The life of a nomad is an emotional journey in Chloe Zhou’s next masterpiece.
“Nomadland” is one of the most emotional experiences of the new decade. It’s an artisan film that plays like “The Grapes of Wrath,” because it introduces us to nomads, which are houseless people, who travel throughout the country looking for jobs. They’re not called “homeless people,” since they’re actually looking for work, and relax in their beautiful environments. They don’t go begging people for money; they share their stories about how they ended up in a specific area, and offer people advice on how they should live their lives. As you can see, there is a major difference between houseless and homeless.
The opening credits explain how in 2011, the US Gypsum company in the company town of Empire, Nevada had to close its doors, due to bankruptcy. We meet Fern (Frances McDormand), a middle-aged woman who both lost her husband and job. Unable to cope with the tragedy, she decides to live the life of a modern day nomad. She lives and travels in a shabby van, while performing odd jobs.
She also receives advice from her fellow nomads, who are all portrayed by real nomads like Linda May, Charlene Swankie, and Bob Wells, all of whom deliver beautiful summaries about their lives and how they’ve learn to cope and adapt.
- Bob tells Fern that he had a son who committed suicide, and that devastated him. But he also tells her that when you lose someone, it’s never the final goodbye, because in the next life, he’ll eventually reunite with him, and Fern will reunite with her husband.
- Swankie is terminally ill, and intends to make her final journey back to Alaska. She has a monologue when she tells Fern she had a long full life, and a happy one at best.
- Linda was contemplating suicide, until she found Bob’s RV opportunity, in which she can travel and never have to work again.
And the only other known actor besides McDormand in the movie is David Strathairn as Dave, a former miner and fellow nomad, who is set to become a grandfather and move in with his son (David’s real-life son Tay Strathairn). He’s a nice guy, and he likes Fern for her kind nature and friendliness.
“Nomadland,” based on Jessica Bruder’s novel, was written for the screen, edited, and directed by Chloe Zhou, who made the best horse Indie of 2018 called “The Rider.” Her next feature is a human film about people who must find ways to cope with their dramas, and take journeys to find themselves. Her using real-life nomads reminded me of how she used a real-life autistic person named Lilly Jandreau in “The Rider.” It’s further proof she respects people in various groups, and this is respectful on all accounts.
McDormand delivers yet another nomination worthy performance in the ways she matches the mood and tone of the movie, and keeps herself on track with her human characteristics. Fern once had a successful life that was taken away, and intends to move on the best she can. And you’re also fascinated by the new faces she comes across in her travels. None of them cause fights or abuse. In fact, they’re all good, sincere people who all want a second act in life. The real life nomads are all passionate and open-minded, while Strathairn adds the kind of sweetness Lucas Hedges offered in last year’s “Waves.” A perfect combo of actors and non-actors, no less.
The photography of the American West with South Dakota, Nevada, and California, among others is beautiful and full of life. It’s all so soothing, and with its combination of landscapes, sincere emotions, and powerful narration, I was reminded of some other dramas of its kind like “Stand By Me,” “Wild,” and “Into the Wild.”
“Nomandland” is a masterpiece that’s nothing short of a miracle, and I can’t wait to see it again.
Sold-Out Virtual Screenings on the Film Lincoln Center From Dec 4-10
Comes out February 19