Nomadland (2020)

A poetic, paradisiac, peripatetic journey of self-discovery across the nation’s landscapes w. depth in grief/travel exposition, natural awe, & eulogization of the proletariat, Nomadland’s a beautifully-acted character study on people forgotten by life, yet free to truly live. 9.4/10.

Plot Synopsis: A woman in her sixties embarks on a journey through the American West after losing everything during the recession.

*Possible spoilers ahead*

Official CLC Review

The Road-Trip In COVID-19

Morning Sunshine, Gas Station Coffee Runs, Maps, Radio, Fresh Air, Pit Stops, Freedom, & The Perfect Tangible-Adventure Cure To A Quarantine World Of Depression & Isolation

Photograph Courtesy Of: FOX Searchlight Pictures

Ah, road trips. 5AM gas station coffee runs, crisp morning fresh air in your nostrils, sunshine, maps, radio jams, pit stops, and limitless freedom. Their luring adventure holds special value in worlds of complacency, routine, depression, and isolation – all of those being felt in a shared experience on the global stage by the once-in-a-century pandemic we’re all in the midst of: COVID-19. Being almost a year now since the first cases signaled the CDC we have a virus of catastrophic projections on the rise, many of us have been trapped inside our homes in quarantine so long, it now seems instinctive and natural. Particularly-fidgety types with the ability to remote-work reached their breaking point a long time ago, ones like me admittedly [with masks & following all safety-protocols] taking the easy, free travel option when worldwide ones were banned – a road trip across the country: 23 states from east to west and back full of charmingly-grounded, penniless adventures of introspective quiet and return to nature. There’s something magical and primal evoked by open road, and now finally a film to perfectly capture its majesty – with groundbreaking capabilities for the medium and tons of tricks up its sleeve by a skilled [female] captain at its helm. A poetic, paradisiac, peripatetic journey of self-discovery across the nation’s landscapes w. depth in grief/travel exposition, natural awe, representational importance, & eulogization of the proletariat and wayfarer adventure, Nomadland’s a beautifully-acted character study on people forgotten by life, yet free to truly live.

The Road Less Traveled

A Tribute To Wilderness & Progressively Rare Open Landscapes, A Canvas Of Natural Awe By Cinematography, Scale, & Diversity

Photograph Courtesy Of: FOX Searchlight Pictures

Most ostensible about Nomadland from its opening flickers is the nature; it’s everywhere. Fringing the edges or backdrop of ~every frame, the film is a curated tour/exhibition of the landscapes of the U.S.A. We’re taken across rocky coastlines, storm-battered cliffs, snowy mountain valleys, endless forest pines, sun-baked desert badlands, lush green praries, and flowing river streams in what is outwardly a love-letter to wilderness and [progressively-rarifying] open landscapes with nothing but natural awe for hundreds of miles in all directions. The cinematography by Joshua James Richards to articulate the sublime on-screen is moving – a beautiful composition of photogenic landscapes captured by lens proficiency, eccentric shot constructions [like the one using the hole of a rock as a telescopic lens], contrastive scale in both impossibly-grand and small/intimate pieces, and diversification. The camerawork considerations are just as diverse as the biome collection; the full experience of nature’s pastel is translated by the use of day, night, sunset, sunrise, and every midpoint to shower the landscapes in divergent natural lighting for the best possible shooting of each. There’s also a recurring motif in the cinematography of posterior tracking shots of its nomadic protagonists to involve us in the adventure we physically follow along on, but first, we’re taken into the antithesization of all this earthly splendor: the world of capitalism and big business; blue-collar vs. white-collar; bourgeoise vs. proletariat.

A Panegyric To The Proletariat

Behind-The-Scenes Of The World’s Biggest Corporation, Nomadland Effectively Relates A Portraiture Of The Working Class & The Mechanization Of Business; A Blue Clr Crux

Photograph Courtesy Of: FOX Searchlight Pictures

In stark juxtaposition to its natural backdrops & aesthetic, the human arc of Nomadland is weaved through the world of blue-collar work. The film eulogizes the working class and proletariat by its transposition into the physical strife and brow-sweat of factories and fast-food kitchens – also highlighting how big business and corporations destroyed small-town America, physically wiping entire infrastructures and zipcodes like Empire, NV off the face of the map when their Gypsum plant closed. Chloé Zhao effectively relates the power and influence of companies able to make such an impact by using the world’s biggest company & one of huge public profile as its case-study: Amazon. The behind-the-scenes mechanization of the two major selling points that propelled Bezos’ creation to its trillion-dollar behemoth status today are shown: fast shipping & no-hassle returns, elevating customer-satisfaction and market-differentiation to perpetuate a growth-cycle only possible by factories like this running like clockwork. The white, yellow, & blue warehouse reaches as far as the eye can see – equal in scale to the film’s natural landscapes, but manmade: striking contextualization of our impact on the environment and introduction of the film’s protagonist, Fern.

