Chloe Zhao’s latest work, “Nomadland,” offers an intimate exploration of the American west in the years following the great recession.

Independent filmmaker Chloe Zhao’s work is filled with the fascination and wonder that surrounds the American west, and her newest release takes this fascination in a more intimate direction. Adapted from the 2017 non-fiction book “Nomadland” written by Jessica Bruder, this film adaptation by the same name is directed by Zhao and takes us on a journey to neglected places in America.

The story starts with a title screen that describes the impacts of the great recession. Beginning with our main character Fern —  played by Frances McDormand — selling her things off to a storage facility, we learn that she lives out of her van and then follow her on a journey to become a modern day nomad.

The main focus of the film is the people, most of whom were heavily affected by the market crash in 2008. Many lost their livelihoods due to it and became forgotten to a certain extent, they ended up having to take menial seasonal jobs that are hardly enough to keep them alive until the end of the month. 

The film features a few “characters” that play themselves. Swankie and Linda May play themselves in the film and they actually do an amazing acting job. When they tell their stories it’s obvious that it’s coming straight from the heart and is incredibly moving to watch them perform. 

The film makes great use of its Arizona set. Highlighting the best parts of rural America that are, more often than not, neglected. The far wide shots create endless landscapes, each of which are aesthetically pleasing. These shots are then contrasted with the vast industrial and almost dystopian look of the Amazon facility where Fern has to work. 

With that being said, it is worth bringing up the conversation on whether or not the film romanticizes the economic hardships of the people who are barely scraping by on working in places out of pure necessity. Thankfully the movie avoids this. It does so by making their stories integral to the plot and vital to learning about their character, rather than just displaying their stories as a means to move the story forward. 

While the story is unique in the sense that it doesn’t follow a conventional structure so you can’t predict what’s going to happen next, the narrative and message itself, however, is one aspect that I wish packed more of a punch. 

The depiction of places like the Amazon workplace appears like they are trying to send some kind of anti-capitalist message or theme about the exploitation of workers. However, whatever message the movie tries to portray becomes very subtle as the film doesn’t spend much time to fully realize these ideas.

As a result, the film spends more time with Fern’s journey and her exploration of rural America while meeting other people along the way, which starts to meander from time to time.

“Nomadland” is an amalgamation of a fascination of the American west, the exploration of modern day nomads and the effects of economic disparities within the U.S.. It takes the viewer on a journey that plays out more like a documentary or a group study than a dramatic narrative. If you’re looking for a truly unique movie, then I definitely recommend a viewing of “Nomadland.”

Availability: Available to Stream on Hulu 

Title: Nomadland

Star Rating: Four and a half out of five

Good:

  • Great casting 
  • Beautiful Cinematography 
  • Unique Narrative

Bad:

  • Overall themes could be more clear
  • Message could be clarified
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