What is remembered lives, says the forgotten woman as the sun sets in the Arizona desert.
Nomadic Country presents itself to the viewer as something between a drama and a documentary. Although Frances McDormand, who plays the title character Fern, in a performance that is sure to attract attention as awards season approaches, is a fictional character, almost no one is.
Instead, Zhao chooses to juxtapose Fern’s perfectly plausible story with the very real struggles of a forgotten class of Americans, the nomads.
Let’s go back
During the financial crash of 2008, millions of Americans lost the sense of financial and emotional stability they had. Many of them never really recovered, a fact we still see today in national politics. But something happened to some of these people. Instead of returning to the same systems that failed and betrayed them, they took a different path.
This may have been a disappointment. Maybe it was hope. Maybe they just didn’t have any other options that offered them a sense of personal integrity. Whatever their motivation, they all came to the same conclusion: They would go on their way, and they would stay there.
And that brings us to Fern.
When we meet Fern, she makes seasonal forays into the American West and discovers a network of new American travelers. Finally, she says to a former student she meets at the thrift store, she is not homeless.
While all the characters have their merits, Swanky and Bob Wells were the biggest influences on me.
Swanky, played by Charlene Swanky in a dramatized version of herself, delivers perhaps the most heartbreaking story in the film. She’s dying of cancer when we meet her. She dreams of returning to the most beautiful place she was before she died: a cove she found while kayaking, surrounded by swallow nests. After that, she says, she can die in peace, with only the hope that her friends will throw a stone in the fire in her memory.
Bob Wells is one of those friends.
Bob Wells, a real man, is known for helping other middle-aged Americans live after the Great Recession. He is the pseudo leader of this big-hearted movement and has a profound personal influence on the people who come to him for advice. He is one of those who throws a stone into the fire in memory of Swanky.
Before concluding this review, it would be remiss of me not to mention the intensely beautiful visuals. One of the best films I’ve seen in the last decade. Zhao and cinematographer Joshua James Richards clearly cast themselves as two of Hollywood’s most promising filmmakers. I sincerely hope that the two men will work together many times in the future; between Zhao’s wit and ability to quietly capture stories, and Richard’s hand behind the camera, there’s nothing they can’t do to make a compelling film.
I loved this movie, and it deserves the many accolades it gets. Please give him a watch.
Nomadland is now available on Hulu.
Follow @MovieBabble_ and Danny on Twitter at @DannyODea9.
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