I get that it’s got most of the components needed for a well-made movie. That’s really all I have to say about Nomadland, everything else about it is sort of up to you to decide whether you need to see something like this right away.
As you’re watching the film, you may wonder, “What’s the point of showing a trip to the zoo? What’s the point of showing a crocodile being fed a rabbit? What’s with the stargazing? What’s with seeing Jupiter through a telescope? Why bother showing her hold a boa constrictor?” I mean, this protagonist, named Fern, is well-rounded with a nice backstory, but this whole film seems to waste time on this pointless symbolic imagery that pretends to be really deep when in actuality it’s not.
There is no telling when the movie expects to pick up or wrap up, which in turn makes it vague when certain characters have made their personal development. There’s no story, no real conflict, it’s just an hour and forty-seven minutes of an old woman breathing as other characters spurt out the film’s message. In fact, the movie starts and ends the same way. Now, to be fair, this could be seen as an intentional artistic choice to prove how just because you may feel nothing about yourself has changed after such a long stretch of time doesn’t mean it’s true, that you look back at the starting point and realize you actually changed a whole lot. But for most people watching, they just won’t have the patience.
Even though I personally did not enjoy this film, I can still applaud the pacing, as it allows time to sink in what really matters. Right from the very cold opening scene, you feel just as cold as Fern packs up her stuff and shoves them all into a tiny trailer—her new home. This woman is living a life where she has to enjoy the simple things with what little she has, and we in a way are forced to do the exact same thing. All these little things, right down to the way she spits water and the hair trimmings on the dirt, are given focus that at first feels completely unnecessary, but once you think back and remember the big picture, it all makes sense. Because over this past year, virtually everyone on Earth has been feeling like they’re trapped in a desolate land, forced to remember the tiny details, as those suddenly become big things that matter a whole lot to the big picture.
The lack of any tension or conflict is made up for by the stunning views of the American west. Let me tell you- this is a beautiful movie to look at, as every establishing shot is so dynamic. There are views of snow, views of mountains, views of mountains covered in snow, there’s the desert, the woods, a creek, the ocean, magic hour, this type of cinematography will ignite the lightning American in every U.S. Citizen watching—it may just even convince you to do a road trip! In fact, there’s so much attention paid to the stunning landscape shots, especially at magic hour, that the faces on the actors are not even properly lit. It’s like director Chloé Zhao would rather you take in the stunning sunset than the actual people you’re supposed to connect with. Doesn’t automatically make the cinematography bad, though.
Now, here’s how the film spoke to me as a twenty-eight-year-old man living in Seattle Washington: Through Fern’s status as a warehouse worker at Amazon. As you know, Amazon is one of the major corporations in Seattle, and I actually had the privilege of visiting one of their massive warehouses on more than one occasion. I also work in one of those labor-intensive jobs, so I could relate to this main character despite the age gap. She thus stands in as a placeholder for the average American to see themselves in somehow, be it their employment status, their housing status, their marriage status, where they once were, where they’re afraid they’ll be, where they wish they could be, there’s something about the way she lives that every single viewer will identify with.
As you mentally put yourself in this nomad setup, a piano score makes you reflect on your life in precisely the same moments Fern has bittersweet memories of her past. Even when she has a toilet directly next to her bed, or when she uses paper towels for toilet paper, her poor predicament oddly makes her think more sharply. That’s where the seemingly meaningless images start to take meaning. You could argue that the crocodile shot connects to the giant dinosaur statue Fern likes to take her picture in front of, and how it feels the land she’s getting comfortable in is actually skinning her and leaving her for food. There’s a lot of stuff like that in this movie, where you could easily pass it off as something boring and pointless, or you could think it over more and realize there’s more substance to it than what meets the eye. And really, that seems to be the whole point of the film. Gosh, it’s crazy. Even I as I’m typing this am realizing that very point!
The ultimate gut-punch though happens in one scene in the third act, when Fern quotes Shakespeare, and context is given to this monologue as her childhood photos are seen beside her voiceover, revealing how these words resonate deeply with those past simpler times of hers. So the poor existence of this woman who can’t seem to get by living in a trailer falls into place. Her existence in the middle of the desert away from the cold snow, with others like her who want to live as nomads much like the pioneers, could be an answer to your existential crisis.
Several viewers will point to this feature and call it art, and have generally positive things to say about it, and good for them for noticing the value it gives. Nomadland is a movie that understands how the unfair economy has led some people to live off their backs, but also says that things may be better that way.
If there is a specific movie you’d like to see graded, or if you are interested in guest blogging for my site, please email me at Trevor@TrevorsViewOnHollywood.com for your recommendations.
Have a great weekend, and happy watching!