In 2017, author Jessica Bruder published her nonfiction book, Nomadland, which followed several members of a group of largely older Americans who live out of small campers, trailers, and converted vans, travelling the country and taking grueling, seasonal jobs to survive. Writer/Director Chloé Zhao’s 2020 film of the same name has taken that book as its inspiration, and helps to bring the shocking plight of so many of our fellow citizens into the national consciousness.
The movie opens with a title card telling the viewer how in 2011, the US Gypsum plant in Empire, Nevada closed and quickly lead to the complete dissolution of the entire town. One of those affected by this is Fern (Frances McDormand), who had lived there with her recently deceased husband. Suddenly finding herself alone, without any community to provide support, she sells most of her belongings and begins living in a van she had converted herself, taking a seasonal job at Amazon during the holidays. When that ends and the weather becomes too much for her to bear, she heads south to Arizona for a meet-up of others in similar situations in the Arizona desert. The community that these nomads have created amongst each other is sweet to see, despite the inherent sadness of their situations.
Chloé Zhao’s minimalist direction gives the film the feeling of a documentary, which helps to keep the fact that this is all based on a very real issue at the forefront of viewers’ minds. Starkly gorgeous cinematography and naturalistic performances further draw one in. It is an absolute tragedy that these people, American citizens who had been working all their lives with the expectation that they would be taken care of when they got older, have been completely forgotten about after having their livelihoods upended by the Great Recession. The movie largely doesn’t wallow in misery however, often instead showing us how much beauty is out there to be found both in America’s wilderness and in each other. Humans are very good at making the best of most situations, but that doesn’t make the fact that so many have been forced into such a bad one any less upsetting. This is a modern classic that exposes a grave injustice inherent to society, and a beautifully melancholic look at the people living with the consequences. ★★★★★ – Sean Farrell
Available on Hulu
Coming soon on Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack
★★★★★ = Excellent | ★★★★ = Very Good | ★★★ = Good | ★★ = Fair | ★ = Poor