Golden Globe Winner Best Motion Picture Nomadland
March 2021 Issue
Reel Corner by Donne Paine
Golden Globe Winner Best Motion Picture
Director: Chloe Zhao
Frances McDormand, David Strathairn, Linda May
Based on the popular non-fiction book by Jessica Bruder, Nomadland takes you on an adventure connecting with nature through van living. Fern, played by Frances McDormand, is grieving a life that’s been ripped away from her. It seems like she was relatively happy in Empire, Nevada, one of those many American small towns built around industry. When the gypsum plant there closed, the town of Empire literally closed with it. In six months the entire zip code was eliminated. During this nightmare state, Fern’s husband died, leaving her alone and “houseless”. (She uses this term over homeless)
Hitting the road in search of work as a seasonal employee at an Amazon center, Fern starts living in her van, eventually getting involved with a group of modern nomads—people who form makeshift communities. However, she inevitably ends up alone again, traversing the American landscape. It is a gorgeous film that is alternately dreamlike in the way it captures the beauty of this country and grounded in its story about a kind of person we don’t usually see in movies. Some may find the film unglamorous, or too realistic, but I think that’s what makes it so special.
We see this world through McDormand’s performance, one of the most subtle and refined of her career. Nomadland won Best Picture and Best Director (Chloe Zhao) at the Golden Globes.
Most of the people Fern meets along the way in Nomadland are non-actors, people who live life on the road. The only other familiar face belongs to actor David Strathairn, perfectly cast as a man who Fern befriends. There is an improvised, natural quality to Fern’s conversations and interactions that grounds the film. These modern nomads tell stories of not wanting to die with their dreams of traveling the country unfilled, share tips on how to live life safely on the road and support each other in ways that neighbors with traditional homes rarely do. Nomadland becomes more than just a fictional account of a fascinating woman, it reminds us how many people are out there with stories to tell and dreams left unfulfilled. And yet it never wallows in grief or misery.
There is an interpretation that Nomadland is the story of a woman running from grief, unmoored from society, but it could also represent the story of so many Americans who feel lost nowadays, unsure of where to go next, or what tomorrow will bring. The images of Nomadland that feel like answers to the unrest and anxiety of 2020 are the ones that contain so much beauty in the simplest of things—the smile of a friend, a dip in a river, a kind gesture of a stranger. We may not all be able to relate directly to Fern’s struggles, but we can all feel her sense of unease and uncertainty. There are never too many adventures to go on, nor too many stories to write of them.
Be sure to watch the 93rd Academy Awards/OSCARS, Sunday, April 25 on ABC. While no one will be in attendance, the production will be aired virtually and hosted by Nick Jonas and Priyanka Chopra Jonas. To see this year’s nominees in your favorite categories, log on to www.oscars.com.
References: www.nytimes.com; www.imbd.com; www.rogerebert.com