From: Silver Screen

‘Nomadland’ is an authentic story for modern America

‘Nomadland’ is an authentic story for modern America
Frances McDormand as the 'houseless' Fern in "Nomadland."

“No, I’m not homeless: I’m just houseless. Not the same thing.” 

Nomadland, a new film by Chloé Zhao based on Jessica Bruder’s 2017 non-fiction novel, intricately explores the experience of a vandweller through the eyes of Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman whose layoff and subsequent struggle to secure employment spark a voyage through rural America. The movie is genuine, sentimental and pressingly relevant; it has all the makings of a modern American classic. 

Within the first 10 minutes of the movie, isolating snowy landscapes, shots of a fast-paced Amazon warehouse and call-outs to somber Morrissey lyrics (“Home, is it just a word? Or is it something you carry within you?”) capture the tone of Fern’s journey. The solitary scenes of the film live in primarily cool shades, evoking the bitterness of winter and the demanding nature of being itinerant. 

McDormand captures her character assiduously, progressing the story through emotive, silent close-ups and staggered, intimate conversation. Her eyes often work to form a connection with the audience, revealing stories and experiences that words are unable to convey. The entirety of her performance is raw and captivating, though this may come as unsurprising to those that are familiar with McDormand’s extensive, impressive career.

While the film does generally live in a solemn, lonesome tone, moments of levity and warmth can be found in Fern’s interactions with others in her community. Her relationship with Dave (David Strathairn), a fellow vandweller, is exceptionally notable; their tender friendship propels Fern’s character development. While most of the conversations depicted in the film are brief, they are inarguably poignant. The candid chats invite the audience to contemplate how they value life and all the small joys that it has to offer. 

Along with McDormand and Strathairn, the cast features real-life nomads Linda May, Swankie and Bob Wells. They play fictionalized versions of themselves, with aspects of their life impacting Zhao’s writing. This creative choice adds a strong sense of legitimacy and genuineness to the movie. 

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While Wells is not an established performer, he undoubtedly delivers one of the most moving scenes of the entire film. His final monologue embodies the pain that inevitably comes with the human experience and the peace that eventually manifests with time. His words encapsulate the imperfect process of healing, while encouraging audiences to trust that we never must say goodbye to those we love: They will always be somewhere “down the road.”

The film is intensely human, exploring the trials — such as death — that plague us all, and the ways that we use these struggles to relate to others. Likewise, the film challenges us to celebrate connection and the value of forging relationships with those around us. 

It truly is nothing short of an American masterpiece. 

“Nomadland” became available on Feb. 19 on Hulu and in select theaters.

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