A Workhorse To Put Itself Out To Pasture

Thematic Exposition On Marxist Principles & The Tyranny Of The Dollar; A Heartbreaking Collection Of Stories & Darwinism Extrapolated To The 9-5 World

Photograph Courtesy Of: FOX Searchlight Pictures

From that scene on, there is cogent exposition on business/class themes: Marxist principles and the tyrannical despotism of the dollar. People like Fern and her colleagues work their entire lives, from 12 years old to sixties – only for the capitalistic machine to chew them up and spit them out: her friend Linda May only finding $550 in her social-security and contemplating suicide in grizzly burn-alive ways while some hedge-fund manager of white privilege and lucky circumstances parties on a yacht in the bahamas. The problematic inequities of this broken economic system are put under a microscope on the rock-bottom of the ladder by classical preconceptions: people living in their car/van, censoriously viewed by the public as homeless. The roughness of Fern’s lifestyle: bathrooms in buckets, eating where you sh*t, and interior space no larger than a prison cell evokes pity and compassion – juxtaposed with her aloneness by the Christmas time spent in motel/gas-station parking lots a parchment of extreme poverty we wouldn’t want to spend hours in, let alone life. The world is enlivened and made tangible by the immense realism of Nomadland – partially due to its psuedo-doc feel, but in large part thanks to a breathtaking center performance by Frances McDormand. A multi-Oscar winning actress already, she delivers some of her best work: a masterclass of subtle nuance acting & lost art in the modern age of moviemaking.

A Breathtaking Performance

A Masterclass Of Subtle Nuance Acting & Italian Neorealisme Enough To Transcend The Screen & Feel Like A Lost Family Friend

Photograph Courtesy Of: FOX Searchlight Pictures

Able to evoke feelings and translate emotions by the subtlest of facial expression changes and gleans of the eye, McDormand inspires enough realism to let Fern transcend the screen; Fern feels like someone we know – a lost family friend we just haven’t seen in a while, come home. Her portraiture of a late-age blue-collar worker having lost everything in the recession is filled with depth and passion: a journey of self-discovery to find renewal, home, and who she is across natural and part-time work landscapes, and one that also breaks cinematic conventions by its representation of a woman doing the types of hard, unglamorized construction-hat labor typically-ascribed exclusively to men. A free-spirit from the time she was 18 with plenty of demons and shortcomings, Fern is a fascinating character McDormand breathes remarkable life into: one of the best protagonists in the last few years it’s a pleasure to watch on-screen, analyze, and see grow. The rest of the film’s performances are notable as well – a cast I was shocked by in the revelation of parts like Linda May and Bob Wells being self-portrayals by how well they were acted, reverberating the best of Italian Neorealisme practices in there being acting talent to-be-found anywhere, not just in the multi-millions dollar mansions of Hollywood agents on studio-checklists.

Community (n.) | Home (n.)

A Word Or Something You Carry Inside You? People Brought Together By Age, Loss, Enlightenment, View, & Shared Experience Reframes Nomads Beyond The Esotericism

Photograph Courtesy Of: FOX Searchlight Pictures

The film shatters preconceptions of the esotericism and peculiarity of the nomadic community. We’d be forgiven for having questions: why live in a van or RV over a house? Is it out no option, or choice? Doesn’t one get tired of not having roots and a permanent place to settle, being one with the wind on a never-ending & destination-less adventure? Who are these people? Even the iconography of the name: nomads, evokes imagery of native tribesmen scavenging across the desert plains – as well as no man’s land the film cleverly twists as a title again relevant in its description of places in the middle of nowhere nomads purposely seek out. The movie reframes the community, while giving them a voice: people brought together by age, loss, world outlook, shared experience, and even: enlightenment. The full gamut of backstories can be found: everything from new-orphans to teenagers running away from home to elders on the last frontier of life to loudmouth capitalism-rejectors to corporate VP’s society would classically-view as successful who realized life’s momentary give-and-take by tragedies like their coworker dying 10 days before retirement and never getting to do all the passions he had put off for decades to work and die working. The heartbreaking stories around the fire add depth and definition to the idea – while echoing its foundations in American traditions, being what the first settlers and pioneers did back in the primordial days of Lewis and Clark beyond, modernly-redefined and fixed of one of its only flaws by the presence of a community of like-minded people: loneliness.

