Nomadland: Another Review


Nomadland: Another Review. By Nick Boyd.

“Nomadland” is about a strongly independent and resourceful woman named Fern (played by Frances McDormand, in an Oscar-winning performance) who, after the plant where she worked in Empire, Nevada closes down, leaving the entire town empty, decides to reject mainstream society by living out of her van.  After Fern’s husband dies, she packs the few possessions she has and hits the road in search of any work she can find, first as a seasonal employee for Amazon.  There, one of her coworkers, Linda May, tells her about the Rubber Trap Rendezvous in Quartzite, Arizona, which consists of similar iconoclastic individuals as Fern, and is run by a man named Bob Wells.  Bob is an older, soft-spoken man, focused on anti-government ideology and self-sufficiency.  After completing her stint at Amazon, Fern continues wandering the American landscape, living ‘houseless’ rather than ‘homeless’ as she says, and comes across the RTR. 

With this group of like-minded people, Fern is able to find a sense of belonging and there is even some sparks between her and a man named Dave (David Strathairn), who are able to bond on a deep level.  When his son visits, revealing that he recently had a child, Fern encourages Dave to spend more time with him, and Dave sees this as an opportunity to make up for lost time, as he says that he was not much of a father to his son.

A poignant encounter for Fern takes place when she reconnects with her sister and her family in their quaint home in California.  When one of the men criticizes Fern’s way of life, implying that she could do better for herself, her sister stands up for her.  Fern and her sister also have an emotional heart-to-heart talk about the past and express their love for each other.

While its leisurely pace may put off viewers (though not me), it serves to accentuate the laid-back and gentle approach these van dwellers have.  For them, the great outdoors is to be embraced and revered.  For these nomads, it’s about supporting each other and never saying goodbye, but instead promising to see each other again down the road.

The movie has a docudrama feel to it as it looks at those who have decided to live an alternative lifestyle, with many of the people appearing in the film as actual nomads.  It is in the tradition of similar find-yourself movies as “Into the Wild,” “Captain Fantastic,” “Leave No Trace,” and “Wild.”  While lacking a traditional narrative, the film connects on an emotional level with those we encounter and the stories they tell.  McDormand is excellent, giving a vulnerable performance that conveys so much in its understated quality.  The cinematography beautifully captures the desolate landscapes and the wide-open terrain of this country.

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