Photo: Searchlight Pictures / Contributed Photo
As years pass in our lives, our capacity to handle change may change. The older we get, the more we may find it challenging to absorb the shocks that life can bring. And we may become more creative in how we hold on to the past rather than focus on taking steps to adapt.
In the fabulous film “Nomadland” — the centerpiece selection of this year’s virtual New York Film Festival — a loving woman named Fern has a lot of pain to absorb later in life. At a time when others may look forward to relaxing, this lady struggles to make ends meet after her husband dies, the company he worked for goes out of business and she is forced to abandon the home she loves when her town closes up. Times are tough. Life can be rocky. Financially, Fern relies on what she earns from temporary jobs as she makes her van her home in RV parks. But she never loses faith that her conditions will improve nor does she blame anyone else for her challenges. She refuses to consider herself a victim. Fern is too proud, and resilient, to consider any glass half empty.
Moviemaker Chloé Zhao brings Fern to life in the spirited portrayal from the remarkable Frances McDormand. This two-time Oscar winner — who should be in the race again for this performance — dares to show us sides of her talent that she rarely reveals. Yes, we adore her as the determined sheriff in “Fargo” and respect the anger she channels in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” And in this performance, we simply feel her warmth. McDormand makes us believe in a woman who so cherishes the life she once lived that she willingly holds on to souvenirs that bring her peace. The actress walks a fine line as she projects how, as comfortable as Fern makes her daily life today, she may prevent herself from moving forward. In every frame, McDormand commands attention, captivates the camera, and lets us into the heart of a woman with so much to share and dwindling opportunities to connect.
Zhao makes this journey alive and thoughtful in a film as beautiful to watch as it is meaningful to absorb. With McDormand on screen for most of the film, Zhao uses her camera to examine the details of Fern’s world, from the places she stays to the people she reaches, the jobs she takes to the disappointments she faces. The director so effectively lets us into Fern’s world that we can see its layers through the character’s eyes. And Zhao never lets this delicate story get lost in its own weight. Instead she lets us discover, one moment at time, the lessons of this lady’s journey.
At their best, movies introduce us to people we may never meet. What’s special about “Nomadland” at this particular point in time is how so many people in our world share Fern’s journey. By making her challenges so accessible, Zhao makes us want to learn more so we can welcome people to our worlds, especially those trying to handle significant change.
“Nomadland” runs 1 hour and 48 minutes, is rated R for language and nudity and will be released in early December. The New York Film Festival runs through Oct. 11. Visit, filmlinc.org for details on virtual ticket availability.
Film Nutritional Value: Nomadland
Content: High. A woman finds her voice as she discovers the courage to say, “bring me the truth.”
Entertainment: High. As serious as the challenges in the film, Frances McDormand’s remarkable performance celebrates the power people can bring to any change.
Message: High. No matter the film takes place several years ago, the lessons of this lady’s choices may be even more relevant today.
Relevance: High. Any opportunity to examine what it takes to discover and reveal truth makes a visit to the movies worthwhile.
Opportunity for dialogue: High. After you share this film with your older children, talk about what truth can mean to our efforts to absorb change in our lives.