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  • Writer's pictureJames Rutherford

'Nomadland': The Intimate Story of One Woman's Nomadic Journey Throughout the American West

Movie poster for the film Nomadland starring Frances McDormand

Nomadland is an intimate human drama starring Frances McDormand as Fern, a middle-aged widow who has embraced a nomadic existence, traveling throughout the American West while working intermittently in seasonal positions. Having lost her job at a gypsum plant in Northern Nevada soon after the passing of her long-time husband, Fern has sold most of her worldly possessions in order to purchase a camper van and navigate the countryside in search of new horizons.

After an interim role at an Amazon warehouse in Nevada concludes, Fern sets off for a winter gathering of fellow Nomads in rural Arizona, where she first meets and befriends a fellow traveler named Dave (David Strathairn). While spending time in this community, she gains training in survival and self-sufficiency—put to good use as her journey progresses over the coming months. Ebbing and flowing from one community to another, Fern forges meaningful relationships with fellow nomads despite her steadfast refusal to put down roots of any kind. Indeed her story is one of heartbroken disattachment, as the pain of loss has driven her down a path of avoidance and escapism—yearning for affinity yet fixated upon her own liberation.

Based on the novel by Jessica Bruder and directed by Chinese filmmaker Chloé Zhao (Songs My Brothers Taught Me, The Rider), Nomadland is a wonderfully bittersweet tale of open road wanderlust. Zhao's Academy Award-winning direction showcases extraordinary respect for her characters, never moralizing over their life decisions nor falling back on undue caricatures. Delivered with patience and empathy, it's a striking sampling of social realism and a heartfelt depiction of hard-won self-discovery in the new American West.


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