From Chloé Zhao, Nomadland is a quiet film that examines the detritus of The Great Recession in excruciatingly reserved scope by focusing on Fern (Frances McDormand). Fern lost her husband to cancer and, in 2011, lost her job and home in the company town of Empire, Nevada due to the closure of the Gypsum corporation. She explores the United States and gets seasonal work at an Amazon fulfilment centre but, for most part, she lives a nomadic lifestyle.
One of the striking things about this movie is how much it feels like a documentary. The movie itself sort of transgresses that boundary by saying that, even if the character of Fern isn’t real, everything else is. This is augmented by the addition of real-life nomads Linda May, Swankie, and Bob Wells playing fictonalised versions of themselves.
The movie plays around with your presumptions of cinema; there isn’t a central conflict, there’s no resolution. Both of those, the conflict and resolution, have already happened. When you feel the movie is hinting towards something, it doesn’t go down the road you would expect. What this movie isn’t is a twisty rollercoaster of emotions in the traditional sense; what it is: a showcase of some of the beautiful landscapes that the US has to offer.
There’s an overwhelming sense of stillness and tranquility, encapsulated by Fern’s statement: “I’m not homeless, I’m houseless. Not the same thing, right?” This is a life chosen by Fern because, in the land of the free, you are free to choose to live a life unburdened by the demands of capitalism.
Whilst I would have liked there to be a little more from the movie by way of a narrative, maybe that’s on me. These slice-of-life type films are fascinating because they place the audience carefully, and remove them carefully.
Nomadland is streaming on Hulu and playing in theatres in the US. Nomadland will also release in theatres worldwide on 9 April 2021, as well as on Disney Plus STAR in Canada on that date. Other release dates will be added to the post as and when they are announced.