The Vanishing Frontier

Nomadland

Director: Chloe Zhao

Cast: Frances McDormand, David Strathairn

Beijing born and London and Los Angeles educated Chinese American director Chloe Zhao has made an extraordinary film Nomadland about the vanishing frontier, about the concept of homelessness and leading a nomadic existence, shot in some extraordinary locations in America including Arizona and South Dakota.

Backed up by an extraordinary performance by two time Oscar winner Frances McDormand (Fargo, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) as the widowed Fern, who repels from any form of human commitment and prompted by the sudden death of her husband and the economic collapse of their hometown, Empire, Nevada after a major factory shutdown in 2011 as a result of the aftereffects of the 2008 financial crisis, Fern bravely embraces all the hardship and wonder of the nomadic lifestyle in the vast outback of America.

Frances McDormand is in every scene of Nomadland under the expert direction of a genius director Chloe Zhao who has made a beautiful picaresque tale about loss, hardship and the human desire to explore. Fern is completely against settling down in a property but prefers her nomadic lifestyle driving around America in an old van kitted for human habitation, picking up odd jobs at various locations including ironically the pantheon of American capitalism, the giant online shopping and delivery company Amazon.

Fern’s journey is peppered with intimate encounters with real nomad travellers, as they briefly discuss their life and their journey whether it’s towards love or death.

The most extraordinary encounter is the scene with herself and a young guy from Wisconsin who is trying to write to his love in another state and Fern suggests a Shakespearean sonnet, number 18 – Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s Day? Fern recites the entire sonnet as Zhao expertly edits a beautiful montage of gorgeous scenes, bringing an elevated harmony to a life which is essentially that of a pioneer.

Nomadland is beautifully shot, brilliantly edited and superbly acted by both Frances McDormand and her male counterpart Dave played by Oscar nominee David Strathairn (Good Night and Good Luck) a fellow nomad who ultimately decides to settle down with his son and grandson in a beautiful home in South Dakota, a betrayal to Fern who sees giving into a static life as relinquishing her nomadic life and more significantly her freedom, her ability to travel wherever and not be tied down to a fixed abode.

In Nomadland, director Chloe Zhao chooses to focus not on Millennials or 40 somethings but on the elderly, on the sixty somethings that are grappling with the death of a spouse or a child, to that age group which has suffered loss and have been turfed out of the capitalist cycle, that have been disposed of and are ultimately dispossessed.

Nomadland is a gorgeous, fascinating film, complex, intimate and ravishing, held together by a superb performance by Frances McDormand who makes Fern the embodiment of all that bitterness of a ruined town like Empire, Nevada which becomes symbolic of a vanishing frontier.

Nomadland gets a film rating of 9.5 out of 10 and is highly recommended.

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