Image: Frances McDormand in Nomadland [Source:GoogleImages]
A woman in her sixties, after losing everything in the Great Recession, embarks on a journey through the American West, living as a van-dwelling modern-day nomad.
Nomadland was my first film back in the cinema. I was perhaps expecting great too many things, it being the first one back and it winning the best picture winner at the Oscars. I was sadly left a little flat when leaving this screening as apposed to the joyful giddiness I felt going into it. Nomadland’s subject is a rather bleak one of course. A woman and a generation at that cast off from society, lost to the recession and corporate America’s vicious approach. Many people found themselves homeless, jobless and scrapping by. It’s exactly what this films chronicles a tale of, in fact it is based of a non-fiction book. I also believe in fact there were a great many characters in this film that were real people and real nomads.
There is a gentle and cautious optimism to this picture however. Despite its subject matter. McDormand’s character is not weathered by the terrible cards she has been dealt, she seemingly takes everything in her stride, even the tedious and numbing seasonal jobs she must take in order to get through the winter. Her character embodies a very care-free attitude to life and is unburdened by any relationships in fact. Aside from a friendly relationship with a fellow co-worker at Amazon’s seasonal staff. It’s through this woman that she learns of the Nomad community and in venturing out to meet it with this co-worker their bond deepens. It’s jovial and for a time its a lifestyle you could almost think is wonderful. In the passing relationships she has with other nomads, they are caring and nurturing, often more connected and impactful. One such relationship shows itself to be the crowning moment of Nomadland and indeed the Nomad journey. One seemingly random woman tells a story of weeping proportions and is a treasured moment in the scope of the film. But like all things through the wondrous side of the nomad it’s fleeting.
Which is exactly how I would describe almost everything about the film. Nothing packs any punch and any impact felt from a scene or a relationship or a story is gone a moment later. I will concede that perhaps its a desired effect of how the Nomad lifestyle feels, its fun for a moment until its not. Now that I think about it often these connective scenes would be followed by the banal drudgery of life. Which at its worst felt like watching paint dry. But again perhaps this is the stingy reminder Zhao wants us to feel. Beyond the stories and the structure of the film, I did find McDormand’s performance while great as you would expect, I did feel that it left room for more. Throughout I felt almost entirely disconnected from what it was this character was feeling, at no particular moment after all she had been through or what might have happened to her a scene before did I have any sense of what this character felt. What they wanted, they did not speak it and McDormand did not perform it. Boredom is what I felt she felt, and it echoed back on me.
Still however, the film deals with a subject and a story that I could not even begin to entirely understand. To be cast off, to be turned on, to be destroyed by an entity you have given your lifeblood to. To live truly in every single moment not knowing if tomorrow will be safe or if you’ll be able to get the bare necessities. I can certainly see why the film has had impact and much critical acclaim and I will own up to the fact that perhaps part of it is lost on me. None the less I do believe the performance integral to the audience really was all that capturing in what in needed to be and the jury is still out on if the banality of the picture is intended.