Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May, Swankie, Bob Wells
Director: Chloe Zhao
We all have a special place in our heart about films that take you through surreal landscapes, narrate heart-warming storylines and display characters that mirror our joys and insecurities. I have a huge affinity for travel films, so when I heard that Nomadland won the Academy Award for Best Picture this year, I wasted no time to watch a film that journeyed through America’s western roads.
Nomadland, directed by Chloe Zhao, starring Frances McDormand of the film Fargo fame plays Fern, a 60-year old widow who decides to hit the road after losing her job during the 2008 recession. She leaves her home Empire, Nevada behind and packs up her life in a van setting out in an uncertain future. Along the way, Fern meets the community of fellow travellers, most of whom are real-life itinerant workers and nomadic travellers played by Charlene Swankie and Bob Wells. The movie managed to capture the beauty of America’s midwestern regions where several cash-strapped retired travellers camp out in the open.
For Fern, life on the road seems bleak initially with minimum income, no permanent home to crash at and working the life of an itinerant worker at Amazon. The harsh cold weather of these regions display fern’s indomitable spirit of surviving in her van with little or no help from fellow travellers.
Actor Frances McDormand in her natural spirit managed to play Fern’s character with immense honesty. There are many things to love about the film like Fern’s refusal to play by corporate rules of sustaining through pensions, correcting people when they use the word ‘homeless’ for houseless and living life that not many people want to understand. These are the very aspects that director Chloe Zhao has evidently won the Best Director award for.
As you watch the film, you also get a slice of an almost documentary-style film through the eyes of the protagonist which seemed rather fresh. Many situations depict the American conditions of work life that are not accepted by many. For example, real-life traveller Swankie spends the last few days of her life on the road after being diagnosed with cancer. She wishes to rather die in her van than in a hospital.
Bob Wells and Charlene Swankie are a few names of the many nomadic travellers who are out there. They spend their days traveling from one region to another looking for temporary jobs that can sustain them for the rest of their days. Wells is a nomad and an environmentalist for over 25 years who runs his own YouTube channel called CheapRVliving and a non-profit called Homes on Wheels Alliance to help people transition to the lifestyle. As quoted by GQ, Bob Wells rightly said, “Most of us find more deeper friends out here than we ever did in our normal life and we also have richer alone time. The alone time we have isn’t recovering from the stress and the business of life, it’s enjoying the moment.”
I watched the film without the need to know what the synopsis was, and where it intended to go and that worked out perfectly. It led me through a road of no drama or questions, leaving me wondering about the meaning of home and individuality.
Nomadland is a story of stubborn individualism, economic disparity, finding ‘home’ and embracing a life that works for you through the lens of people who choose an approach to life that is different from the norm. It is simply about grief, healing and living again through memories and forming deeper relationships along the way.