Ewan Gleadow

Movie Review: Nomadland

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Copyright: Searchlight Pictures

To do something without creativity is beyond the pale. Where we have the opportunity to encourage and install it, we should kindle and insert imagination and originality. To tramp down such ingenuity and potential artistry is a danger for the creatives among us who live or die through art. Showcasing our work for all to see, the judgment of those around us gives a brilliant rush of adrenalin. A necessary one, too. No artist, writer, critic or creative should ever fear criticism or rejection. Taking those notes on board is a great part of the process. Nomadland, then, showcases someone content with their new way of living. No art enters or leaves their life, but our leading character is certainly submerged in it. 

Fern (Frances McDormand), lost everything in the Great Recession. The collapse of the housing market and global depression that followed from such an epoch-making moment, are still being felt today. Nomadland’s leading character is, as the title would suggest, a nomad. Travelling from place to place, picking up the odd job from time to time to fill her pockets with a bit of spending money. She lives, sleeps, eats, and travels in her modified van. To some, that is a blessed way of life, to others, it would be their nightmare. With Fern, though, it is an inevitability, something she can’t and won’t escape. Digging deep into this new life and determined to make it work, McDormand offers a stellar performance showcasing a woman still adapting to new surroundings and unique figures. 

Stupendous direction from Chloé Zhao makes this all the greater. Intensely great use of the camera, with framing taking centre stage. Offering us an array of interesting or engrossing shots, Zhao uses her time wisely. Capturing the attention of an audience is relatively easy for her, she brings a new level of inspiration to her work. We can take comfort in her abilities to craft a story of working through and fighting against the decrepit American dream. On its last legs as commercialisation, capitalism, and all the systems that support it flog the dying breaths out of it, Nomadland captures a grand criticism of contemporary economics, and the very human impact this has on those who haven’t been lucky enough to mould some comfort out of the worldwide rat race.  

Nomadland brings a daring bit of direction and a phenomenal leading performance. We should expect no less from this McDormand and Zhao collaboration. Two creatives working at the height of their abilities, such unison and understanding come together to craft a beautiful love letter to those pushed out to the sidelines of visible society. Poetic justice done to the unsung heroes who make sure the cogs in this machine we call life run without so much as a hiccup to the systems we rely on, but should probably break free from. Filmmaking frequently looks to champion the outsiders, and if this momentum picks up further, those outsiders might just take over.