‘See You Down The Road’

Depth Of Exposition On The Power Of Grief/Loss: Enough To Paralyze People, Even While On The Road Like Fern Exemplifies

Photograph Courtesy Of: FOX Searchlight Pictures

The grief exposition is palpable: a major theme throughout Nomadland and driving principle for its group of travelers. Fern exeplifies how grief can paralyze people – ironically, even people physically-moving vast distances like herself, but are metaphorically trapped in the prism of their past trauma/tragedy. The loss of her husband and guilt of wanting to move away when he loved it there and it’s his only remembrance without kids or family gives her a difficult character position to overcome – one that even prevents her from new love interests like Dave and investing in new opportunities like her ones with Linda and Swankie. The feeling stitches throughout the community, one predominantly filled of older aged people who have inevitably had life experiences of sadness, death, and regret – even the patriarch having lost his beloved son to suicide to the point of not even being able to talk about it without getting a shaky voice laden with tears. The beauty of Nomadland is that it teaches us a lesson about grief through its trucking motif: nomaders never say goodbye; they say ‘I’ll see you down the road!’ and do see people days, months, or years from then. This can be extrapolated as a metaphor for people living on through remembrance and their influences over who we are – and is damn powerful as a thematic crux to give depth and humanity to a film about far more than pit-stops on a road-trip across national landscapes.

A Journey Of Self-Discovery

Throughout Nomadland, Fern Searches For Home & Who She Is Post-Loss Of Everything She Had/Knew – We Follow Through Posterior Tracking Shots To Find Ourselves

Photograph Courtesy Of: FOX Searchlight Pictures

Even though she leaves physically, Fern can’t escape the mental cage of Empire, NV and shackles of oligation she feels to remember the past instead of live in the present and future – and goes on a journey of self-discovery and growth of every location nationwide to try to find herself, the iconography of gypsum from the opening scene also evoking reminisces of gypsies by wordplay on its escapade. We follow behind her through a cinematographical motif of posterior tracking shots, on our own journey by symbolic and visual cues and gleaming a lot from the expedition. The score and soundscape mimic the visual cues. Ludovico Einaudi’s Beethoven/Chopin-like somber piano meldoies flutter in the breeze as free as the breeze and its nomadic protagonists on the treble clef – juxtaposed with soft, crying violins and earthly banjo tone for a remarkable soundscape of acoustic naturalism and poignance. There is a lot of silence in the film too: thematically-relevant by its road-trip facade and spliced with amplifications of diegetic sound both in its natural setpieces to give us the sounds of wilderness and working class venues to capture the auricular cues of blue-collar life. Themes of naturalism, small-town-america, legacy, hardship, love, and loss parallel an [advanced] sociological/anthropological one: who is mankind?

Who Is Mankind?

Depth Of Sociological Exposition: Are We More Than Our Past Ancestral Wayfaring? Do We Lose Something In City/Suburbia?

Photograph Courtesy Of: FOX Searchlight Pictures

Through the prismatic lens of Fern, we’re asked monumental questions about humanity: who we are, why we are, how we are, where we’ve been, and where we’re going. Weighed are sociological, evolutionary, and anthropological debates on mankind as a species; our prehistoric and most ancient ancestors lived as the nomads do now – traveling between locations on adventures of discovery and exploration. Millennia have seen us transition from caves to farms to suburbs to cities, the lattermost being a now-definitive part of the modern landscape of how we’d define a 21st century mankind. Did we lose something though? Is all this comfort, dangerouslessness, and ease-of-lifestyle best for us and our evolution – not only biogenetically, but existentially? Is a life on the front porch as fulfilling of our deepest engrained psychological desires as life on the road? That’s left purposely-ambiguous by the masterful screenplay before it’s given a postulate answer in the finale, but first we must give celebration to the matriarch responsible for the breathtaking film: Chloé Zhao. The bold achievement of Nomadland is more so by the directorial presence at the mast of the ship.

The Next Parasite

The Power To Be The First Woman Best Director At The Oscars, Chloé Zhao Makes Noise By Quiet Grace; A Game-Changer?

