By Dan Clendenin

Nomadland (2020)

Nomadland became the breakout favorite film of the year as soon as it debuted at the Venice Film Festival in September 2020. Professional critics and everyday fans have heaped praise upon the “Neo-western drama” that was written, edited, and directed by Chloé Zhao. It earned six nominations at the 93rd Academy Awards. The movie stars the quirky Frances McDormand as a woman named Fern, along with several real life nomads, and is based upon a 2017 book by Jessica Bruder called Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century. The story begins in 2011 when Fern loses her job in Nevada when a gypsum plant closes; the company town’s zip code was even discontinued. Her husband dies. And so Fern becomes a “nomad,” a vehicle dweller who travels the country doing seasonal labor (eg, at an Amazon fulfillment center, Badlands National Park, and Wall Drug in South Dakota). She connects with other nomads, who form a sort of itinerant community. My wife and I were less impressed. For us the film was cliched, sanitized, and even romanticized. There are obligatory scenes, for example, of cars breaking down, campfires and sunsets, the laundry mat, therapeutic bromides, classical music, and a romantic subplot. It is suggested that Fern is not a victim at all, but a strong woman of agency who has chosen the road less traveled. I suspect the reality of living the life of a nomad is much more interesting and complicated.

Dan Clendenin: dan@journeywithjesus.net

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