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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Movie Review: Story of loss results in personal healing

Photos courtesy of Searchlight Pictures “Nomadland” recently won three Academy Awards for best actress, best director and best picture. In total, the film was nominated under six categories.

Logan Evans
campus editor/photographer

“Nomadland” is the portrait of a life on the fringes — one that’s becoming a reality for more and more people. 

The recent Academy Award winner for best picture explores the growing trend of displaced older Americans turning to a life of nomadic van-dwelling. Based on the nonfiction book by Jessica Bruder, it moves along with sometimes tragic, sometimes beautiful realism. 

Frances McDormand stars as Fern, whose life was brought to pieces when her community in Empire, Nevada was shut down after the closing of a nearby gypsum plant. Left with nothing, she decides to travel the country looking for work. 

Fern, played by Frances McDormand, sits outside and has a conversation with Dave,
played by David Strathairn.

On her journey, Fern encounters a vibrant cast of characters in the modern American West, many of which are played by the real nomads who were profiled in Bruder’s source material. The film has an intimate, documentary-like feel, something that could only be achieved by placing McDormand alongside people who have really lived the life she’s being brought into. 

McDormand soars as Fern, a performance that won her an Oscar for best actress. She carries heartache and humor in every gesture of her body and turn of her face. Her character is deep, but also relatable enough to guide the audience into the unfamiliar world of working nomads. 

As one of the only traditional actors in a cast of non-actors, she never sticks out.

Dealing with the wave of working nomads who rose from the fallout of The Great Recession, the film is thorough in its exploration of van-dwelling subculture. Bob Wells, a van-dwelling YouTuber and author, is featured along with The Rubber Tramp Rendezvous, an annual gathering of nomads he founded in Quartzsite, Ariz.

“Nomadland” is a film about grief and the loss of the American dream, and the vast American landscapes captured here allow plenty of room for those themes to reverberate. Seeing characters dwarfed by rolling plains and outstretched mountains is both dreamlike and a visual representation of the indifference their world seems to show them.

The structure of the film is loose, which might be the biggest area of contention for some. It could easily be seen as aimless, but it works given the subject matter. The story doesn’t meander, it drifts.

Above all else, this is a character study of one woman. She’s struggling with things that speak to larger issues, but her journey is the heart of the story.

Director Chloe Zhao, who became the second woman to win an Oscar for best director, made the choice to present her characters without judgment. Like their real-life counterparts, the lives depicted will surely be interpreted differently by each viewer, but the film never stops to make that call for us. 

Instead, we get a portrait of real things that are happening to real people. 

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