Kevin Can F**k Himself, Nomadland, and One Cut of the Dead


Hal: For the first time since 1983 when Gandhi won best picture, the Awards ceremonies might finally have actually commended the best film of the year. That’s not to say I’ve always had an issue with the films singled out for recognition. Films like Moonlight, The Return of the King and Parasite are massively impressive works in their own right and deserved all the praise they got, but I could always think of at least one or two movies I would personally say were more deserving. However, in 2020, the only film that came close was Never Rarely Sometimes Always, and as staggering a masterwork as Eliza Hittman’s film still is, I think Nomadland might have just edged it out as my favourite film of 2020.

The merits of Nomadland are apparently clear to almost everyone. With virtually no plot or even much raw story, the film is a study of a way of living, following its protagonist Fern (Frances McDormand) through a year on the road, living alone in her van, picking up paid work where she can and meeting fellow travellers along the way. It’s like The Straight Story if there were no estranged brother waiting at the end of the journey, only more road, stretching on until Fern’s road comes to an end. One inspired and witty moment restages the iconic final shot of The Searchers, as Fern leaves her old home behind forever. Having lost her house when the corporation whose success the community was beholden to closed down, Fern moves her most treasured and necessary possessions into her van and moves on to the next big company looking for a skilled pair of hands. She, and those like her, are both ultimately beholden to, yet still attaining a kind of spiritual liberation from the tyranny of capitalism.

Companies will come and go, but workers are eternal. If one company folds, they go elsewhere, their mere content in this lifestyle an affront to socially determined distinctions of class, belonging and status. The act of existing in its purest form. Yet the film is pure of allegations that it romanticises their situation or their poverty. In one scene, as Fern endures a dinner at her estranged sister’s house and listens to her facile praise of her lifestyle as a continuation of the legacy of the pioneer spirit, we are confronted with Fern’s paradoxical status in society. She lives as she does because she is poor, not because she has abandoned her responsibility to become a member of mainstream society. Yet she has no reason to seek membership of a society whose priorities are so foreign to her. In such a society, she hasn’t the means to live, but to live in nature, to live as free from boundaries and commitments as it is possible to, she can be at home.

That is not to say that Fern lives free from emotional attachments. She meets many others on journeys of their own with her, and without much effort, these acquaintances are cultivated into friendships. The most significant of such friendships is with Dave (David Strathairn) but there are others with members of the nomadic community, all playing fictionalised versions of themselves. These characters bring energy and fun into the picture, enlivening the placid contentment that characterises the pleasure Fern takes in her aloneness. That aloneness in itself has its origins in love, with the long shadow of her bereavement stretching over her.

Death is as a significant facet to Nomadland, as it is to life itself. We hear many stories of life and loss throughout the film, with some characters facing death through their own terminal illnesses, and others through the empty spaces around them. Each of these stories is tackled with equal tenderness and sympathy, and form a rich tapestry of small lives lived in negation of death itself. There isn’t a moment of real death onscreen in Nomadland, a film about existence, that engages with its opposite only through its portentous absence, an absence that is tied inextricably with the memory of those we have loved.

As stated, little of this meditation is performed through story or plot, but rather through the essential details of both life and of filmmaking. Moments are held on, but are wrested from the viewer’s grip just early enough to feel their absence. The turquoise and pink skies are rendered with blissful radiance by cinematography by Joshua James Richards, and with accompaniment by the compositions of Ludovico Einaudi, the film has an elegiac tone that never compromises its humility or simplicity. At no point does the film ever stretch itself to invest meaning into moments or glorify that which needs no further glorification, with its own value arising out of its mere existence. This is why, like most of the best films ever made, Nomadland is a hard film to review or interpret, with its meaning existing many miles away from the aggravated assault of academic inquiry. It’s a treatise on that which exists without the burden of definition, purpose or meaning, seeking to distill the ephemeral vapor of merely living and perhaps achieves this in a purer fashion than any other film yet made.

Those are our recommendations this week! What are yours? Let us know in the comments!

Written by TV Obsessive

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *