A beat-up van slowly makes its way along a beautiful road through a desolate landscape. There is not another vehicle in sight. The elements of nature along the road change. Everything else including Ludovico Einaudi’s score punctuating this sequence remains. This shows up a handful of times throughout the movie. There is other iconic imagery in the movie but this one is probably what will remain with me.
I have been to America a handful of times, but these short visits only ever showed me one side of America. The side that took me to super sized malls, glitzy conferences, iconic landmarks and relatively affluent neighbourhoods.
I saw glimpses of homeless folks in between the sparkling blocks of San Francisco but that was the extent to which I saw the not so shiny part of America. What I also sorely missed experiencing was anything close to an iconic American road trip.
Nomadland is not a road trip movie by any measure. It is about a way of life that few of us will ever understand. The motivations, the trials and the tribulations that make up a life choice like this.
Nomadland is a subtle movie. There is no moment that tries top another. Conversations are scarce, but the ones that make up the movie are hard hitting in their simplicity. Every sentence says so much more than what might appear on the surface.
All of this is held together by Francis Mcdormand in a wonderfully understated performance. Her eyes speak volumes as she makes her way from one town to the next, keeping her personal grief at bay while lending her ear to others. Special mention must also go to David Strathairn who is the supporting actor with the most screen time. They share a brief, but alluring chemistry.
It's hard to describe what makes Nomadland so compelling. It's has a dream like quality that kept me hooked until the credits rolled. I was surprised to learn that the score is all previously released material by Ludovico Einaudi. It plays such a huge part in the feel of the film.
Ultimately I won't claim that movie gave me some extraordinary understanding of the nomadic life. It is about the feeling of belonging to a community and a window to peek into moments of their lives. These are sometimes tragic, sometimes hopeful, and everything in between. It’s a movie that stirs your heart with every frame, whether it’s a lonely drive across the extensive landscape, the travails of living pay check to pay check, the tolls this life can take on the strings that once tethered you to your family or the candid conversations with strangers who can turn into friends.
My takeaway was the only thing that is immutable, is that no place is a permanent home. You can stay as long as you like until you move on. It doesn't matter if it's the road that takes you to the next town or the road that takes you to the place where we will all get together again, no matter where we all began.