“Nomadland” dismantles the American dream illusion

Frances McDormand delivers the raw intensity of van living.

Joshua Flores, Staff Writer

Nomadland” captures the ache of financial ruin many experienced in 2011 by documenting one woman’s story of escape, hardship and loss as she uses her husband’s death to launch her new means of living. 

Leaving behind her life as a substitute teacher, Fern packs a few pieces of clothing, the dishes her father had left her and enough supplies to survive, departing on a journey of self-discovery. Her life as a nomad is full of unexpected adventure, friendship and the realization that memories are both a blessing and curse, a means of treasuring those who are gone and a reason to detach. 


Fern is not only a testament to the aftermath of the recession, but also to a community often forgotten by most Americans. Dwelling among the nomads, Fern challenges societal norms and uses her time to experience the world, to hear the eclectic stories of those she meets and to use this freedom to honor her husband and the appreciation of open land that they both shared. Although Fern does not own land or have a built-in toilet, she reinvents the definition of home, community and family. 


As of late, cinema has felt weighed down by gimmicks, cheap humor and overly-politicized content that leaves a bad taste in the mouths of so many viewers. Writer Chloe Zhao and actress Frances McDormand present a subtle, intimate portrait of poverty and the notion that the American dream may be more fictional than anyone thought. Depicting so many beautiful landscapes alongside the rural, dirt-ridden life of nomads is both beautiful and revelatory. 

The creators of “Nomadland” question our current economic system and the way that so many rely on the devastation and desolation of others—those in the military, teachers and fast-food workers to name a few. Contemplative and subtle in its approach, “Nomadland” asks big questions, but answers few, relying on Fern and her brilliantly depressing story to speak for itself. 


The film is nominated in four different categories for the upcoming Golden Globes, including best actress, best drama, best director and best screenplay. “Nomadland” has plenty to offer audiences, both visually and through authentic performances, making the film a well-rounded feature. 

In a year devoid of quality cinema and a number of movies pushed back due to the pandemic, “Nomadland” shines among the other contenders. It delivers a heartfelt story that is simultaneously disturbing and somewhat hopeful for those wandering, lost and in search of their own wide open spaces to call home. 

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