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The most insightful elements of “Nomadland” are those not explicitly articulated, or only glancingly so. What a surface level assumption of the film conjures is one of economic calamity and those marginalized to a life of homelessness. And while that idea is present, it is only part of the story and unrepresentative of the diversity with which those in this story, mostly real people playing barely dramatized versions of themselves, pursue the lifestyle of a nomad. Some are broken with heartbreak and loss. Some are poor or on hard times. Some simply want to be free from the constraints of the modern world.
This intentionality is captured by Fern, the main character, who despite having numerous people throughout the movie offer her shelter or a place to stay, turns them down to live in her van. She becomes physically uncomfortable sleeping in a bed under a roof for too long. Part of this is her pride and independence. But its also her inability to feel at home anywhere after the loss of her husband, who after he passed away, found it difficult to leave their home of Empire, Nevada.
“Nomadland” subtly challenges core tenets of the global economic system and what life requires. The answers to these questions are open ended rather than definitively expressed. But it brilliantly showcases the slogging struggle that mere existence can bare on humans, and the perseverance of ordinary people in the face of such adversity. A splendidly scenic film, the film shows the healing quality and pleasure of the natural world. It shows unabashed grief without the expectation of resolution. It is a melancholic examination of humanity and distinctly captures what feels like a broad feeling, yet specific lens of an American cultural moment.