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SA Reviews: Nomadland

April 30, 2021

The 93rd Academy Awards aired on April 25th, 2021, and the ceremony was full of surprises and historical wins. One such win was that of Nomadland, a film directed by Chloé Zhao. The movie is based on the non-fiction book Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century by Jessica Bruder, which was released in 2017. Nomadland was nominated for six award categories and won the coveted best picture category, best director, and best actress for Frances McDormand, who played the leading role of Fern.

The film tells the story of Fern, a widow who is forced to leave her home in Empire, Nevada after the 2008 financial crisis. With an unstable economy and not much of a choice, Fern packs her belongings into a converted van and travels from town to town looking for work. Throughout her journey, Fern explores the western landscape and adopts a nomadic lifestyle – learning how to live on the road and developing friendships along the way. Nomadland captures the highs and lows of van-life and provides a glimpse into the beautiful scenery of the American West.

At the Academy Awards, the movie took home several awards including best picture, the most prestigious honor of the night. Director Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color, and only the second woman, to win the award for best director in the Academy’s history. Directing a film about nomadic lifestyle and keeping the characters realistic and down to earth was a special task for Zhao. However, she has previously been known to cast non-professional actors in order to portray fictional versions of themselves. While Frances McDormand, recipient of the award for best actress in a leading role, and several other actors were professionally cast, many of the film’s notable characters are real-life nomads with true stories being depicted. This inclusion of real events and real people help to keep the movie grounded in truth, and Zhao was able to harness the weight and impact of each of the nomad’s stories.

My personal favorite aspect of the film is the cinematography. Nomadland was nominated for the category of best cinematography, and although it ended up losing the category to Mank, I nevertheless appreciated the camera work. The large sprawling landscapes of the American West juxtaposed against the tiny, intimate spaces of renovated vans and campers creates an effect that provides wide-open spaces to explore, yet still feels incredibly claustrophobic. Fern travels through Black Rock Desert in Nevada, searches through Badlands National Park, and ends her journey at Point Arena near San Francisco, California. The camera switches between close-ups of Fern to show detailed emotion and large, empty backdrops to showcase the vastness of the desert and how empty the nomadic lifestyle can often feel. Overall, the cinematography offers beautiful images of raw emotion and nature in its purest form.

This year’s Academy Awards were promising and rewarding, and Zhao showcased her potential to be a strong contender in a multitude of categories. Nomadland is simply a striking film about American wanderlust, the human connection, and searching for the true definition of home.






Written by: Zachary Grabill

Zachary is a Sophomore studying Business Administration: Project Management. He is passionate about music, traveling, and adventure, and enjoys sharing his experiences with others. He appreciates the opportunity to write for the blog as a platform to both entertain and discuss culture from a creative and personal perspective.