After losing her job and her husband during the Great Recession, Fern (Frances McDormand) takes to the road to live the life of a drifter with her van acting as her only mode of transportation and shelter. In her travels, she’ll encounter other modern-day nomads like herself and experience how they find their way through the isolated roads of the American West. The film also stars David Strathairn.
Based on the 2017 book of the same title by Jessica Bruder, “Nomadland” is a powerful but depressing tale of the modern-day nomads of America. While its time in theaters has been brief, the film has already earned two Golden Globes for Best Motion Picture in Drama and Best Director of a Motion Picture—congrats to Chloé Zhao.
Dealing with themes of isolation, poverty and loss, “Nomadland” is not your average film. This isn’t the kind of movie with a beginning, middle, or end plotline. Because—and I know this is going to sound strange—the overall film has no plot. At its roots, “Nomadland” is an example of the other side of the American Dream—people in America without a goal. Not out to find money, fame, or acclaim; just trying to get from one location to the next and taking it day by day. And having a plot with an end goal would betray that point.
Think of any story you’ve seen or read that dealt with themes of the American Dream: “The Great Gatsby,” “The Grapes of Wrath,” “The Pursuit of Happyness,” to name a few. All those stories featured a plot with a goal. While the goals were different, and sometimes ended in tragedy, the stories and their characters all had a destination they were trying to move toward. That’s not the case for “Nomadland.” Our lead character Fern does not have an end goal. Sure, she makes stops to do some freelance work, but in the end, she has no final destination in mind. She’s not saving money to buy back a house she lost. She’s not making her way toward a specific place to rejoin her family or earn some kind of special job. She’s just driving across the open road of America.
In the end, however, the film never takes sides in saying what Fern or her fellow nomads are doing is a good thing or a bad thing. It’s just focused on showing the audience the unfolding tale and letting them decide how they should feel. Some could look at “Nomadland” and think of it as a tale of sadness and tragedy. About the forgotten people living by the side of roads in their cramp vehicles; struggling to get by. Or some could see “Nomadland” as a tale of freedom. About people who follow their own rules and beliefs on the free roads as they try to find those little moments of happiness. It’s just another reason why I highly recommend giving this one a viewing—so you can formulate your own opinion on this alternative look into the wandering nomads of modern America.
“Nomadland” is rated R for some scenes that contain nudity. I wish there was more I could say, but until you’ve experienced the film, there’s no more I can explain without spoiling the overall movie. So, if you’re at all fascinated by “Nomadland,” then give it a watch. The final score is a 7.5 out of 10.