Movie review: Nomadland

Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

NomadlandHow many movies can I watch on Hulu during the free trial? This is what my movie watching has come to.

Nomadland is about Fern (Frances McDormand), who lived in a Nevada company town. Then the company went bust, and so did the town. Fern, a self-sufficient widow, travels around the country. She’s attracted to the life of the nomadic existence, and the interesting people she meets and sometimes meets again.

The movie is based Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, a 2017 non-fiction book by American journalist Jessica Bruder. She wrote about “the phenomenon of older Americans who, following the Great Recession, adopted transient lifestyles traveling around the United States in search of seasonal work.”

The story was adapted by Chloé Zhao, who directed the film. The story blurs the line between fiction and reality, with the appearance of real nomads such as Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells, the video star of the movement. They serve as “Fern’s mentors and comrades in her exploration through the vast landscape of the American West.” Everyone, save for Frances, uses their real first names, even David Strathairn, as Dave.

No final goodbye

Nomadland is melancholy, but not particularly sad. The people she meets have gained a lot of wisdom. For instance, Bob uses this analogy. “The workhorse… is willing to work itself to death, and then be put out to pasture. And that’s what happens to so many of us. If society was throwing us away and sending us as the workhorse out to the pasture, we workhorses have to gather together and take care of each other.”

Many of the folks are uncomfortable with conventional capitalism, preferring to live in their vehicles, being reliant on themselves and their comrades. But the movie didn’t feel preachy about it.

Katie Walsh of the Tribune News Service notes that Nomadland “feels simultaneously like both a memory and a prophecy. Zhao has managed to marry these juxtaposing ideas in her film, which is the essence of bittersweet distilled into an arrow and shot straight through the heart.”

I suppose reviewer Ryan Syrek is also correct. The movie “has no plot or subplot, no character or narrative arc, no easily discernible thesis or moral. It just kind of ‘is.'” But that was not stated as a failure, though others felt the film was too slow, small, and/or simple.

I’ve neglected to mention the often gorgeous scenery that makes this rooted as a specifically American story. Nomadland is a meditation on the country. Think Christian has an interesting take on the film, both as a “critique of American ideologies and a celebration of God’s created order.”

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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