“Nomadland” film review

The new film by Chloé Zhao is wonderfully reflective and comforting

Thomas DeLapp

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Badlands National Park, featured in “Nomadland”

It’s the middle of a busy spring semester, in a pandemic, with no spring break – many Blugolds are reasonably stressed, burnt out and tired.

If you are looking to take a breath, slow down and relax, then check out “Nomadland”, a new film directed by Chloé Zhao. It’s a peaceful, quiet movie that emphasizes the beauty of life — which can be hard to see right now.

“Nomadland” is about Fern (Frances McDormand), a woman who took a journey across America in 2011 after the Great Recession.  

Fern lost her husband and job during the recession, and became a nomad — living in her van as she traveled through the country. Along the way, Fern met other nomads, finding new friends and family.  

“Nomadland” has won two Golden Globes, including a historic win for Zhao, the first Asian woman to win best director, and has been nominated for six Oscars, including best picture.

 Filmed before the pandemic, “Nomadland” is coincidentally very timely.  As we hit the one-year anniversary of the shutdown, most of us are longing for something, anything, to get us out of our houses and dorms, to go out into the world and be with our people again.

That’s what “Nomadland” is all about, getting out into the world.  It’s deliberately slow and comforting. Zhao gently guides the camera through breathtaking nature landscapes and beautiful, simple conversations between the characters. 

Most of the cast are not even regular actors, but actual nomads playing themselves – which makes their voices and words incredibly grounded and moving.

The soundtrack, led by pianist Ludovico Einaudi, is just like the rest of the movie — minimal and peaceful. Music only appears when necessary, and the scenes where it does soar with emotion and beauty.

The film’s beginning moments show us Fern working at an Amazon warehouse during the holidays. It is harshly metallic and bright — the LED lights are nearly violent compared to the natural light featured in the rest of the movie. But the warehouse wasn’t unfriendly.

Zhao focuses on the people, not the packages, who share stories and friendships as they work. 

This previewed all of “Nomadland”. As breathtaking as the landscapes and journey may be, the real beauty is in the love and connections Fern felt with others.  

Watching the movie right now feels so melancholy because the simple conversations between old friends and new are much harder to come by these days. “Nomadland” doesn’t want you to live in the past.

“It’s like my dad used to say: what’s remembered, lives,” Fern remarks near the end of the film. “I maybe spent too much of my life just remembering.”

We spend a lot of our time reminiscing about the pre-COVID-19 days, keeping that time alive. “Nomadland” encourages us to not just remember those old days, but to use them to inspire our lives today.  

“Nomadland” can be streamed on Hulu

DeLapp can be reached at [email protected]