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The Academy Awards aired last night, April 25, two months later than normal. And as I have since my toddler days, I watched with rapt attention as Oscars were handed out.
My intention to write a review for the winner of the Best Picture category involved some faith. This year, due to the unusual circumstances surrounding the film industry because of COVID, I saw six of the nine nominated movies. Typically I watch all of them. With theater closures and most of the films on different streaming services, I felt fortunate to see six of them!
Happily Nomadland, the Oscar winner, ranked among the films I viewed.
Nomadland stars Frances McDormand and David Strathairn. Most of the rest of the cast, including Linda May, Bob Wells and Charlene Swankie, are actual nomads or locals.
This drama is based on the non-fiction book by the same name, written by Jessica Bruder. Director Chloe Zhao also wrote the screenplay. The film carries an R rating, for mild adult themes, and has a run time of 1 hour and 47 minutes.
Nomadland received six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Film Editing and Best Cinematography. It won for Best Picture, Best Actress (McDormand) and Best Director (Zhao).
Becoming a Nomad
Fern (McDormand), a woman in her 60s, finds herself without a home. Following the death of her husband and the economic collapse of the company town they lived in, Fern stays in the tract house they shared, until she’s forced out.
With no place to go, Fern stores most of her belongings, purchases a second hand van and embarks on a journey. She travels from state to state, town to town, looking for employment. Fern lives life on the fringes of society, a nomad without roots.
While working a seasonal job at an Amazon fulfillment center, Fern befriends Linda May, a nomad who invites her to a desert gathering. There Fern meets Dave (Strathairn), a fellow traveler, and Bob Wells, who provides a support system and a community for nomads.
This group of sincere and self reliant souls teach Fern survival skills and rules for the road. No one in the group stays in one place for long. Soon it’s just Fern and an older woman named Swankie left in the desert campsite.
The two women develop a friendship as Swankie teaches Fern more self sufficiency skills. Before she too hits the road again, Swankie reveals that she has cancer. However, she assures Fern that she’s lived a good life, traveling the country. The sights she’s seen and the experiences she embraced make her feel like she’s done enough. Her life is complete.
The Nomad Life
At her next job, as camp host at an RV park with Linda May, Fern reconnects with Dave. The two find their relationship comforting, if a bit awkward at times.
Through long conversations, Fern convinces Dave to visit his son, and meet his daughter-in-law and new grandson. Although Dave invites Fern to accompany him, she refuses. The two part ways.
When her rusty old van breaks down, requiring funds for repairs, Fern is forced to visit her own family. Her sister and brother-in-law live very different lives. To an observer, Fern’s family is successful and well situated. To Fern, after a year of the nomad life, her sister’s life is stifling. The time spent in her sister’s cozy home creates a longing, however, for connection. Is she missing out by constantly moving from location to location and spending so much time alone?
Fern accepts an invitation to spend the holidays with Dave and his family. It’s a lovely time with good people. However, is she ready to settle into a “normal” life? Or is the call of the open road too strong?
My Thoughts About Nomadland
Initially, I felt drawn to this film because of the nomad lifestyle. Who hasn’t dreamed of taking off in an outfitted van, to explore the country? I actually follow several #vanlife accounts on Instagram and the photos they share of their adventures are inspiring. The beauty of that nomadic lifestyle creates a longing in me.
What Nomadland shows is the other side of such a lifestyle. For some, the nomadic life is forced upon them. Those individuals find it cheaper to live on the road and in free campsites rather than in traditional homes. Some older adults discover they can’t survive on monthly social security checks. Instead, they travel from job opportunity to job opportunity, working for a season and then moving on, for as long as they are able to.
Nomadland highlights a different kind of beauty, a stark one, found in solitude and community, living simply and sharing what you have. The nomads don’t post glamourous photos. They survive, one day at a time. And they help each other whenever they “meet down the road”. There’s rawness in the nomadic lifestyle, as portrayed in this film, along with courage and honesty.
Deserving of the Oscar Win
Does Nomadland deserve the Oscar for Best Picture? Yes, I believe it does even though I feel like The Father was deserving too, for very different reasons.
Therefore, see both movies. Let them unsettle you, stir your compassion and open your eyes to different realities. Let the struggles that others endure shift your perspectives and broaden your views. Both films did that for me.
If you’ve seen Nomadland, let me know your thoughts about the movie, in the comments below!
Pick up a copy of the book by Jessica Bruder HERE.
Or purchase the movie, as a download, with this LINK.
Nomadland is also showing in select theaters across the US.
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