‘Nomadland’ Hits Home With A Story of Life On the Open Road

Life ain’t easy. And life on the open road is even harder. But the tumbling characters of Chloé Zhao’s latest masterpiece, Nomadland, represent more than just people on the fringe of American society. They may be echoing the future of a world that is increasingly pricing people out.

Nomadland follows the story of an aging widower named Fern, played by no-nonsense Frances McDormand, who loses her job when the gypsum factory she’s worked at most of her life shuts down for good. With nothing rooting her down, she decides to pitch all her possessions, throw a mattress in her van, and hit the road.

Along the way, she takes a series of odd jobs (including a seasonal warehouse job for Amazon) and meets a gaggle of fellow nomads who show her how to survive life as a tumbleweed. While these travelers come in all shapes and sizes, one thing binds them together: The delicate freedom of a life untethered.

Director, Zhao (who also wrote the screenplay) deftly widens the scope of her lens, treating the film as both a tragic consequence of and liberation from the mighty dollar. From this distant gaze, existence is still a wide-open frontier. The chaos of life is both small and quiet, and the tribulations we face are as inevitable and commonplace as the turning of the Earth.

With so much content these days pushing toward escapism, uber-hotness, or whatever’s trending on TikTok, Nomadland manages to grip the heart with a tale as un-Photoshopped and unrelenting as life itself. (Now streaming on Hulu.)

If you’re in the mood for a mental reset movie-fest, check out these other cerebral cinematic triumphs that’ll make you feel surprisingly good about being little more than a speck of dust floating in the vast cosmos.


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