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Oscar Buzz: Exploring Nomadland, a Dual Perspective

Shane Ramdhany and Nick Thony are American movie critics known for their live Oscars prediction show. They are the best of friends, but rarely agree on anything when it comes to movies. 

Credits: Director - Chloe Zhao

On Shane’s Screen:

Shane Ramdhany is the cousin of Revamp owner, Owen Vincent.  He has a decades-long passion for film and the arts. He currently oversees 3 programs in Mental Health and Human Services in the Hudson Valley area of New York. His role in this position has enabled him to understand and appreciate the function of many creative minds.

Nomadland exists within all of us.  Chloe Zhao’s latest feature film starring Frances McDormand extends its reach to the entirety of its audience, with few unable to form a connection through its themes.  This film serves as Zhao’s meditation on existentialism.  The unique aspect of this model of exploration is not asking, “what is life’s purpose?” rather, it holds the viewer accountable by asking “how do you make life meaningful?”

This is the struggle that we see depicted on screen with the title’s lead character.  Frances McDomand’s  Fern is a personification of the themes of this film including her own exploration of how she injects meaning into her life following her grief.  We see her form connections with the residents of Nomadland, a community of individuals who have adopted a nomadic lifestyle.  We as the viewer form our connection with Fern as we share in her reflection of their stories, resulting in a viewer’s experience that parallels the film’s lead. 

As Fern’s journey continues to unfold, its themes continue to evolve without ever losing their significance.  This is evidenced by Fern’s frequent shift of employment and location.  The theme we see evolve here is the success and failure of her journey.  This results in the realization that success, failure, and any measure in between is not only expected, but inevitable.  Zhao and McDormand both work with a sense of raw authenticity to achieve this goal.  In the end, we are left feeling as though we have been provided with a window into the lives of humans who resonate with humanity.

McDormand’s performance only elevates the authenticity of this film to something truly special.  In our journey with her, she (and us along with her) reaches the understanding that achieving self-actualization involves facing our past trauma.  This is the way forward.  McDormand’s masterful take on a woman struggling through her journey is unparalleled.  She approaches this with both confidence and humility to those around her.

Nomadland is a film that permeates the soul of its audience.  This is especially true in a time of a Pandemic that has forced us to, at some point, reflect upon what is truly meaningful.  The film achieves this through the variety of human connections developed on screen.  These connections may be conceived through shared trauma, share desires, or shared interests.  We quickly forget that we are watching a film and soon develop a sense that we have been given a lens to view endless definitions of humanity.

On Nick’s Screen:

Nick Thony currently resides in Albany, the great state capital of New York and has a strong background in American politics, which has made him no stranger to thought provoking discourse.

Nomadland occupies a frustratingly unfulfilling space somewhere between an illuminating documentary and a compelling movie. Chloe Zhao’s 2021 Oscar darling takes the viewer on an undefined journey along with Fern (Frances McDormand), a widow who left her small town after the death of her husband and the loss industry that employed them both, to hit the road as a “nomad.” Living out of her old van, Ferm jumps from camp to camp and part-time to part-time job insisting that she’s not homeless, just “houseless.”  

As director, Zhao is charged with the nearly impossible task of both capturing the world in which real-life nomads inhabit while developing Fern’s story by revealing the trauma of losing her husband and job that ultimately led her into the nomad life. At every turn, despite major setbacks including having to borrow money from her non-nomad sister, Fern’s character shows us that she’s not necessarily happy in the lifestyle, she just can’t live under a roof anymore. 

Zhao tries desperately to instill in us the merits of the nomad way of life (going as far as giving real-life nomads prominent roles in the movie), yet whether intentional or not, shows us Fern’s life as a nomad is an attempt at self-medication or an escape from a the “normal” world. 

Despite Zhao’s inability to strike that balance, McDormand’s performance is brilliantly raw. Her aimless quest adeptly mirrors the structureless days, weeks, and months we all sometimes experience as human beings. For that reason this movie deserves our attention. However, Zhao failed to achieve the unachievable: packaging the lack of structure and enduring life of Fern in a neater, more compelling film. 

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