Triple Oscar winner Nomadland arrives at Disney+ on April 30th. Starring Frances McDormand, it brilliantly explores the idea of home from the perspective of those who live on the road.
Written and directed by Chloe Zhao, Nomadland explores the idea of home from the perspective of Fern (Frances McDormand). She has lost not only her house but her entire town of Empire, Nevada, to recession. When the gypsum plant in her town closed its doors, it made almost all of the population who lived there jobless; even the town’s ZIP code was discontinued. As well as losing her home, Frances loses her husband, so she hits the road in a van and travels place to place, picking up odd, seasonal jobs along the way.
Nomadland feels like an unusual film; even in just its title, it is slow-paced and beautifully shot, full of incredible scenery, empty spaces and long silences. It is a drama but has a very documentary feel to it, and it feels relevant, asking questions about how we live our lives and why.
The film is based on the 2017 non-fiction book of the same name, in which author Jessica Bruder travelled the northwest United States, meeting older Americans who the 2008 financial crash had displaced. Without any savings or retirement funds, these mainly lower-middle-class people had turned their backs on the society and capitalism that had let them down. Instead, they had chosen to live mortgage-free lives in customised RVs that took them between casual seasonal jobs. Some of the real people Bruder met play versions of themselves in this brilliantly reimagined film.
Nomadic life comes as a necessity to Fern; having lost everything that binds her to her home town she decides to buy an RV that will become her home. She closes the door of her house and leaves. As Fern works her way upcountry, she takes everyday work at an Amazon packing plant, in farmers’ fields, and a fast-food restaurant. However, it’s challenging work that begins to take its toll Fern is liberated by her new, rootless lifestyle.
Naturally, as a newcomer to this way of life, Fern must learn, and she meets plenty of characters along the way who help her adjust to nomadic life. Swankie (Charlene Swankie) takes Fern under her wing, teaching her that self-reliance is the most important thing about living this way. Fern also meets Bob Wells (playing himself), an older father figure to the nomads, and teaches Fern about living her chosen life.
Nomadic life isn’t all fun and games, and several things don’t come as part of the deal. Such as a pension or healthcare, and as you get older, the reliance on these things becomes ever more critical. Swankie, it turns out, has been diagnosed with cancer and plans to die on the road.
Frances McDormand gives a standout performance; her Oscar for best actress is really well deserved. Whilst she may be reduced to poverty and circumstances most of us wouldn’t choose, it still gives her a sense of pride in existing the way she does. The stunning visual imagery is impactful, but it is overshadowed by McDormand, who gives a mesmerising performance; she is both sad at everything she has left behind but happy for what is in her future.
Nomadland offers a journey in which Fern is transformed, and watching it; you may just feel transformed too. I give Nomadland 5 out of 5 stars.
Nomandland is streaming now on Disney+ in select regions with Star or Hulu in the United States.