experience, with no big goals in mind. I personally relate to this movie. I find it to be a wonderful representation of this forgotten lifestyle and a mix of great acting and screenwriting. Watching this movie was time well spent.
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