Photograph Courtesy Of: FOX Searchlight Pictures

Chloé Zhao is the first female director on a project that screams Academy Award as much as this does – besides Céline Sciamma’s Portrait Of A Lady On Fire: one of the best films of the millennium, inexorably overlooked perhaps by fear of controversy in its LGBTQ+ themes by a rating-decreasing Oscars landscape pandering to a mixedly-accepting U.S.A. The film could have its own ‘Parasite’ moment of cinematic groundbreak on the biggest world stage of movies, one that could change the cinematic landscape by giving studio prerogative to let more women directors tell their stories. And it’s easy to tell the director’s XX chromosome; feminism and evolution of its female characters can be found throughout the film beyond the background to the foreground [a bit too much so in a couple of scenes to feel ~forced and unnatural in juxtaposition to its natural motif when it repeatedly asserts supriority like the girl being ‘the smartest kid in school’ and Fern scolding Dave like a child for an honest mistake with the boxes, but nevertheless.] There’s sadness, melancholy, joy, humor, compassion, love, and authenticity of humanity in every frame of this film as extensive in its themes from grief/loss to nomadship to proletariat Marxism to the essence of mankind: a shining exemplification of the talent and capabilities of female directors we hope can jolt awake the medium for even more great art by both sexes and spectrum moving forward.

The Finale & Score

Given A Happy-Ending She Can’t Grasp, Fern Rebukes Domestic Life To Return On The Road; A Beautiful Arc & Evocative Finale Alongside A Minor Key Chef D’Oeuvre Score

Photograph Courtesy Of: FOX Searchlight Pictures

The finale of Nomadland sets up a fairy-tale ending out of a Disney Princess tale extrapolated to real-life – only to cleverly rebuke it by a grown-up woman with no need for the happy-endings of children. Fern is given the choice of a permanent guesthouse surrounded by family and love in a charming bubbling-brook leaping off the pages of Snow White, and the road. The choice seems like a no-brainer: classically-defined ‘home’ by all traditional notions of the word vs. a life of hardship and struggle in a van. Fern subverts our expectations, though – signaling growth and character development by making her own definition of home inside her own heart and van amongst the endless scenery of mother nature’s warm embrace, masterful writing paving way to plot-structural duality as she goes back to where the film started: Empire, NV having finally learned to let go, conquer her demons, and finally be [truly] free to explore the world in the film’s final flickers. Nomadland is about so much more than people society has forgotten; it also reminds us of our forgotten selves and a possible avenue of redemption/change.

Conclusion

One Of, If Not The Best Film Of 2020

A Poetic, Paradisiac, Peripatetic Journey Of Self-Discovery Across Natural Landscapes With Depth In Grief/Travel Exposition & Eulogization Of The Proletariat & Adventure

Photograph Courtesy Of: FOX Searchlight Pictures

Overall, Nomadland is one of, if not the best film of 2020 – and has the power to shake the foundations of the cinematic world like Parasite did the year before: the first woman to win a Best Director Academy Award. There is such poignance and delicacy in this woman’s touch; Chloé Zhao paints a journey of self-discovery amongst every landscape imaginable with the discipline and prestige of a director twice her age. The cinematography captures the natural awe of its wild diversification of backdrops: rocky coastlines, towering pine forests, snowy mountain peaks, & desert badlands in every season and time of day with magnificent composition/lens proficiency and a recurring motif of posterior tracking shots following its nomadic protagonists. The score is a minor key masterstroke that ensorcels with its somber piano and crying violin sequences, while thematically relevant in its amplification of diegetic background noise to relate the soundscape of blue-collar life. The film serves as a panegyric to the working class; it may seem intangible by its niche subject of nomads, but makes them universally-relatable by the community it serves as and depth of its characterization/emotions. Themes of grief and loss are weaved alongside ones of capitalism and small town America – highlighting the devastation big corporations can have on entire town infrastructures like Empire, NV’s gypsum plant and how anguish can paralyze you in life, [ironically] like the film’s main character is metaphorically on her nomadic physical adventure. Frances McDormand’s Fern is a masterclass in subtle nuance acting – so realistic, she transcends the screen to feel like you know her and propagates emotions by the simplest of facial gestures without need for words. The rest of the performances are just as strong by a cast of Italian Neorealisme self-portrayals, but McDormand’s Fern is the crux of the film: a richly-written/realized female lead free from the male gaze, refreshingly portrayed with the rugged grit and workhorse self-sustenance typically ascribed only to men, and on an itinerary-less expedition to find home and renewed meaning for life after losing her everything: Bo. Nomadland comes as the perfect antidote to the quarantine of COVID-19; the film takes us everywhere possible beyond the boundaries of our home’s walls on a curated tour of nature with just as much humanity as scenic vistas to get lost in and one with enough power to bring tears to your eyes as you tell your lost ones ‘i’ll see you down the road’. A poetic, paradisiac, peripatetic journey of self-discovery across the nation’s landscapes w. depth in grief/travel exposition, natural awe, representational importance, & eulogization of the proletariat and wayfarer adventure, Nomadland’s a beautifully-acted character study on people forgotten by life, yet free to live.

Official CLC Score: 9.4/10